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How to Run Old Games on Windows

Feeling nostalgic? Want to fire up some classic PC games like Duke Nukem on your modern PC? Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. Here are some ways to run old games on your Windows machine.

Tip: are you using Linux instead of Windows? Here are the ways to play Windows games on Linux.

Why Don’t Old Games Run on Windows?

Operating systems change significantly over time. Dependencies that older hardware and software required are no longer used by modern systems. As hardware upgrades and software updates require more sophisticated operating systems, the older bits of code that are no longer required were tossed out.

For example, the 64-bit architecture of modern operating systems like Windows 10 and 11 simply doesn’t support the older 16-bit architecture found in Windows 95 or Windows 98. This means you can’t always run Windows 95 games in Windows 11 just like that. That being said, there are a few tricks to getting your games up and running.

Note: each game is going to have different requirements and dependencies. As such, the tricks listed below may not work in every game.

Tip: if you have a high-end PC and prefer to play modern games, check out these free PC games to play on Windows.

For Old Games That Are On A CD/DVD

Modern computers don’t come with a CD/DVD drive. To get started, you need to get an external DVD drive in order for your computer to run the game.

In most cases, a cheap USB plug-and-play DVD drive will work fine. These usually cost around $30 and are usually DVD-RW (so you can burn and rip discs if you’re still into that kind of thing!). Simply plug the drive into your PC, let it install its drivers, then insert the game you want to install!

1. Go to Microsoft Store

Microsoft Store is much more expansive than it used to be in the previous versions of Windows. You will be surprised to find many old games available for download in the Microsoft Store.

1. Click on the “Start menu,” type “Microsoft Store,” and press Enter.

Microsoft Store

2. Click on the search bar and type the name of the game and press Enter.

  1. Find the best match and click on it.
Find The Game You're Looking For
  1. Click on “Get” to download the game.
Finally Click On Get

2. Steam and GOG

Both Steam and GOG feature versions of older games that have been patched to work on modern OSes. This means you don’t have to fiddle around with your computer and can get straight to your nostalgia-soaked gaming session. Furthermore, most older games are super affordable and DRM-free.

  1. Download the Steam app.
Download Steam
  1. Click on “Create a Free Account” and follow the steps.
Create Steam Account
  1. Sign in to your Steam account and go to “Store.”
Steam Store
  1. Search for your favorite game and select it. Purchase the game and enjoy playing.
Downloading Sonic

Other than Steam and GOG, you can also search on other platforms, like G2A, where you can find educational material, software, and even GTA deals in addition to old favorite games.

Another way to check if your old games will work is to see if there are community patches or mods to make it runs on modern systems.

Play Old Games Windows 10 Daggerfall Unity
Daggerfall Unity is just an example of the many community projects to modernize old games

It’s little secret that the old Doom games benefit a great deal from source ports like ZDoom, which embellish the games with widescreen resolutions, dynamic lighting and all kinds of modern technical flourishes (paving the way for incredible overhauls like Brutal Doom).

There are open-source versions of games, like Theme Hospital and the classic dungeon crawler Arx Fatalis, while a team’s been tirelessly working away at porting The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall to the Unity engine, with the game now largely functional!

Whatever old game you’re looking to play, have a look to see whether someone has modernized it for Windows 10.

My Abandonware and ModDB are two of the most popular websites to download modernized versions of games. You can search the contents of these websites for your favorite games. Chances are, you will find them or at least the closest game to them.

My Abandonware

4. Run as Administrator

Modern operating systems like Windows 10 have various security features that weren’t available in older operating systems. One unintentional side effect of this is that these security features can prevent you from running your old games.

For instance, UAC (User Account Control) helps to mitigate malware from wreaking havoc on your system. It does this by preventing the automatic installation of files from unknown or unverified sources. Unfortunately, this can prevent your retro games from installing on your modern PC. This is because the executable (.exe) that installs the files necessary to run a game is blocked from being installed on your computer.

To get around this, you’ll need to run the .exe file with administrator privileges. Simply right-click on the game’s .exe file and select “Run as Administrator” from the menu.

Run As Administrator

With a little bit of luck, your game will run. This is an easy workaround; however, you’ll have to do this every time you want to play the game.

5. Compatibility Mode

Modern versions of Windows have a feature that allows users to simulate older versions of Windows called compatibility mode. If you plan on playing your game more than once, running it with administrator privileges is going to get old fast. Instead, use compatibility mode to tell Windows how to launch your game every time.

  1. Find the “.exe file” of the game you want to run and right-click it. In the menu that pops up, click on “Properties.”
Go To Game Properties
  1.  At the top of the new window, find the tab that reads “Compatibility.” Under the option that reads “Compatibility Mode,” you’ll see a drop-down box that allows you to select the version of Windows the game was designed for.
  1. Under “Settings,” you can even tweak the screen resolution and tell Windows to operate with a reduced color pallet. Enabling these options may help to increase your chances of playing that old favorite.
Enabling Windows Compatiblity

Test if your game can run on your Windows 11. If not, we still have the option of “Compatibility Troubleshooting.”

6. Run Compatibility Troubleshooting

If your game did not run on the settings you chose, it means that there is another version of Windows or screen resolution the game is designed for. Compatibility Troubleshooting will help you run several scenarios to see which one fits your game’s design the best. Hopefully, this will help you run your childhood favorite game on Windows 11.

