In case you weren’t aware: you can run RetroArch on Xbox Series X|S and run emulators from the likes of Dolphin and Xenia on it. But unsurprisingly, emulators running on Xbox has sort of been this gray area for the big N, and evidently they were the ones to tell Microsoft to end emulation support. While this may not necessarily have anything to do with Linux or Steam Deck, I felt like it’s an important topic to discuss.

Xbox Series consoles offers two modes: retail mode, and developer mode. In developer mode, you’ll still be fine running emulators, but there are a few caveats:

  1. $20 paywall to enable dev mode.
  2. Restrictions by Microsoft apparently prohibit the Xbox hardware from using its full potential.

To counteract this, developers pushed emulators to other places, thereby allowing the emulators to run in retail mode. This would bypass the hardware restrictions, as well as the $20 fee, but even then, you still have to go through a couple of hoops.

Well, seems that starting today, Microsoft has banned emulators from running in retail mode. Microsoft Azure developer Alyanna McKenna mentioned this in an email she got from “a friend at the Xbox QA team”:

The primary reason for the ban is related to legal issues with Nintendo. While emulating itself is not illegal, it can be used to play games from consoles that are still under copyright protection without permission, which can create issues with Nintendo and its affiliates.

The email also mentions a “potential security risk” since some emulators apparently require “permissions beyond what is typical for an app.” That being said, the email goes on to say Microsoft doesn’t have any intentions on pulling emulator support from dev mode, and “we are still exploring ways to allow safe and legal emulation on Xbox.”

Now keep in mind this isn’t an official statement from Microsoft; this is just someone from the Xbox QA team. But I guess we have the assurance we can still run emulators on the Series consoles in dev mode, for now.

Or, better yet, just use EmuDeck on Steam Deck. Probably the easiest emulation solution out there.

Cover image credit: Modern Vintage Gamer