It's been a big news week for Phil Spencer, Microsoft's head of gaming. Spencer has taken a hard stance (opens in new tab) on Activision's roiling controversy and also chimed in (opens in new tab) on the debate about NFTs in gaming. In a conversation with Axios (opens in new tab), he expressed a desire to see industry-wide support for console emulation like Xbox's backwards compatibility program.
"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."
Preservation is a critical issue for the appreciation and enjoyment of videogames. We have it pretty nice here on PC as opposed to on consoles, but you can still run into issues getting older games to work on new operating systems. We also had some near-disasters this year with Ultima Underworld, Syndicate, (opens in new tab) and the Grand Theft Auto 3 trilogy (opens in new tab) being removed from digital stores, though the good news is they're all available again now.
Spencer's statement is certainly encouraging, but it also clashes with Microsoft's recent announcement (opens in new tab) that the 76 original Xbox and 360 titles made to work with backwards compatibility on November 16 would be the last. There are still hundreds of games not supported by the program, including fan favorites like Jet Set Radio Future, Project Gotham Racing 4, and, of course, Shadow the Hedgehog. Spencer has publicly commented (opens in new tab) on games preservation in the past as well, expressing that industry-wide cooperation and cloud gaming could be the way forward.
Positive movement in favor of preservation on the corporate side is great to see—it would be even better if Microsoft brought its Xbox emulator to Windows, too. Having old games work with modern systems, or at least making them available for download on digital stores is convenient for everyone, but I think it's most crucial for helping new generations of gamers access these classics. That being said, I still believe the most important work in games preservation will be done by enthusiasts and academics. Resources like The Internet Archive (opens in new tab) keep old games around and playable on modern hardware regardless of popularity or profitability.