Microsoft is not building an Xbox 360 emulator, and we don’t need them to.

A lot of people are talking about news that Microsoft wants to build an official Xbox 360 emulator for the PC.

This post made the rounds on Reddit, and plenty of other sites were quick to report the same news. Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, mentioned in an interview with Gizmodo Brazil that it’s something he would love to see.

“I would love to have the ability to play Xbox 360 on PC at some point too, so have different things we have to think when we plan these things”.

You can find the full interview here. But as popular as this quote is becoming, we shouldn’t expect to see Xbox 360 games on the PC anytime soon.

He also said, in the same interview, that he would love to see the Mario Kart franchise on the Xbox One.

I’d take Mario Kart. You can play online, we have Xbox Live, I think I might have a good connection between Mario Kart and what we do.

It’s easy to take things out of context. There’s obviously nothing here in terms of news, but I’m surprised more people aren’t asking this question:

Would having an Microsoft emulator would be a good thing in the first place?

Would it be possible?

It’s technically possible for Microsoft to do this. I’m not sure it would even be that difficult.

Xbox One is receiving backwards compatibility support, and according to The Verge, Microsoft’s official statement is that this is possible by way of an Xbox 360 Emulator.

“Xbox One Backward Compatibility is an Xbox 360 emulator that runs on Xbox One and is used to play Xbox 360 games”

We know that Windows 10 is coming to the Xbox One soon, and the Xbox One has an x86 processor, so it’s not a huge leap to think they might port their emulator to Windows 10 for the PC. Along with the Xbox app on Windows 10, this could mean an easy marketplace for Microsoft to sell Xbox 360 games to PC gamers.

So while it might not be high on their priority list, it’s definitely possible.

Do we need an official Microsoft emulator?

One of the articles I read about this had some bad things to say about Xbox 360 emulation.

There are some community-based efforts to bring Xbox 360 emulation to the PC platform, but right now things aren’t progressing all that well due to the complex hardware architecture used by the old console.

This isn’t true at all. Work on Xenia is actually progressing nicely. Their game compatibility page now lists 200 games. Many of them crash, but a lot of them are listed as “gameplay” or “playable”. Back in June, the same page listed only 50 titles. You can see for yourself how things are progressing. It’s not exactly ready for prime time yet, but it’s advancing fast.


What would the downsides be?

In the meantime, an open source emulator will have benefits that an official one would not have.

For example, we wont have to worry about DRM. Publishers can pull titles from the Xbox marketplace, or preventing them from appearing at all. This is going to be a limitation to the Xbox 360 compatibility on Xbox One, but it wont be a problem with Xenia. All you will need is the original disc to play.

I also expect that as emulators get more mature, we’ll see games that perform better on the PC than on the original console. This has been the case with other emulators. For example, Dolphin can play Gamecube and Wii games at full 1080p. I’m not sure Microsoft would go the extra mile to take advantage of the better hardware the game would be running on.


I’m not saying it would be a bad thing if Microsoft released an official emulator. I would probably buy a copy myself. I’m only saying that it’s not something we need to rely on – we’ll get there with or without Microsoft’s help. We might even be better off with an open source emulator – whether Microsoft releases an official one or not.

What do you think? Would you be excited to see an official Microsoft produced emulator? Or would you rather hold out for emulators like Xenia to mature? Leave a comment below.


Michael Day is a web engineer, javascript junkie, video game enthusiast, and blogger. Hating how the big console makers were taking advantage of gamers, he made the switch to PC and set it upon himself to make a machine that did everything the more popular consoles wouldn't.

  • REI_isalreadyinuse

    Well they might make an emulator… but I am positive it would have a lot of limitations…. imagine putting in a 360 disc and getting an error along the lines of: “This game is not supported by the xbox360 app”. yeah no thank you.

    • It would probably be individual games being sold via the Windows Store, similar to how they are doing Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. There would be a limited number of games available to buy, and they would probably cost somewhere in the $10-20 range.

      Of course, if they did this exact thing but started putting games on Steam, I would be all over that.

      But it doesn’t matter in the end. We’ll get Xbox 360 emulation with or without their help.

  • arrianadavis

    Thanks for the article! Just want to inform all folks who live outside US that Xbox 360 is a great media Player. If you want to access Netflix and other streaming stations on your Xbox 360 you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block!

  • Kristopher Holmberg

    2 years later — and nobody has made a functional xbox emulator. Nobody ever even made a decent emulator for the original xbox, and I don’t expect we’ll ever get one. So, we need MS to get on this.

    • I thought that Xenia would have been further along two years after writing this, but it’s still coming along. It doesn’t have the funding that RPCS3 and Cemu have, but they are still working on it and the compatibility list is still getting better.

      Original X-box, on the other hand, is a bit disappointing. There wasn’t very much developer interest in emulating it until recently. Half a dozen emulators, but none of them can play anything very well. Another dozen or so abandoned projects. Cxbx-Reloaded is making some good progress lately, though, so keep an eye on that one.

      Anyway, it might take awhile, but well’ll get there eventually. Sometimes emulating a console just takes a long time to get right – just look at how long it took to get working Sega Saturn or CPS3 emulation. I still stand by what I said two years ago – I’d love an official emulator from Microsoft, but it would be plagued with DRM and licensing issues, and you’d have to rebuy all of your games. That might be fine for a lot of people, but I’ll be happy to see the unofficial emulators continue to get better.

      • Kristopher Holmberg

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-open-source, and I certainly don’t care to ‘honor’ the copyright of conglomerates and massive corporations, at least not in the highly specific and exploitative manner in which they’d prefer — but emulation is difficult, and often deliberately so. I’ve not seen good evidence “the community” has both the drive and the resources to do this; I’m actually of the mind I’d wager real money that we’ll get consumer-level automated cars (that’s fully driverless mind) before we get a 360 or xbox emulator – not even necessarily one that simply works, but even one like EPSXE a long time back (no idea what it’s like now) where it mostly worked, and could be made to work with most anything. In other words, with Fable II as the example, you could play the game, but you’d have to spend 1-4 hours messing with settings and plugins before you got to play at all, and it would be a demonstrably inferior experience. . .but you could at least play it.

        It just seems more likely that MS would make the emulator themselves, and screw it — I’ll buy Fable II again. In the meantime, yeah the ‘unofficial’ emulators are nifty, and serious props to those who work on them — I just don’t expect much from them. Of course, I’m happy to be wrong on this – there’s no upside to being right here after-all :P.

        • To be honest, I would love to see official emulators on PC, even if I had to buy the games all over again. Can you imagine how amazing it would be if the Nintendo eShop were available for PC? Or the PlayStation store? By just porting the right emulators to PC and creating a store front for Windows, both companies could cash in on the PC gaming market with very little effort, and I would immediately start throwing money at them.

          They might not go the extra mile to make the games better (see 4k rendering in RPCS3), but they would definitely be welcome, and there would be a huge market for them.

          Without official support, though, I think our best bet when it comes to emulation is to expect somebody to get it right… eventually. Some consoles are emulated pretty quickly (Wii U for example), some emulators take 10 years to emulate at all (CPS-3). And even the best emulators are still making progress (look at the most recent Dolphin update, for example).

          Even Xenia, which had 200 games listed on their compatibility page when I wrote this article 2 years ago, now has 765 games listed. It’s coming along slowly. Though, with how quickly autonomous cars are being developed, you might actually be right. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get autonomous cars first.