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On Lacking Backwards Compatibility
So, the Xbox One and Playstation 4 are finally out,
predictably average and lackluster launch line-ups eagerly falling into the
hands of early buyers all too eager to ignore the obvious glimmers therein. Both of these consoles are lacking backwards
compatibility, and many early adopters have chosen to rationalize how they
don’t miss it at all. Well, I’m going to
beat a dead horse here, and whump it good, because—quite frankly—these consoles
lacking this feature is actually borderline inexcusable in this day and age.
I wasn't backwards compatible, but sucked in a lot of other ways, too.
Why Would It Be
This is remarkably simple.
Everything else is—it’s the modern norm.
Therefore, it’s practically absurd that the “ultra powerful”
Playstation 4 and Xbox One are not.
I should be able to just stop here. That is the whole argument, and that alone may
carry all of its own weight. But I’m
sure a few of you would like examples.
Here is a list of backwards-compatible modern devices: Apple iPhone and iPad (for the most part),
Apple OSX computers, Android phones and tablets, Windows PCs, the Linux OS,
Steam, the Playstation Vita, the Nintendo 3DS, and the Wii U. Essentially, everything is backwards
compatible now except for the PS4, XBO, and for some reason, Windows
8 Phones (yet another reason I dumped the Windows Phone brand for Android).
When I buy a new PC, I still expect my old Steam games to
work, and they do. When I get a new
Android phone, I am able to move my paid apps and such over to the new
one. When I bought the 3DS, I no longer
had any reason to continue to carry around my DS Lite because I easily had
everything in one place. As a side
effect, when the first-year-drought hit the 3DS, I hardly noticed as I was
still playing catch-up on a boatload of DS games, and the sudden addition of an
boatload of DSi titles I never had access to a I never owned the DSi.
Essentially, as noted, this
is a norm these days. At one time,
the norm was that game consoles were NOT backwards compatible. Hell, one of the first successor consoles was
criticized for this very reason—the Atari 5200 was not only notoriously
terrible, but it was also incompatible with the library of the extremely
popular Atari 2600. But it was the norm
until the 7800 quietly slipped into the public, and was could play 2600 games. But really, almost nothing else was until the
Game Boy Color and Playstation 2. And
the GBC was not a major update, just identical hardware that could now handle a
This is my second time using this image.
Now, why would I bother with this? A lot of people are perfectly happy to make
excuses that they don’t mind the lack of backwards compatibility. Essentially, I don’t want us kidding
ourselves. Microsoft and Sony left out a
feature that should never have been left out. Personally, I’d like people to
just stop acting like it was impossible.
Let’s look at some excuses.
“I’m not going to play the old stuff anymore anyway.”
There is no reason to state this. The X360 and PS3 still have a boatload of
games coming down the pipeline. You are
either going to miss them entirely, or you’re going to be jumping back and
forth between consoles. It’s far more
likely that there will be games you don’t want to miss and now you very well
“It’s too difficult.”
I sincerely doubt this.
On the one hand, we know that these two consoles aren’t being sold for
the massive losses that the previous gen machines were. In that case, MS and Sony deliberately gimped
their machines to save money, and in that they “cheated” you out of truly
powerful hardware, hardware now powerful enough to even handle playing vastly
weaker last-gen games. On the other
hand, especially on the Microsoft side, the XBO and X360 are hardly dissimilar
in their architecture. The XBO and PS4
are largely just modern PC’s dedicated for gaming. Given that emulators for the Xbox 360 require
less hardware or
processing than what the XBO can do, clearly, difficulty or hardware
limitations are a bad excuse—especially if the XBO can draw on extra power from
its amorphous, hardly defined cloud.
To that end, the X360 Emulator project is actually not
official, and they’re still able to make it. Imagine, with an official team
making such a thing for the Xbox One, this shouldn’t be a major problem, and
indeed, the XBO and PS4 are not major leaps—equivalent
PC’s are apparently not that hard to build, and are plenty powerful enough
to play X360/PS3 emulators.
“I just have the old console next to the new one.”
