Have you heard about the Xbox being one of the best emulation systems you can buy? Well, too bad! Apparently, in the dead of night, Microsoft killed one of the Xbox Series X / S and Xbox One’s most beloved features: Dev Mode.
Dev Mode enables any Xbox, be it Series X, Series S, One, One S, or One X (what a naming scheme!) to run unsigned developer code for a $20 fee. This led many to create and install homebrew apps (like FTP managers) and emulators (like RetroArch, PPSSPP, and Duckstation) on the console. Emulators are pieces of software that allow users to run games published for other platforms, usually much older hardware. It remains, contrary to popular belief and corporate will, perfectly legal.
According to a post on the GBAtemp forums — and my own poking around — Microsoft is locking out users who’ve paid the fee, but have not published a project to the company’s store, with this message:
We have disabled the Windows and Xbox enrollment in your Microsoft Partner Center account because it did not have an active presence in the Store. For reference, see the Developer Code of Conduct (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/uwp/publish/store-developer-code-of-conduct) which says that an active presence in the Store must be maintained.
Dev paradise — Microsoft has benefitted royally from this policy, which has encouraged indie developers to jump to the platform with little-to-no friction. Dev Mode has also been cited as one of the reasons the Xbox One and Series X / S platforms have been so resistant to jailbreaking and hacks, as power users have had an option to run harmless homebrew apps without having to circumvent the company’s security measures.
Emulation, while inconvenient for large companies looking to once again resell old games that we’ve all purchased multiple times, is the only mainstream, comprehensive form of video game preservation available to the general public. Emulation software is legal in the United States and its easy availability has long been a selling point for power users to choose the Xbox platform.
Cancelled — While Microsoft is free to add or remove whatever features it likes from its closed console, doing so with zero notice to customers who’ve already paid $20 to unlock a feature is pretty hostile to long-term customers who’ve made a significant investment into the platform. It’s also a targeted move against the company’s most dedicated fans (because, really, who else is setting up emulation apps and sourcing game files to run on them?), after just barely winning them back following the disaster that was the Xbox One’s launch.
Fickle friends — After having solved the issue, why would Microsoft re-incentivize people to hack its own products? And, with the Valve’s Steam platform breathing down its neck and PlayStation launching its own version of Xbox’s popular Game Pass, are we really the audience Xbox wants to test the loyalty of? Also, when can I have my $20 back?
UPDATE: Microsoft’s Director of Product Management Jason Ronald tweeted this evening that these Partner Center accounts were deactivated “inadvertently” as part of regularly scheduled maintenance. “We are actively working on identifying and reenabling these accounts as soon as possible,” he added. “Once an account has been reactivated, users will be able to reenable Developer Mode on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles.” The company recommends you email ReportApp@microsoft.com if you continue to experience account issues.