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Microsoft says Xbox emulator ban isn’t Nintendo’s fault

Despite rumors and speculation, Nintendo isn't the reason you can't play Mario on Xbox

Microsoft recently took moves to ban emulators on Xbox consoles in retail mode, with many speculating that Nintendo was to blame for the decision. Now, Microsoft has made an official statement, denying that Nintendo was the reason for the ban and reiterating that emulators are typically against the Xbox terms of use.

The controversy picked up last week, when Twitter users started sharing screenshots of their Xbox consoles throwing up error messages when trying to launch emulators like Xenia, a popular Xbox 360 emulator. Emulators have been available on the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S for years, with retail consoles able to boot them up and play emulated games from a wide variety of systems.

Emulation is still possible on Xbox consoles, but requires a developer license, which costs about $20. Attempting to launch any emulator on a console in retail mode now shows the following message:

“The game or app you’re trying to launch violates Microsoft Store policy and is not supported.”

Shortly after the ban was publicized on social media, Twitter user and self-professed emulation enthusiast Alyanna McKenna claimed to have received an email from “a friend at the Xbox QA team” saying that the reason for the ban was primarily issues with Nintendo.

“The primary reason for the ban is related to legal issues with Nintendo,” McKenna claims the email said, “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.”

At the time of writing, the email has not yet been independently verified, and McKenna says that she does not have access to the original email. That said, Microsoft has denied this claim, saying instead that the reason for the ban was its own policies.

“The information currently circulating on Twitter is not accurate,” a statement provided to IGN from Microsoft reads, “Our actions are based on a long standing policy on content distributed to the Store to ensure alignment with our Microsoft Store Policies. Per 10.13.10, Products that emulate a game system or game platform are not allowed on any device family.”

A statement provided to Kotaku said that Microsoft was continually looking at its methods for identifying and reviewing content that doesn’t meet its policies, and reiterated once more that emulators were a no-go. It’s unlikely that emulators will be allowed to return to the consoles, but many are calling for exactly that on social media.

Emulators themselves are typically considered to be legal, and while many use them to play backups of their own games, there are many who use it to play pirated games, too. Nintendo consoles and games in particular seem to be a heavy target of both emulation and piracy, and emulators such as Dolphin for GameCube and Wii were available on Xbox prior to the ban.