This sounds easier than it is. I’m a collector, and I have quite a few
consoles around my TV and wired through splitters and a receiver I badly want
to replace. It sounds relatively easy to
get up, click a switch, and then find the correct input on my receiver to
switch consoles. In reality, this can
actually be highly annoying. There’s a
reason my Wii has been taken down and my Xbox 360 is never on any more. Due to the backwards compatibility of the Wii
U, the Wii is no longer necessary aside from a collector’s piece, so I took it
down. The Xbox 360 is just unnecessary
now that I do most of my gaming on the Wii U and all of my Netflix and Hulu watching
on that machine because I don’t have to pay extra for it.
Look, clutter sucks.
I’ve been looking at my enormous mess for a while lately trying to think
of ways to streamline or minimize it. I had
two different Atari consoles stacked on top of my VCR (yes, a VCR). It looked like a hoarder organized this
shelf. Next to this VCR stack is about
the only place the Wii U would fit (the Wii having been long ago attached to a
different TV), and I’m a little uncomfortable with this position, to be honest. A brief clean-up relocated the Atari
consoles, and placed a wire shelf above the VCR which houses the Neo-Geo X and
a terabyte drive for the Wii U. A
Virtual Boy and a Wonderswan (in its box) rest atop my record player that still
has the Bioshock (on vinyl) soundtrack on the turntable. Very few consoles in my collection have their
own shelf—and those that do only do because the shelves are far too small to
fit more consoles. Even as a collector
proud to show off my consoles, I want to reduce clutter.
Probably playing Kinect.
Okay, I’ll play fair because it’s what I do. I try my best to acknowledge all sides before
I move on an idea. I don’t like
plotholes, as it were. Not that this
would make a particularly enjoyable narrative.
Now, I can understand maybe
losing physical game backwards compatibility.
MS is changing formats this generation, just as the Vita did. So, there is a relatively minor reason that reverse gen play is cut out, but then,
why are the digital games denied?
Begging your pardon, but what sense does this make? For one thing, the digital games are
something you can’t sell or trade in when you move to the new generation. In that, you should be allowed to maintain
these games as you move forward—just like on an Android phone or your Steam
account. Instead of selling these to
GameStop to put fifty-five cents towards your Playstation 4, they just become
lost games. Money well spent that you
simply lose. How is this a fair thing to
do to consumers? Why would anyone agree
to this? When you buy a new
refrigerator, do you throw away all the food in the old one, or do you move it
over? When you buy a new iPod, do you
transfer all your music over to that, or do you just ditch all of it and start
over with new music? If you find these
disagreeable, then why do you accept the exact opposite on your game console?
I recently received a PS Vita, and was happy to see that it
was backwards compatible to any PSP game that was digital—and through my PSN
ID, I was able to see my previous downloads and re-download those PSP
games. It doesn’t completely replace my
PSP, but it does allow me to keep my old downloaded titles that I could not
trade in (assuming I would want to). On
the 3DS, if I had DSi games previously installed to an SD card, Nintendo made
it relatively simple to transfer those games over (even without having them
tied to an account, which would make more sense).
Streamline your playing.
When I got my 3DS, I didn’t realize how important the
backwards compatibility would be to me. Turned out I loved it, and amazingly,
my DS purchases actually picked up—especially during that first year
drought. This meant if I was going
somewhere with my 3DS, I always have a vastly wider selection of games to bring
with me, without an extra system. But
this really settled in for me with the Wii U—and here’s something to
remember—because my Wii was old. How much more life do you think your X360 or
PS3 has after all this time? The sad
fact here is that this last generation seemed to feature the most fragile and
breakable consoles ever made—and longevity was not in the cards for these
things. My Wii had long ago developed a
fussiness where it didn’t like to smoothly open Channels or games—to the point
where I wasn’t sure if it was freezing, crashing, or merely planning to work
Transitioning to the Wii U was a process that only took
about three days or so (slight exaggeration), but when it was all done, I was
happy to still have access to my Wii games—completely without the fussiness and
pseudo-crashes my Wii loved so much for some damn reason.
Minimize the droughts.
I think it’s cute that so many early adopters of the Xbox
One and Playstation 4 are acting like the consoles won’t be enduring the
ever-present first –year drought.
