Microsoft has begun issuing bans for Xbox Series X|S emulator use

Retro gaming
(Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Using the Xbox Series X|S console's developer mode, players have been setting up emulators to run retro and classic games on their Xbox consoles. 
  • In April, Microsoft blocked the use of side-loaded UWP apps while in the console's retail mode. However, the community discovered a workaround. 
  • Microsoft has begun banning people for using said workaround, but has so far turned a blind eye to emulators running in the Xbox Series X|S's developer mode. 

Gaming emulators in Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S retail mode recently returned, but the return was sadly short-lived. 

For those who don't know, using the Xbox Series X|S developer access, you can install third-party apps and services onto your console without using the Microsoft Store. Some users have been installing emulators onto their consoles using this method, allowing them to play classic games from previous console generations. People have been installing PlayStation 1 emulators to their Xbox consoles, GameCube emulators, and beyond, with great results. 

There are downsides to using the console in developer mode, which is why users of these apps generally prefer to swap back to retail mode, which is what your console is set to by default. In April 2023, Microsoft blocked running side-loaded UWP apps in retail mode, sadly, but a team of developers discovered a workaround not long ago. Microsoft isn't happy about it, though.   

As reported by members of the community, Microsoft is now issuing temporary suspensions and in some cases, outright bans for using these workarounds. So far, Microsoft hasn't banned running side-loaded emulators on developer mode (since, well, you kind of need to be able to side-load apps if you are a developer), but I suspect that Microsoft is getting pressured from Nintendo, Sony, and other rights holders over the tech. 

Emulators have grown in popularity in recent years as PC hardware has gotten more powerful, as a way to preserve games and escape DRM. Ubisoft was recently caught in a furor, accused of closing inactive Ubisoft accounts still with games attached — something the firm has since denied. Steam also blocked the much-anticipated Dolphin Emulator listing for Wii and GameCube titles on its platform. 

Emulators for games exist in a legal grey area. The technology generally isn't banned and has avoided closer legal scrutiny. Nintendo and Microsoft are both using emulation technology in their backward-compatible games programs, for example.  Nintendo has gone after sites that host ROMs, though, which are used by emulators to run games. ROMs themselves aren't universally illegal either, as long as you own a copy of the original content you're "version shifting." Version shifting is illegal in some regions, though, so be sure to always check what your local laws suggest before attempting emulation. 

It remains to be seen if Microsoft will also go after emulators in developer mode, but I'd say enjoy it while you can. 

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!