Microsoft has been hard at work making Windows 10 more attractive to gamers than it already is, and much of its effort will be on display when its Creators Update rolls out next week (you can grab it now if you're feeling antsy). But while goodies like Game Mode and Beam support are on the horizon, Microsoft is drawing the line at emulators—they're no longer welcome in the Windows Store.
The change in policy was noticed by NESbox, as its free Universal Emulator was pulled from the Windows Store. Before it was yanked, Windows 10 users could download the emulator and play ROMs for the NES, Super Nintendo, Nintendo Gameboy, Sega Genesis, and Sega Mega Drive. The nifty emulator supports keyboard input and Xbox 360 controllers, and also has an on-screen gamepad for touch displays.
Microsoft updated its Windows Store Policies page to reflect the change. Under section 10.13.10 it reads, "Apps that emulate a game system are not allowed on any device family." So not only are game system emulators like the one NESbox developed banned from the Windows Store for Windows 10 PCs, they're also not allowed on Windows phones, tablets, and the Xbox One.
Emulators are popularly used to play games from previous generation consoles that are no longer being produced. Game ROMs for all sorts of systems are freely available on the Internet, though the legality of them falls into a gray area, or at least the moral code surrounding them does. The popular argument in favor of emulators is that if a person owns a game, it's okay to grab the ROM. Others feel the same way about games no longer in circulation, otherwise known as abandonware.
Publishers do not feel the same way. Nintendo, for example, states in no uncertain terms that obtaining a ROM is not permitted, period. Here is a chunk of text from its FAQ on the matter:
Can I download a Nintendo ROM from the Internet if I already own the authentic game?The FAQ has plenty more to say on the matter, but plain and simple, Nintendo is strongly against the concept of game emulators. It looks as though Microsoft is as well, though removing NESbox's Universal Emulator from the Windows Store does not mean Windows 10 users are out of luck—it's still available on the Internet.
There is a good deal of misinformation on the Internet regarding the backup/archival copy exception. It is not a "second copy" rule and is often mistakenly cited for the proposition that if you have one lawful copy of a copyrighted work, you are entitled to have a second copy of the copyrighted work even if that second copy is an infringing copy. The backup/archival copy exception is a very narrow limitation relating to a copy being made by the rightful owner of an authentic game to ensure he or she has one in the event of damage or destruction of the authentic. Therefore, whether you have an authentic game or not, or whether you have possession of a Nintendo ROM for a limited amount of time, i.e. 24 hours, it is illegal to download and play a Nintendo ROM from the Internet.
How does Nintendo feel about the emergence of video game emulators?
The introduction of emulators created to play illegally copied Nintendo software represents the greatest threat to date to the intellectual property rights of video game developers. As is the case with any business or industry, when its products become available for free, the revenue stream supporting that industry is threatened. Such emulators have the potential to significantly damage a worldwide entertainment software industry which generates over $15 billion annually, and tens of thousands of jobs.