Image of article titled Microsoft's Phil Spencer Wants the Gaming Industry to Emulate Game Preservation Through Emulation

Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

Replaying the favorite video games from your youth isn’t as easy as re-reading a book you love or replaying a movie you’ve already seen 100 times. And Phil Spencer, executive vice president of Microsoft games, thinks it’s a problem the gaming industry must tackle embracing emulation with open arms.

Books are arguably one of the most persevering mediums, because the same copy you read as a child can be enjoyed over and over again as you get older. Movies, TV shows, and music are starting to present technology-related issues for media consumption. Trying to listen to an audio cassette or watch a VHS tape 20 years later is not so easy unless you still have a working cassette player and VCR. Fortunately, these industries usually embrace all the new technologies that come along and re-release that content over and over again in different formats. Having to buy your favorite movies over and over again is not ideal, but you can always find a copy of Star wars, for example, when the industry moved from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray to streaming. (Of course, you weren’t sure to find the original cut.)

The video game industry has been nowhere almost as accommodating as technology advances. Unless you maintain a collection of classic hardware for playing original copies of games, trying to access these titles on newer consoles and gaming machines is hit or miss. Miss. The latest generation of Microsoft consoles use a technique called emulation (software that can play older games by pretending to be older hardware) to play old original Xbox 360 and Xbox titles, just like Nintendo through Switch’s online service which now allows to the handheld console to play NES, SNES, N64, and even classic Sega games.

But the selection of emulated games that you can play on these modern systems is small. and limited to the most popular titles of the last decades. If you want to revisit lesser known there is no shortage of stand-alone games emulators available for Android mobile devices, PCs, streaming boxes and even integrated directly into portable consoles. But finding and using the necessary game files themselves, called ROMs, is a murky legal gray area. Companies like Nintendo are particularly hostile to this approach, often use legal means to remove websites hosting classic video game ROM files, and that’s what Phil Spencer wants to see changed.

He is not advocating that video game companies publish all their classic games for free on the Internet and claim that copyrights and trademarks do not exist, but that all rights holders instead take an emulation approach to the industry scale where every modern console would potentially be able to play thousands of classic games. Access would not necessarily be free, but in the same way as classic movies and TV shows can be watched on many modern consoles and devices through the Netflix app, a similar streaming service could be implemented to allow players interested in retro titles pay for access.

The approach might not make as much money as release a few retro games on a dedicated handheld every year does, but it would still pay off for developers and publishers if everyone got together and settled on an emulation strategy. More importantly, it would help preserve the game’s rich history and make it accessible to an ever-growing fan base. Some of the greatest filmmakers of our time are also film buffs who were influenced by the work of directors who came before them, and making older games more readily available will only strengthen what the industry will produce in the future.