Debate of the Day: Why is Backward Compatibility Important?


The Playstation 4 and Xbox One have now been officially announced, and the most clear proclamation made about either of them has been that neither will play last-generation games. Neither are backward compatible.

Yes, there are various issues about “always-on” connectivity and restriction of used games, but those issues are far more murky and have yet to be resolved. But backwards compatibility keeps coming up as an issue people love to gripe about when it comes to these new consoles.

It’s one that’s never particularly bothered me. I don’t throw away or sell my old consoles, and if I want to play a classic game on a new system, it seems like there are few titles that don’t have a HD remastered version of them out. We didn’t complain when the Gamecube didn’t play N64 games as gaming evolved, so why should we care now?

I’m genuinely curious. From what I can tell, some of this may come from the idea that many people like to sell their old systems to have money to put down toward the new one. Without backwards compatibility, you’re throwing your whole library away too if you do that. Additionally, I guess it’s nice to be able to play classic titles without hooking up an entirely separate system. But how often does that happen? I believe I’ve used backwards capability functionality less than a half dozen times across the lifespan of my PS3 and 360, and it just doesn’t seem all that important to me. Perhaps I’m alone in this, and I’m curious to hear more counter opinions on the matter.

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  1. To me, backwards compatability is one of those nice things to have. Like with the PS3, it was a minor inconvenience to have to hook up the PS2 to play those games. I would say this, I do not have a PS3 and it would be nice to get a PS4 and pick up a ton of PS3 games nice and cheap. Then again that may be the reason why to leave it out so the companies can make some cash on direct downloads in the form of “Classic Arcade” or something like that.

  2. It was pretty great to use the ps2 to play ps1 games you might have missed.

    After this generation of consoles, I think we are used to backwards compatibility being a thing of the past, at least when it comes to disc based media. I was a little miffed to learn that downloaded ps3 games will not carry over. I had figured, or perhaps hoped is the better word, that indy titles from the store, or ps1 classics, that we paid for and will undoubtedly be repackaged for the ps4, would just carry over.

  3. It’s not really important. Just a nice touch. I bet it the feature existed most players would use it only rarely. I missed the PS2 God of War games, and when I got a PS3 I ended up not even playing the remastered versions, only the sequels as they came out. If you get a new console, you don’t really want to play your old GTA games, you want a new sequel to come out and blow your mind.

  4. I’m not a tech guy so I don’t really understand why it would be so hard to have backwards compatibility from one system to the next. But if it’s going to drive up the price of the console, I can do without. But I was pretty miffed when my original Xbox crapped out on me soon after I got my 360 and I still had a lot of games that had just come out on the XBox that I couldn’t play because the 360 had spotty backwards compatibility. With only a few 360 launch titles, I really wished it could play Xbox games. I think backwards compatibility is important in the early stages of a console cycle, but it gets less important as the new console builds a library of its own.

  5. I think backwards compatibility is one of those things people like to have because that way even if they don’t have their old consoles anymore they can still pick up older generation games or if their old system breaks down they don’t have to get a new one.

    Still the more I think about it the more okay I am with it. Part of being able to advance technology is being able to to be adhered to how things are done in the past. So by not allowing backwards compatibility perhaps that allows developers to further use the the new console system to it’s fullest.

  6. Considering the ONLY console to have true backwards compatibility was the PS@, i think people are blowing this up a bit too much.
    I have nothing against keeping my 360 in case i want to use it for the XBLive games i purchased or the older games i want to play. While it would be cool to have it on the XB1, it’s not a deal breaker (or even a consideration really).

  7. Here’s the thing, I may not do it all the time, but if the urge strikes I want to option to play my old favorites without a hassle.

    When PS3 came out with full backwards compatibility I was giddy. Three systems in one spot on my shelf. I got rid of my PS2 because it obviously wasn’t needed anymore.

    2 years later my 60gb YLODs and I’m SOL in regards to my PS2 library.

  8. Backwards compatibility was amazing for PS2, it was definitely a factor into it being the most successful console of all time. Sony showed in that generation that backwards compatibility was a feature that should be a staple; same with Xbox showing that HDD were here for consoles. Then they both happened it the next generation (of course MS would later make all 360 SKUs come with a HDD and Sony started with backwards compatibility and later dropped it).

    In this day and age with the RRoD and the YLoD, I can’t believe people are ok with keeping their older consoles around and hoping it simply just keeps working. Now that PS2 production has completely stopped, if yours ever goes out, you’re boned. I’d say the same about Xbox but well, let’s be serious, not really a lot of classics on Xbox for you to clamor for eh? (Sorry had to slide in the fanboy smite there! 😛 )

    @Nick: The reason it costs so much, especially with the original 60gb PS3 is that it simply had a PS2 inside it. It worked so well for the PS1 in PS2 because they outsourced it to a Linux developer who basically shrunk the PS1 down to like the size of a memory card to fit in the PS2. So a PS4, especially with it being a standard PC architecture would basically have to have inside it a PS3 to play disc based games.

