On Ubuntu 20.04 disabling file history (Settings > Privacy > File History & Rubbish Bin) prevents VMs from being loaded into the VMWare Player library. It looks like it relies on the file $HOME/.local/share/recently-used.xbel rather than its own config files. I would like to report this a bug as there is no useful error message warning the user of this fact. VMs can still be started from the terminal (vmplayer $HOME/vmware/path-to-vm.vbx) with file history disabled. I hope this is useful for anyone that finds it.