The Backwards Compatibility Conumdrum


On my last post about transitions to next generation consoles one subject I tried to work my way towards was backwards compatibility. Another stressful process to go through with platform transitions is what happens to old game libraries, and with the upcoming consoles this may be more important than ever.

Typically when new consoles come along the older games are mostly forgotten, and this is probably one of the faults of the industry at large. When movies or music made format transitions, decades of legacy content was usually transferred over and upgraded. This is really only just beginning to happen with video games because of digital distribution, and I think digital is what could make or break consumer confidence in PlayStation Network and Xbox Live when they have to make their first real transitions to new hardware.

Until the PlayStation 2 came along nobody really expected or prioritized backwards compatibility for console games. Now however, services like iOS have trained customers to expect all their digitally purchased content and software to carry over when they upgrade to new versions of the hardware. What’ll happen if PS3 owners upgrade to the PS4 and find out that nothing they bought on PSN carries over?

It’s not even a matter of whether Sony and Microsoft can achieve disc or digital backwards compatibility since they’re one in the same. Digital and disc games on today’s consoles are developed for the same devices, no matter how they’re delivered.

Rumors on the upcoming consoles right now suggest that there’s a good chance the PS4 might not play PS3 games at all since the new console will likely dump the Cell processor that gave developers such a headache. Judging by what happened with PS2 software on the PS3, I’d imagine that achieving PS3 software emulation on any near future hardware is near impossible. Chances look a little better for the next generation Xbox since it won’t be going through the Nvidia-to-AMD graphics card swap that hobbled backwards compatibility on the Xbox 360, but we still don’t know what Microsoft’s policy is going to be there.

This generation you also have the HD ports of classic games — really no different than re-selling an old movie on Blu-Ray if you ask me. It would make even less sense though to take current generation games and re-sell them on next gen hardware unless the difference between 720p and native 1080p means THAT much to you (in that case just get the PC version).

Honestly I’m more interested in seeing what PS2 games would look like ported to the PS4. Most of the classic HD ports today are still running at an imperfect 720p and/or 30 frames per second. By comparison, conversions of much older games like the original Perfect Dark run at a pretty much flawless 1080p and 60 frames per second. I think the optimum way to handle updates to classic console games is to wait at least two hardware generations. It’ll be crazy seeing what Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo do though, because you know they’ll try something.

Speaking of Nintendo, people have complained about their implementation of Wii Mode on the Wii U, but what if the Wii U ends up being the only console next generation with perfect backwards compatibility, or any at all? What if the disappointing wholly separate software mode is the best anyone could do? Anyway, we all know they’re gonna throw out HD versions of their Gamecube and Wii first party games… and we will buy them. Don’t lie.


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One thought on “The Backwards Compatibility Conumdrum

  1. I have a pretty big PS3 and X360 catalog, so yeah, I’m hoping for backwards compatibility with future consoles, so I don’t have to worry about clutter.

    I’m ready to skip on a PS4 if it won’t have backwards compatibility if what you theorize is correct.

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