  9. It’s a very minor to non-issue on PC! 🙂

    Console makers love this, especially with the existence of digital, because then they get to charge again for a digital copy, and plenty of people will jump on it. The cost of moving those to new consoles won’t even be that expensive, considering the PC architecture the new consoles use, it’ll be nothing but minor tweaks to bring the PC version over (which basically everything but the exclusives have a version of,) probably even moreso with Xbox, consider they crammed windows in there.

  10. The Wii had flawless backward compatibility with gamecube games, and i think people are griping more because the graphical jump between this generation seems almost non existent, meaning ps3 games don’t look dated.

  11. @Azenomei That would make sense if only Sony was the one making the money on re-releasing the classics.

    Capcom already sold you Game A, they aren’t losing money on not being able to sell you Remake of Game A because they have to spend money actually developing that Remake. The market for Remastered games only exists because backwards compatibility doesn’t exist aka it’s not lost money. That line of logic is akin to saying “well, since cell phone companies haven’t yet developed a phone that a baby can use they are losing out on money so nobody else better develop a phone for adults that babies can use too”.

    And even if you think companies honestly wanted to gamble on creating an artificial market like that, not playing your games on your next console was already the norm so that would be irrelevant.

  12. heres what im going to do. put all my (important) saves on a flash drive, trade in the 360 and then in a couple years when they’re dirt cheap buy it again.

  13. If a new console has an attractive library of launch or upcoming titles, a typical gamer will buy the console regardless of its backwards compatibility. If the new console isn’t backwards compatible but the gamer wants to keep playing older games, they’ll simply hold on to their old system. If it is backwards compatible, then that’s great: More shelf space. That’s really the most significant difference backwards compatibility makes.

  14. My major concern with no backwards compatibility is the spit in the face to gamers that it makes for people who have bought digitally. If games publishers/distributors want us to get involved with digital downloads, then that’s great, but as soon as the service is not available for us to play a game we have legitimately paid for, that’s where I have the major problem.

    I’m honestly not too worried about the backwards compatibility missing for old disk based 360 games (as it makes sense to need to keep the console around), but I’m definitely not impressed that the library of digital games and XBLA titles that I’ve bought are now redundant if I ever trade in my old console and disk based games.

    I’m certain that they’ll eventually re-offer the popular XBLA titles, but I have no doubt they’ll find some way to charge you for it again and again.

  15. I gave my PS2 to my buddy and kept a few of my favorite games because I knew I was getting the PS3 that Christmas. I thought they were all backwards compatible, so I was bummed when it wasn’t.
    House space is a precious commodity and I can’t be storing multiple game consoles, so B.C. is great for that.
    And it simply adds more value to the console, which when you’re making a big investment (consoles are big investments for me anyway) if feels good to know you’re getting as much value out that as possible.

  16. i like compatibility because

    1) i can trade in or sell the old console and offset the price of the new one

    2) my surround sound receiver has 4 hdmi ports. xbox, cable box, ps3, dvd player = 4 ports used. add in a ps4 and i have to lose one of these. i dont want to have to move my tv stand to get access to re-hook up a console to play an old game

    3) “most games have an HD remaster”. yeah, but they cost money and don’t have my saved data. this especially sucks for stuff like god of war, which i already bought for ps2, then again for ps3, now am i gonna buy it again for ps4? no thanks. or what about something like Injustice that has a bunch of unlocks, i dont want to have to redo the whole game to get my unlocks, i just want to play with what i have done.

    it cant be too hard to make a console backwards compatible, not doing so is just greedy so we will have to rebuy games. if you cant make it BC, at least allow us to put in the old game and download a digital version free or hugely discounted.

  17. Really the backward compatibility is not the issue or me. The real issue is the fact that I have 5 xbox 360s running in my house. Each family member has their own 360 and their own gamertag each with their own gold subscription. Now as it stands I can buy a game and let my wife borrow it or my stepson or my daughter but with the Xbox one (xbone) that will not be possible unless we pay a fee. It seems to me that when I purchase a game at retail price it’s not truly mine to do with what I will. It seems that I’m really only renting a game thanks to microsofts benevolence.
    I know this debate of the day was about backward compatibility but the used game thing is too big of an issue to me. If Sony doesn’t take the same approach on this issue then you can bet your bottom dollar that’s where I’m heading. Microsoft can go xbone themselves.

