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Like any creative medium, video game developers rely on a certain amount of riffing on other people’s ideas. But in order to evolve an existing concept, people need ways to easily access older works. That is something that is more challenging in video games due to the nature of software and hardware compatibility. And Xbox boss Phil Spencer wants the industry to embrace emulation to solve that problem.
“My hope — and I think I have to present it that way as of now — is as an industry we’d work on legal emulation that allowed modern hardware to run any (within reason) older executable allowing someone to play any game,” Spencer wrote in a message to Axios.
This is something that Microsoft’s gaming division is already doing with its software. The company’s latest gaming hardware, the Xbox Series X/S, can run many games originally released for Xbox 360 and the original Xbox. That is all thanks to software emulation that Microsoft built internally.
According to Spencer, emulation is valuable because it makes more of the history of gaming available to individuals. And that is crucial for creating something akin to a modern public library for gaming software.
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“I think we can learn from the history of how we got here through the creative,” Spencer said. “I love it in music. And I love it in movies and TV, and there’s positive reasons for gaming to want to follow.”
The most obvious positive reason is for educational purposes. Empowering a student to easily access older games to learn design and mechanical lessons could lead to better games in the future. And that benefits everyone.
Emulation, of course, is already legal in most cases. The complications come from distributing copyrighted software, which enjoy lengthy legal protections.