The High Price of Backwards Compatibility

Guess what wasn’t backwards compatible? Every major home console before the Playstation 2 and the Dreamcast, GameCube, Vita and later models of the PS3 afterwords. Therefore a MAJORITY of consoles haven’t been backwards compatible, yet they still sold well. So why is it such a big deal that the PS4 and Xbox One aren’t backwards compatible? Answer: It’s not.

The reason the Xbox One and PS4 are not backwards compatible is because they have changed their overall architecture from PowerPC to x86. In Layman’s terms this is like going from Mac OS to PC, which ironically all Macs ran on a PowerPC architecture till 2006 before switching to the PC standard of X86. The way this has been overcame in the past is including hardware components in the console themselves specifically for that, which in turn drives up the price.

The PS3 launched for $600 and most people felt that was too costly. Sony had included hardware specifically to allow backwards compatibility with the PS2 on the console. Sony had to chose between losing money per console or passing on the cost to the consumers and breaking even, and it was a no brainer decision to make. Later they removed the feature from revisions of the PS3 allowing the price to drop to around 25% of the original release price.

Nintendo did something similar to Sony with the Wii, including some GameCube guts and controller ports to allow it’s games to be played. Nintendo actually sold the Wii at a profit of around $90 according to various estimates due to keeping closely the same architecture as the GameCube and lower technical specs when compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Xbox 360 launched with very minuscule backwards compatibility because it had to run an emulator for the previous console, as they had switched to the PowerPC architecture. This kept the console more affordable than the PS3 at launch, but with less initial backwards compatibility. Xbox 360′s Xbox emulator was updated over time to include around 50% of the originals library.

Let’s not forget the possibility of Sony and Microsoft converting previous titles to run on their next generation consoles and selling them in digital form, as they both currently do on their current generation consoles. Nintendo has hinted that GameCube games on the Wii U are a possibility, and lets not forget the age oldtradition they started of the “up conversion” with Super Mario All-Stars. The tradition has carried over with many HD collections being released over the past few years. If they do go this route it’s a win win, everyone gets the game they want (even upgraded sometimes), publishers get the money they so desperately want. I’m not saying it is perfect, but it is a better option than none at all.

Another complaint often heard is: “What about my digital games library I’ve built up of XBLA / PSN games? I just lose them all? Why can’t I keep them with me from console to console like I can with my Steam games?” A valid complaint but let me address first by asking, when is the last time you played half of that library? If you are anything like me, once you complete a game you typically don’t revisit it unless it had great multiplayer or new DLC come out. Most of these titles are smaller scale games that don’t have players coming back for more after they are finished. Don’t get me wrong, there are some games I’ve played through more than once, Castle Crashers and Bubble Bobble come to mind, but are you seriously going to play A Kingdom for Keflings on the Xbox One again? Also, you bought a game console, not a PC so comparing it to Steam is a rather pointless comparison.

One cool thing about the Xbox One and PS4 is that you aren’t required to get rid of your Xbox 360 / PS3 to buy one! You don’t actually have to do anything with it, it can sit right where it’s at now and will continue to function as it has been for the past previous years (or however long its been since you got the last red ring / yellow light of death) and it can play all those games you’ve bought for it without issue. People have been rumoring / wishing for a box to be announced at E3 that connects to the Xbox One that allows you to play Xbox 360 games…the great news is, you already own it, it’s called an “Xbox 360″!

So which is more important to you? A console that can play your previous consoles games that cost $200+ more or the minor inconvenience of keeping your current console plugged into one of the many HDMI ports on your TV and having to press an input button on a remote? I’d take the latter any day with the option of purchasing digital copies of the previous consoles games converted for the Xbox One and PS4 overtime.

 

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