Microsoft's Phil Spencer wants the game industry to save games by emulating them
Revisiting your favorite video game as a teenager isn't as easy as rereading a favorite book or re-watching a movie you've already seen 100 times. Phil Spencer, executive vice president of Gaming at Microsoft, believes the industry needs to solve this problem by embracing simulation with open arms.
Books are arguably one of the most enduring mediums because the same book you read as a child can be enjoyed again and again as you grow up. Film, TELEVISION, music, and other media consumption began to show the dependence on technology. Twenty years later, it won't be as easy to listen to a cassette or watch a VHS tape, unless you also have a fully functional cassette player and VCR. Thankfully, these industries generally embrace every new technology that comes along and re-release it again and again in different formats. Having to buy your favorite movies over and over again isn't ideal, but you can always find a copy of Star Wars, for example, as the industry shifts from VHS to DVD and Blu-ray to streaming. (There's no guarantee you'll find the original, of course.)
As technology has improved, the video game industry has become less adaptable. Unless you have a bunch of classic hardware to play original copies of games, Microsoft's latest generation of consoles employs a technique called "emulation" (software that masquerades as old hardware to play old games) to play old Xbox 360 and original Xbox games. Nintendo can also play NES, SNES, N64, and even classic Sega games via Switch's online service.
But the selection of simulation games you can play on these modern systems is small and limited to the more popular games of the past few decades. If you want to revisit lesser-known games, you can find separate emulators for Android mobile devices, PCS, streaming boxes, and even consoles. But finding and using the necessary game files themselves, known as ROMs, is a murky legal gray area. Companies like Nintendo have been particularly hostile to this approach, often using legal means to shut down sites that host ROMs of classic video games, which is exactly what Phil Spencer would like to see change.
He's not advocating video game companies release all classic games on the Internet for free and pretend Copyrights and trademarks don't exist, but for all copyright holders instead of embracing an industry-wide simulation approach, there are probably thousands of classic games on every modern console. Access doesn't have to be free, but just as classic movies and TV shows are available on many modern consoles and devices via the Netflix app, a similar streaming service could be implemented to allow gamers interested in retro games to pay to access them.
This approach may not make as much money as releasing a few retro games a year on dedicated consoles, but it can still be profitable for developers and publishers if everyone sticks together and decides to adopt the simulation strategy. More importantly, it will help preserve the game's rich history and allow it to appeal to a growing fan base. Some of the greatest filmmakers of our time are also movie buffs, influenced by the work of directors who came before them, and making it easier for earlier games to get out can only help the industry create stronger content in the future.