Backwards compatibility a must in new consoles

by | Apr 10, 2014 | Opinion

Alex Coop
Editor In Chief

Alex Coop

Alex Coop

Despite the push to create an all-in-one entertainment experience, Microsoft’s Xbox One has left out a key element to this vision–backwards compatibility with older Xbox games.

It’s been very clear for the past year that this concept was not going to be a part of Xbox’s future. Last May, Don Mattrick, the former president of Microsoft’s Xbox division, said backwards compatibility was “backwards thinking,” and that only five per cent of players use a new system to play games from a previous generation. However, a few months later Microsoft’s senior director Albert Penello stated that Xbox One could eventually offer backwards compatibility using its Azure cloud servers. I guess that five per cent of players were being pretty noisy.

The rumblings of implementing a cloud-based emulator for Xbox 360 titles resurfaced last week at Microsoft’s Build developer conference. Though plans to make this concept function properly are practically non-existent, it’s worth mentioning that all roads leading to this cloud-based emulator appear to deliver below average quality gaming. The problem mainly revolves around users’ bandwidth capabilities and overall Internet connection–two integral aspects of the gaming industry today. The onslaught of extra downloadable content, patches, and online marketplaces are a direct result of the growing online capabilities gaming consoles have developed over the past several years. When not used to exploit the gaming community – which is unfortunately done quite often when basic additions of a game are only made available through downloadable content – consoles’ online functions are spectacular, and in many ways have expanded the gaming community with possibilities never thought possible.

As admirable as Microsoft’s discussions on backwards compatibility may be, the obvious solution to this situation would have been to include this feature in the console right out of the gate. We know this technology exists, and has proven to be a wonderful addition to consoles like the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 2 and 3 – though only the early models of the PS3 actually included this feature – and the Xbox 360, which allowed for most original Xbox games to be backwards compatible. For a console that has been trying to build upon the idea of becoming an all-in-one entertainment system, how would backwards compatibility hinder this concept? It would expand it and help users avoid the task of squeezing the hulking original Xbox console into their living spaces after successfully squishing the other bulky shaped Xbox One onto their shelves

Seriously though, how did the VCR-like shape win Microsoft’s heart over? It screams everything but “next-generation.”

Nevertheless, the next-generation of console gaming is upon us, and it’s evident that online capabilities are going to continue to expand. No problem there, this trend was already in full force with the last generation of consoles. The problem however is this notion Microsoft and Sony – which hasn’t revealed any plans for backwards compatibility on the PS4 either – have when it comes to last generation’s games and their irrelevance. They are not irrelevant. The Playstation 2 has a library of nearly 4000 games, the Xbox 360 has around 1000. There is plenty to play, and if a user’s old console is broken, their options to play those old games are very limited. If new models of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 release, which will likely happen since it happened with the 360 and PS3, I doubt a single person would be upset if these machines included backwards compatibility with older games.