When talking about backwards compatibility in next generation consoles on this site before, I’ve mentioned older legacy consoles a bit, but never devoted a whole post to the subject. There’s not a whole lot of information to go on yet, but there is enough that the situation already looks complicated with Sony.
The most well-known thing is that Sony plans to stream legacy content over Gaikai, but what I’ve noticed is that whole conversation has centered specifically on PS3 games. Every time Sony mentioned Gaikai, they specifically said it was for PS3 games. Every time Sony mentioned the PS4’s lack of backwards compatibility, they specifically said it wouldn’t play PS3 games natively. Sony hasn’t directly said anything about PS1 or PS2 games. A lot of publications have assumed Sony’s policy with PS3 content applied to PS1 and PS2, but I haven’t found a single direct source from Sony confirming those assumptions.
It’s an easy assumption to make at face value though. It might make Sony more money to tie all its legacy content to some kind of streaming service. The technical details however bring into question which solution to backwards compatibility might be easier.
Sony’s doing Gaikai for PS3 games partly because it has no other option — the PS4 architecture definitely can’t run PS3 games natively or through any kind of emulation, but older consoles are a bit different because of the probable hardware gap. I think if Sony can, it will resort to emulation instead of streaming for PS1 or PS2 games on PS4. Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida admitted as much: “The easiest thing, technically, would be to make PS1 games work on PS4 with emulation. But we’re not talking about our emulation plans as yet.”
Gaikai might make sense business-wise for Sony, but it also requires more network resources. A person buying a PS1 game off of PlayStation Network is a single download of roughly 700MB (or 1GB at most), a PS2 game might be 4GB. Streaming that same game over Gaikai would probably draw a few Gigabytes off of Sony’s servers for each play session. I would think the one-time download-to-own would make more sense for all parties.
Sony has basically nailed PS1 emulation at this point — the PS3 runs basically every PS1 disc through emulation, and the PSP and Vita support a whole library of digital PS1 games. When the Vita came out it was just a matter of Sony porting over that emulator, and hundreds of games suddenly became compatible with the system. I don’t see why the same couldn’t eventually be done for the PS4.
Nothing’s clearly known about the possibility of PS2 emulation. We know the PS3 contains an emulator that can run all PS2 discs with varying degrees of stability when hacked. Theoretically the PS4’s additional horsepower would improve that stability were Sony to port over that emulator.
The thing that I hope against hope for is software compatibility with legacy discs. As I mentioned above, all PS3’s run PS1 discs just fine through emulation, so that’s certainly feasible technically. The problem is that the PS4’s optical drive apparently won’t run CDs. I don’t know if that just means audio CDs or CD ROMs or whatever. Physical PS2 games are a whole different story that depends on Sony’s business decisions and whether it can get a PS2 emulator working on the PS4.
Here’s what I think is mostly likely to happen: Some time after the PS4’s launch, maybe a year or so, Sony will port its PS1 and PS2 emulators to the system, and you’ll be able to download PS1 and PS2 classics on PS4. If you already bought them on PS3, PSP, or Vita, you won’t have to pay for them again.
Anything else would honestly surprise me. Abandoning that content altogether would seem uncharacteristic of Sony, and running Gaikai for PS1 and PS2 games sounds like a waste of resources.
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