The Xbox 360 made waves back in 2005 when it was revealed that only select games from the original Xbox library would be backwards compatible on the system. A year later, the PS3 launched with a graphics synthesizer chip installed specifically for full-on PS2 software compatibility. Said chip also contributed to the exorbitant $600 price tag of the console. Meanwhile, the Wii was fully backwards compatible with all GameCube games. Fast forward to the present, and Microsoft is – more or less – done with adding titles to the forward-compatibility list (old games you play on a new system are forward compatible, whereas systems that play old games are backwards compatible), while Sony actually took a step in the opposite direction, losing back compat. Have they dropped support for the feature simply because it’s not worth the effort? More important, does anyone care about backwards compatibility?
The original PlayStation 3 shipped with full support for PS1 and PS2 games, an impressive feat, but again, a costly one. A few months down the line, Sony drops the synth chip and takes on the Microsoft approach to backwards compatibility, software emulation. It was a wise move on Sony’s part, considering the excessive cost of the chip. Of course, this also meant that fewer PS2 games were forward compatible on the system, roughly 20% fewer in fact. Not long after that, Sony abandoned even software emulation for PS2 games. It only does everything, except play your old games apparently.
On the other side of the backwards-compatibility mountain, we have the Xbox 360. Well into its fourth year of existence, it seems as though Microsoft has climbed far enough. And while it does have an impressive library of forward-compatible games, it’s not all of them. Not to mention, many of the ones that are forward compatible are plagued with glitches.
So what’s the deal? Many gamers had to sacrifice their PS2 in order to invest in the shiny, new PlayStation, only to be left with a massive library of unplayable games. Do they think that gamers don’t care about backwards compatibility? Do you care? There are some classic PS1 and PS2 hits that can only be missed with the current-generation PlayStation 3. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for Microsoft, the Xbox only had a handful of big titles, making it much easier for them to cover their bases on the Xbox 360.
From a financial standpoint, it does make sense to drop backwards compatibility as a feature. Obviously, we’ll never know what the sales offset is due to backwards compatibility (or lack thereof), but what we do know is that it takes time, money and effort to keep it in a console. Sure, it’s a great marketing ploy to be able to say “hey, our console plays your old games,” but is it really worth the energy?
A slick business move by The Big Three – Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo – was to allow gamers to purchase classics from their back catalogs for digital download. Why let gamers play their old games when these companies could get them to buy the games again? For example, Halo is available for digital download as an “Xbox Original,” and PlayStation Network offers Driver as a “PSOne Classic.” And while my guess is as good as anyone’s, I’m betting PSN will soon be getting PS2 games for download too.
Most Xbox 360 owners were Xbox owners and most PS3 owners were PS2 and PS1 owners. I don’t think there’s a single Xbox owner who doesn’t have a copy of Halo. Let’s face it, it’s pretty clear that these two companies aren’t in it for your convenience; they’re in it for your wallet. But what’s frightening to me is that it appears backwards compatibility is becoming a dying art.
Yes, Microsoft has done a good job of adding backwards compatibility, but it’s not all there, and Sony – well – Sony really dropped the ball on it. The reason Microsoft can get away with it, as I mentioned before, is because you can play about 50% of your Xbox games on your Xbox 360, which covers nearly all of the important titles. The (new) PS3, however, prohibits you from playing all your favorite PS2 classics.
I asked a good friend of mine, who happens to be the senior editor of this website, what his thoughts were on the issue. “Because the PS2 has a ton of games, and as someone who never owned a PS2, [backwards compatibility] gives me the opportunity to play all the great games I missed,” he explained. “On the Xbox 360, this isn’t really a problem, since I can count all the good exclusive titles on one hand. Backwards compatibility is good for people who don’t own a console and would rather rent/buy the original game than buy, for a higher price, the downloadable version.”
And so I ask you, my good readers, does backwards compatibility merit the efforts of these companies? Certainly in the economic situation we’re in today, backwards compatibility is a great way for gamers to loosen the belt, so to speak, on the bank. Should I be able to play any and all PS1 and PS2 games on my PS3? Should my Xbox 360 play my entire Xbox library without issue? What’s the deal with backwards compatibility?