Why Backwards Compatibility May Be More Important Than Ever


A while ago I did a post talking about the challenges Nintendo faces in getting its digital library running on the Wii U. People have criticized their handling of backwards compatibility on the system, but at least the Wii U has backwards compatibility.

EA at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference seems to think that neither Sony nor Microsoft will have it at all in their next generation consoles. This issue seems to be heatedly split between people who care and people who don’t care.

First however, let me clarify one thing: No backwards compatibility means none whatsoever for any PS3 or Xbox 360 games, be they on physical discs or downloaded from PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Physical and digital games on each system are developed for the same hardware, the only difference being the delivery mechanism, and thus follow the same technical rules. Physical and digital share the same fate for native PS3 or 360 games. Sony will probably get the PS1 emulator working on PS4, but I imagine that’s about it if it doesn’t have full BC.

The fact that people seem to assume a discrepancy exists between digital and physical when it comes to backwards compatibility though highlights the reason why people care about it now — the content tied to their PSN and XBL accounts.

Before, a game console was generally its own self-contained system — you bought physical media for that one machine to play on that one machine. Any kind of persistence between console generations was a luxury, generally only introduced when Sony brought about the idea of “PlayStation” continuing across more than one machine.

Today, people have online accounts with digital media attached to them. When they buy a new version of the iPad they expect all the software they ran on the old one to transfer right over. What’s gonna happen when people buy the PS4 or new Xbox and find that nothing they bought on XBL or PSN will carry over? Some say it could break consumer confidence in those services.

I personally think that part is important because gaming has become more about services than anything else. People love Xbox primarily because of XBL. I’m stuck on Apple primarily because of all the software and content I have that’s tied to iOS. Having that kind of consistency could only make the next Xbox even more attractive for gamers really attached to their XBL accounts.

Really though, I just value backwards compatibility for two reasons: 1) I think games should be treated as permanent works of media to be remembered and kept available for future generations. 2) I have eight freaking consoles hooked up to my TV right now and I really don’t know where I’d put any new ones.


  • Now that it lets me use AirPlay, HBO Go is one step closer to having a sensible business model. Now where’s the PS3 app?
  • Looks like that new Ghost in the Shell thing is a prequel miniseries: http://t.co/h3RR7Ae7
  • Did some more custom box arts. Here’s some Final Fantasy: http://t.co/OHsTsSX6 and Metal Gear: http://t.co/Gj5tiNKl
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One thought on “Why Backwards Compatibility May Be More Important Than Ever

  1. I hope that at least the next Xbox has some sort of backwards compatibility. The video hardware is supposed to still be Radeon-based, so there’s hope there.

    I’m gonna RT this, it’s too good not to read.

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