Microsoft bans game emulators from the Windows Store

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Microsoft has updated its Windows Store policies to ban developers from creating apps that emulate games. Nesbox's Universal Emulator app for playing Nintendo and Sega ROMs has been removed from the Store following the update. Nesbox was one of the more popular emulators on the Windows Store, allowing Windows 10 users to play games using an Xbox One controller.

PC Gamer reports that the app is still available outside of the Windows Store, but the developer has confirmed Nesbox has been removed by Microsoft. It appears Microsoft updated its store policies on March 29th to ban game emulators, as the previous policy revision in January didn’t include “Apps that emulate a game system are not allowed on any device family.”

While it might seem surprising that Microsoft ever allowed game emulators in the Windows Store, Google does not restrict emulators on its own Android store. This now leaves Google as the only mobile app store still supporting game emulator apps, as Apple also bans these types of apps.


Because the Windows Store is so successful, they can clearly afford to start blowing apps out.

Microsoft sure knows how to make silly decisions.

Sure, I know why they felt they needed to take these out, but in the face of so much developer skepticism about the Windows 10 Store, they sure didn’t need it broadcast that their curation levels are more like the Apple Store than the Google Play store.

People NEED to be reassured that Windows still remains open. Taking out perfectly legal emulators doesn’t seem like reassurance to me.

"perfectly legal"…. Come on dude lol.

Game emulators are legal. It’s the roms that are not.

Is that true of emulators for more recent systems? My friend and I got into this discussion after the pretty significant amount of money CEMU has raised on Patreon. I get how emulation itself isn’t illegal, but don’t emulators for relatively modern consoles have to also emulate the OS in the background? I would assume that the console OS is copyrighted, and thus illegal to emulate.

… and thus illegal to emulate

Nope. There is nothing illegal for a machine to emulate another machine, or an OS to emulate another OS. If that were the case, we’d never have Linux. Copying code, on the other hand, is illegal. Emulating it isn’t.

Copyright law does not protect ideas, methods, or systems. Copyright protec-
tion is therefore not available for ideas or procedures for doing, making, or
building things; scientific or technical methods or discoveries; business opera-
tions or procedures; mathematical principles; formulas or algorithms; or any
other concept, process, or method of operation.

And here.

Ok, I should have been clearer. With modern consoles (heck, really anything past the PSX), doesn’t the OS have to be baked into the emulator (since it needs to run in the background), which would thus break copyright rules?

I’ve used a PS2 emulator before, and it definitely shows the Sony boot up splash screen, although I don’t remember if you can go into that OS or not. And Dolphin was recently able to emulate the eShop, which I imagine also requires emulating the OS. If the OS is baked into the emulator, wouldn’t it make it illegal?

Depends. Most emulators for Game Boy, SNES, etc. aren’t emulating software. Those games were executed by the hardware directly, and the devices had no OS. The emulators wrote code to emulate the physical chips.

PS2 emulators like PCSX2 are the same way. PCSX2 emulates the hardware, and nothing else. The developers themselves don’t provide the Sony BIOS because that is illegal. However other people have performed the dump of a console BIOS to use it. Distributing this is illegal as well. But if you perform a dump on your own console for the emulator, you are legally in the clear as you already own the copy that came with the console. According to the ruling in Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. v. Nintendo of America, Inc. (1992), it is legal to perform a copy of the original device’s BIOS if you own the device.

In the same manner, downloading a PS2 game ISO is illegal, but making a backup copy of a disc you already own for use in the emulator is legal.

As to Dolphin, they emulated the OS but don’t use the original OS. Similar to how Linux can run Windows programs via Wine and remain legal. They built their own cleanroom implementation. Dolphin can run the eShop because compatibility has reached the point that the app will run. Logging in and using it still requires the original signing certificates from the Wii console, so those have to be dumped from the console you already own so the emulator shows up to Nintendo’s servers as that real console. But again, dumping from the original console is legal according to the court case above.

That all makes a ton of sense. Cool. Thanks for all of that info.

I’m well aware…my point is I hate the idea of people trying to legitimize emulators as if they aren’t BY AND AWAY primarily used to play illegal ROMs. This is the same argument pirates used when they were "backing up" their DVD collection with DVD strippers.

Like sure, some people may be doing some legal things with it but its a legal tool to use for illegal activities. Lets not try to pretend its not otherwise we can’t have a big boy conversation about it.

Game emulators are legal, it is copyrighted roms that aren’t. Just like bit torrent clients are legal, but some material downloaded is not. Or "special tobacco" pipes are legal and only become illegal once you put weed in them…

Someone correct me if I’m wrong. But ripping your own ROMs from cartridges that you own is perfectly legal. What is illegal is to distribute them. But IANAL.

It’s disputable. Are we buying a license to that game, or the physical media it is on. I know there is law on this and IANAL either.

@nilay help us out here!

Sure if you’re the one ripping your ROMs maybe..MAYBE. But again, how many people do you think who care about emulators are just doing it to back up their cartridges they own? The distribution is very much illegal.

How isn’t Windows still open? You can still download and install the emulators outside of the store.

Good point, I never use the store. Honestly, I think I’ve downloaded cut the rope 2 and thats it…

You can still download and install the emulators outside of the store.

Sure, but will you be able to with Windows 10 Cloud? If the answer is "no" and that version becomes the predominant consumer play for Microsoft in the future, then we have a longer-term problem.

But has Microsoft even officially revealed anything about Windows 10 Cloud?

I don’t know. It doesn’t matter because I don’t have Windows 10 Cloud.

I think the issue is more about when people want to put these emulators on say the Xbox One but it is not open like Windows.

But xbox one was never meant/marketed to run 3rd party game emulators. It’s not a PC (or at least isn’t sold as one)

There are iterations of Windows that don’t allow this. Windows Phone, I believe is one. Windows Cloud is another.

Yes, but Windows Phone and Xbox have always been more restrictive than desktop Windows 10. We don’t know what Windows Cloud is, so that’s irrelevant. You can always keep using Windows 10 if you want freedom.

But you can sideload apps on win 10 mobile. You don’t need to go through the store to do so.

Yes, game emulators are perfectly legal because they implement all the features of hardware with completely custom code and algorithms. Even then if algorithms aren’t unique they aren’t subject to copyright either because mathematics would be for-profit.

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