Daily Reaction: Is Backwards Compatibility Forward Thinking?

June 25, 2015 Written by Chandler Wood

Backwards-Compatible

There’s been a demand for backwards compatibility in the console market, especially after the PS3 lost its ability to do so, and the PS4 never included it. Microsoft scored a big win in at E3 2015 by announcing (limited) backwards compatibility for the Xbox One, while Sony has firmly stated that is not the direction they will go. But just how important is backwards compatibility as we advance in technology? Daily Reaction is here to look back and discuss.

Chandler: I have far too many games that I need or want to play. Games from this generation. Games from last generation. Hell, I’m sure there’s a whole grundle of PS2 games that I missed. From that perspective, backwards compatibility is quite important. I rarely turn on my PS3 anymore, even though its hard drive is filled with games that I got in sales or through PlayStation Plus but have never touched. Some old Telltale series that I have been meaning to go through. Finishing up my Platinum on Uncharted 3. Actually playing through all of Mirror’s Edge. When I think about it though, would I actually play those games if I had the ability to on my PS4?

For me, I like to be on the cutting edge of new. Right now, if I have a choice between playing Arkham Knight or booting up Alien Isolation for the first time (which is actually a decision I have to make), I’m choosing Arkham Knight. Sorry Alien.There are so many great new games coming out, and so many of these games continue to provide longer and longer experiences, so much that, for me personally, going back would feel like I was missing out on what was new. Yet not going back means so much gets left behind. It’s a mind numbing cycle in my brain that I feel like never ends. I have backwards compatibility in my gaming cabinet in that I have a PS3, and can even switch over the input on my TV using my controller. It is hooked up and ready to go, yet I still opt to play PS4 games every single time I sit down on my couch.

Sony offers a version of backwards compatibility through PS Now, though with the limited titles and subscription fees, it still doesn’t leave many that happy with it. I tried it once to see how well it works, but I have never had a desire to utilize it to go back and play older games. Microsoft focusing on bringing backwards compatibility to the Xbox One is a very cool move on their part, but I wonder how many people will end up really utilizing the function for all of the time and worked invested into discovering and implementing that solution. Sony’s decision to not go down that road is just a business decision based on the value of undertaking that research and implementation. Is one company right or wrong?

There are markets out there for everything. Some people genuinely want backwards compatibility, some people say they want it but would never use it, and some people really just don’t care. Somehow I just think that I would never use backwards compatibility on my PS4. I had it on my original PS3 and never used it. If I really want to go back and play PS3 games, I have a PS3 for that. I can see the allure, and wouldn’t mind if Sony implemented it, but as much as people keep crying out for new games to push the boundaries of what is capable with the hardware, it’s interesting hearing that they also want to use it to go back and play games that don’t even close to meet those standards.

So my hat is off to you Microsoft for making it happen, and it will be interesting to see how this divergence between the brands’ foci now affects the console sales going forward. Did research and implementation of backwards compatibility impact Microsoft’s entry into the VR market or other ideas? We may never know how those resources could have been allocated differently, meanwhile, I’m going to get back to playing the latest game release, Arkham Knight.

ps4 vs xbox one

Dan: The big debate that surrounds this is tied to a great number of things, but I do think there is some definite merit to both sides of the argument. While some gamers, like myself, are usually trying to keep ahead of the ever pushing curve of the latest and greatest, there is another subset of gamers who are perfectly fine playing through the tomes of gaming to see what they like, regardless of release date. What this usually means is that those of us who are pushing ahead could, for the most part, not care less about having backwards compatibility, as we are simply looking forward, and those of us who bounce around more, may find more use in having a cross generational platform.

While Microsoft was smart in adapting the Xbox One to play Xbox 360 titles, I do think that it is a feature that looks better on paper than is going to be one that is an answer to what gamers have been asking for. Having sat through the 360’s limited backwards compatibility, I more often than not found myself having already played the games available, and sat around waiting for updates to include the obscure title that I never got around to playing. Even still, when I did find something I had missed, I quickly remembered why I passed it up in the first place. So, while it is great to have the capability to play some older games, I do wonder how much it will be utilized across the market.

Sony’s ability to add backwards compatibility is a much more complex matter, namely due to the drastic change in hardware design between the previous and the current generation of consoles, at least as far as my understanding goes. While the PS4’s hardware is significantly more powerful, it was also designed to be much more accessible across a variety of development platforms, which is far from how the PS3 was originally designed. What this means is that for the PS4 to emulate the PS3’s Cell architecture, there would need to be a significant amount of resources used to pull it off. Is it possible? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that it would not be an easy endeavor.

This of course raises the question of worth, and if the resources need to pull something like this off is going to be worth the benefits. For gamers, more options to play your existing backlog of games is almost always better, but we still cannot ignore the need for a team to actually make this possible. If anyone remembers how Rare was utilized after being purchased by Microsoft, we know that assets and development will tie up a studio or internal team. So, looking back were those avatars and Kinect games worth the studio’s investment? I personally don’t think so.

So, while backwards compatibility is a cool concept and one that I am sure could be utilized by a number of people. I think we do need to keep a level head about what we are asking for, and whether or not we are willing to pay the price to have it or not.  


Do you think backwards compatibility is necessary or a valuable use of resources? Did Microsoft’s announcement intrigue you? Let us know in the comments below, sends your last gen mail to DailyReaction@PlayStationLifeStyle.net, or spend your resources on Twitter @Foolsjoker and @Finchstrife.

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