  1. Right-click on the “.exe file” of the game and choose “Properties” in the menu that pops up.
Go To Game Properties
  1. In the window that opens, go to the “Compatibility” tab and click “Run compatibility troubleshooter.”
Run Compatiblity Troubleshooter
  1. You will be directed to a new window where there are two options. First, go for the first option and click “Try recommended settings.”
Select Try Recommended Settings
  1. In the next window, click the “Test the program” button to see if the issue has been resolved with the recommended settings. If your game opens successfully, they hurray for you! If not click “Next” to go for the other options.
Select Test The Program
  1. The following window will ask you about the results of the test. If successful, you can proudly click “Yes, save these settings for this program.” But if the game cannot launch, choose the second option that says, “No, try again using different settings.”
Select No Try Again Using Different Settings
  1. In the next window, you have to specify what precisely the issue is. More often than not, it’s the first option, “The program worked in earlier versions of Windows but won’t install or run now.” But you can check all the boxes if you want.
The Program Worked In Earlier Versions Of Windows
  1. If you know the version your game is compatible with, or if it is listed in the window, you can click it and then hit “next.” However, you can also choose the option “I don’t know” and let the Windows system discover the version on its own.
Select I Dont Know
  1. Test the program again and hit “Next.”
Hit Next
  1. If the game persists in not showing up, click the middle option again to see what other modifications the troubleshooter can come up with.
Click The Middle Option
  1. In the repeated window of listing your issue, pick the last option: “I don’t see my problem listed.” And then hit “Next.”
I Dont See The Problem Listed

7. Use an Emulator

Until Windows XP, the Microsoft Windows operating system was built on top of MS-DOS. As a result, many of the games released during this period were written for DOS. Regrettably, modern versions of Windows are no longer reliant on DOS and do not support it. If compatibility mode still isn’t getting your games to run, you may want to try to emulate DOS from within your modern machine.

The most popular emulator that lets you run games designed for DOS is DOSBox. There is extensive documentation on how to get DOSBox up and running on your PC. In addition, the official DOSBox website keeps an exhaustive list of all the games that are compatible so that you can check whether your collection will work before you go any further.

8. 3D Wrappers

Modern GPUs support 3D acceleration through three APIs: DirectX, OpenGL, and Vulkan. If you’re trying to run a game that was made specifically for the ancient API created by the long-gone 3dfx, Glide, it simply won’t run, for the simple reason that your modern GPU doesn’t support it. Many Windows 95 games relied on these APIs to run their early-era 3D graphics!

For this to work, you can use a “glide wrapper” – a piece of software that acts as a translator for the game’s Glide API calls, mapping them to DirectX and OpenGL functions that your modern GPU can understand.

nGlide is one of the most popular solutions that allows you to play old games for Glide on current versions of Windows. By merely installing it, you add a “glide compatibility layer” to your version of Windows, which will allow you to play old games like the 3D-accelerated version of Diablo II.

  1. Go to the nGlide’s website and download the software.
Nglide Website
  1. Run the software and open your game’s .exe file as an administrator.
Run Your Old Game While Ngline Is Open

9. ScummVM

If you’re trying to run some old adventure game, like those made by Sierra or LucasGames, it’s not worth fighting with your Operating System’s settings or DosBox when there’s a better alternative: ScummVM.

Originally made as a modern implementation of SCUMM, the system LucasArts used to create most of their classic adventures, like “The Secret Of Monkey Island” and “Full Throttle,” it soon expanded to also support Sierra’s classics and then some not-so-popular but also beloved titles like “Beneath a Steel Sky” and the Gobliiins series.

Today it supports over 325 titles, including the Broken Sword, Myst, and even the genuinely ancient Elvira series.

  1. Download the ScummVM app and install it.
Download Scummvm
  1. Run the app, and select “Add Game.”
Adding Game To Scummvm
  1. Using the file browser that opens, find the game you downloaded from the ScummVM library and click on “Choose” to add the game.
Find The Game And Select Its Folder
  1. Appy game settings in the following window then hit “OK.”
Apply Game Settings
  1. Click “Start Game.”
Start The Game

10. Use a Virtual Machine

If none of the options listed above are working, you’re having major compatibility issues. To solve this, your best option is to trick the game into thinking you’re running it on the operating system it was originally designed for. You can do so by running a virtual machine on your current hardware. VirtualBox is a popular virtual machine for Windows and is 100 percent free.

Run Old Games Winworld

For the uninitiated, think of a virtual machine as an emulator for an operating system. It basically works like this: you begin by installing a virtual machine on your current PC. From within the virtual machine you install an operating system. In this case, it would be an older version of Windows that is compatible with your games. Luckily, you can get older versions of Windows from WinWorld.

Note: Microsoft is aware of this site and only prohibits commercial versions of Windows XP and Vista from being downloaded. Here are the ways you can legally download a Windows virtual machine.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I check if an old game is compatible with Windows?

You can check the game’s system requirements or do some online research to see if the game has been updated to work on the latest operating system.

Is it safe to run old games on Windows?

Running old games on Windows 11 should not cause any harm to your computer. However, be aware that some older games may contain security vulnerabilities that could compromise your system. Make sure to keep your antivirus software up to date and only download games from trusted sources.

Farhad Pashaei
Farhad Pashaei

As a technophile, Farhad has spent the last decade getting hands-on experience with a variety of electronic devices, including smartphones, laptops, accessories, wearables, printers, and so on.

When he isn’t writing, you can bet he’s devouring information on products making their market foray, demonstrating his unquenchable thirst for technology.

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