Microsoft unpublishes Nintendo emulator due to attempt at Xbox validation

Yesterday we reported on Universal Emulator one of the first game emulators built on the Windows 10 platform. The app let users load ROMs, often illegally, from Nintendo and Sega, to play on Windows 10 PCs and phones. It even supports the new Bluetooth wireless Xbox One S controller, HoloLens and Microsoft's Continuum for phone.

Those trying to find the app today are unlikely to be successful. The app was indeed pulled from the Store, but there is some good news and bad news here.

The bad news is the app was pulled because it was also submitted as an app for Xbox One. Many people wondered if Microsoft would let a full-fledged game emulator on to the Xbox gaming console potentially ruffling feathers at Nintendo. We now have our answer as Microsoft does not want the app on the console. The developer behind Universal Emulator tweeted the explanation:

Microsoft has also stated in the rules to applying for validation on the Xbox that games need to go through the ID@Xbox program and not the app store. Microsoft appears to be claiming that Universal Emulator falls into the games category and not apps. In fact, looking at Microsoft's own app guidelines and it is clear that emulators could be flagged:

Apps that are targeted to Xbox One and are primarily gaming experiences must be approved through the ID@Xbox Program.

The key phrasing there is "primarily gaming experiences" and not "games". Certainly, an emulator falls under that definition.

The good news is that the app should come back for Windows 10 PC, Mobile, and HoloLens once the Xbox feature is removed. In fact, there are quite a few Windows 8.1 emulators on the Store and Microsoft's policy was always laxer for the PC. With the new Universal Windows Platform, however, devs can just check a box for submission to the Store with support for Xbox. After being tested it appears Microsoft, for the time being, is going to be a little more controlling.

Nonetheless, earlier in the week we demoed the BitTorrent app Torrex as running on the Xbox One too. It is not clear if that app will be allowed to go public in the coming weeks or if Microsoft will also block that release.

Interestingly, Nesbox is considering a workaround on the Xbox front. A user suggested using an emulator hosted through the Edge browser and let users upload ROMs by using USB storage on the console. Nesbox replied, "will try to make a prototype on Monday".

Legal issues surround emulators as the apps themselves are not illegal, but how they are used, and the ROMs people acquire often violate copyright law (yes, even if you previously owned the cartridge). While Nintendo has no claims against Microsoft for letting emulators on the Store, it is likely frowned upon by the industry. By allowing an emulator on the Xbox users could turn Microsoft's gaming console into a modern Nintendo Entertainment System.

We'll keep you posted on any further changes and if Universal Emulator returns to the Store.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.