  18. My thing is that I’ve already sunk so much into these games. Brand new PS3 games usually run $60 a pop, and even if you get pre-owned games they’re still usually over $20. Then they want you to buy all this DLC which costs even more money. On top of all the money talk is the fact that, as several before me mentioned, PS2 was truly backwards compatible. It doesn’t seem that hard to do but with PS3 you had to pay more to get a system that was back-comp., and no it’s not even an option. So, what, we’re being penalized for liking older products? I’m a dinosaur for occasionally pulling out my PS2 and throwing down some Champions of Norrath? Just because it’s the latest thing, that doesn’t make it the greatest thing. Just sayin’…

  19. because I want to still be able to play my old games while trading in my old console, pretty simple. It’s a big deal for people who don’t have much money but have a rather large library of games for past consoles that they want to keep playing. I played as many PS2 games this past generation as I did PS3 games and as many Gamecube games as I did Wii because they’re cheaper so it’s easier to just pick up new games for old systems and I’m not one who cares much about things having to be new so I still want to enjoy older games I missed without having to buy an expensive HD remake..

    I get why people who just play whatever the games on the latest consoles are wouldn’t feel like it’s a big deal but I don’t understand how they can’t see why it’d be a big deal for people who still love playing older games. By now I have an N64, a Wii, a PS2, a PS3, a 360 and a MegaDrive that I have to switch between whenever I want to play different games and it gets to the point where sometimes I just don’t play the game I want to play because I can’t be bothered switching out a console. It’ll be even worse when I add a PS4 and WiiU to the mix.

  20. My only gripe with being backwards compatible is the investment into my XBLA library. I can transfer movies and music I purchased over but the games can’t be. I understand the tech is different but if they start putting out the same games without any type of upgrade than the 360 XBLA games, meaning same games just re-released; that re-coded or not consumers who already bought the license for that game should not have to keep re-purchasing the license for the content they own. I own approximately 25 XBLA games that are classics that I play enough to know that losing them when I upgrade my system stinks.

  21. I have a ton of old games that I still like to play. I don’t want to have to keep a dozen consoles hooked to my TV so I can play them. It’s as simple as that.

  22. “it seems like there are few titles that don’t have a HD remastered version of them out”

    Wow, seems like you don’t play many good games!

  23. Because some of us play games more than once? Hell, I already have enough trouble with the franchises that exist ONLY on PS or Xbox so I have to have two consoles anyway (looking at you Halo); but now I’ll have to keep an outdated Xbox around to play old Halo games on before stepping up to the new ones?

    I guess it’s nice if you still live at home and don’t have to worry about space and/or money; but some of us work for a living.

  24. Not having backwards compatibility makes sense from a technical perspective.

    The PS3, for example, had a different architecture than the PS2. This required them to have a separate processing chip dedicated to the old PS2 arch. They basically had to do a type of emulation to be able to play old games. For anyone who has used an emulator for an old console on the PC, you know that performance can get iffy, even if your computer is obviously more powerful than the old console. This is because of the great performance overhead when emulating hardware. Basically, your computer has to completely create a virtual copy of the original hardware.

    I wonder if performance would be increased by the new technology dedicated to visualization… not sure as I haven’t used an emulator in ages.

  25. In a limited income household where electronics are a hard earned special treat instead of the norm it would be much more economical if the PS4 would play PS2 and PS3 games. We can not afford more than one system at a time and each of the individuals who would play the system have different gaming needs. For instance, the only came I personally am currently eyeballing that I can not happily play on my computer (more of a PC gamer) is the .hack series which is only available for PS2.

  26. Its important to have. I play starwars battlefront 2 and 1 and halo 1 on my 360 all the time. I’m going back to pc gaming, the only game I need is destiny and it’ll be available on pc and 360.

  27. Throw a software emulator into the console, and wah lah, it can play all ps3 ps2 ps1 games… but the software emulator which costs nothing to copy it over.. from their ps3 ps2 ps1 files… but no instead they want to say, sorry its not backwards.

    It was not possible to transfer 64 games to gamecube without putting money to make discs. With Disc media and downloads its so easy, and almost free fror a system maker to copy their own files over… For now until they stop manufacturing PS3s, they should not allow cross over, that way they make more money… HOWEVER once they stop producing PS3s they need to offer BC as an update/download they could even charge, on the ps store, like 50 bucks or something… they should offer it later down the road, its only a software issue… its not a hardware issue…

  28. Half the reason I bought a PS2 when it was released was because I had a mountain of PS1 games that I played regularly. I also feel that by the end of the gen, the PS2 was one of the best systems of all time, and the PS3 lacking the functionality was big knock against it for me. If not for the fact it was one of the, if not the, cheapest Blue-Ray-capable option at the time, I might have picked up a 360 instead (I got the 360 much later for online with friends, but that was much later).

    I know this makes me an outlier, but if I am going to put down on a “current-gen” system in the next 3-6 months, it will probably be a WiiU, almost solely for the BC (ok, and for a few Nintendo exclusives, because I am weird like that). I will probably get a PS4 or XOne (depending on what my friends and family get) eventually, but if one or the other would have had BC, I might have purchased it regardless of what my peers were getting.

    I also just like being able to have the whole library of games available to play at any given moment without having to manipulate my TV to set up a system at that same moment. Other people do not mind the loss and for that cost their non-BC system does not have to waste resources on the feature, meaning (hopefully), that system can go a little further forward with new tech. I can see the perks of both sides.

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