Nintendo and Sony made an effort to avoid this for the Wii U, 3DS, and
Vita—and it still occurred. Mark my words, new adopters, there will be a
time over this first year when you look at your Xbox One and/or Playstation 4
and you’re going to wish there was more to play on there. And that’s going to happen, most likely,
somewhere between the April~September time frame, if not sooner. These months are dry every year for every
console, for a brand new console without backwards compatibility? At least you have Netflix, right?
How many of you are switching from Microsoft to Sony this
generation? Anyone going the other
way? I haven’t seen a lot of the latter,
but I have seen multitudes of people who seem ready to abandon the Microsoft
camp for the Sony camp this time. I know
I’m planning it (so far, partially thanks to my enjoyment of PS+ on Vita) as we
draw closer to the release of Witcher 3.
Why am I personally cutting free of the Xbox brand? To be fair, it’s a few reasons, but one of
them is that it doesn’t matter because I’ll be losing my downloaded games
anyway. I’m a little annoyed by this. I
bought quite a few downloadable games on my Xbox 360, and almost none on my
Playstation 3. All Microsoft has done is
made my decision to move to the PS4 easier.
It’s not like I’m keeping anything except meaningless Achievements—and I
didn’t pay for those, so what do I care?
A bigger library.
We all like to have options in our gaming, right? I should hope so. I hope none of you were like some of those early
Steam Greenlight hateboys who actively said they didn’t want certain games on
Steam, or like the occasional Nintendo fanboy who doesn’t want “bad stuff” like
Splinter Cell or Call of Duty on a Nintendo console for no good reason. Keeping the former library playable,
especially the digital content, is a great way to keep up a large available
When the eShop finally went live on the 3DS three months
after launch, it came with an unexpected surprise—all downloadable DSi games
were also available in there. This gave
the impression that the available 3DS library was much, much larger than it
appeared to be at retail. During the
first year drought, when many were pouting that the 3DS “had no games” at
retail, the digital side continued growing every week with a steady influx of downloadable
DSi and 3DS titles. By the time the 3DS
was 2 years old, there was over 500 games available to download. I once spent an hour sifting through
everything with my girlfriend as we added titles to our wishlists. Frankly, the available titles on the Vita is
also massive—all you have to do is open the Playstation Store and realize it’s also
filled with PS1 and PSP games.
A second life for developers and older games.
Yes, I’m mentioning the DSi Ware games on the 3DS
again. The DSi sold well, but ultimately
not as well as the DS Lite, which accounts for about 95 million units out
of the 155 million overall DS consoles sold.
Perhaps the backwards compatibility of the Lite (along with its
excellent redesign) aided this. But the
point I’m getting at here is that a minority of the DS audience had access to
DSi-only games. Having those games carry
over to the 3DS eShop gave all of those games and developers a second wind—a new
audience. Hell, the DSi made up roughly 28 (give or take) million
in sales (about 40 million with the XL included)—and current sales estimates put
the 3DS line at about 35
million already. Essentially, the
3DS is about to match the available audience of the DSi/DSi XL line. Beyond that is an audience that is
continually growing beyond what was originally available to DSi Ware games, all
because they’re still available to 3DS customers.
I liked my PSP, but I didn’t love it. It was cumbersome to use any features outside
of playing a game, awkward, and loud.
The sleep mode functioned awkwardly to me, and it did not operate
logically as a handheld system. It was
beautiful and the buttons felt great (except that analog nub), but its overall
design was not conducive to portable use.
It also took forever to
Fast-forward to the Vita, and it is everything a portable
system logically should be—fast, quiet, solid, no moving parts, durable game
media, and a very easy and user-friendly sleep mode. Plus, it’s built to be a download-friendly system (outside of Sony’s terrible
memory card use and prices). Suddenly,
not only do I have a portable Sony system that is actually optimized for
downloading games—but the PSP titles are still available! I’ve already opened the PS Store more on my
Vita than on my PSP—and at this point, I’ve literally had a Vita for less than
a week—and the PSP for about four years.
Those old games are more likely to be purchased by me now—and given that
they all tie to an account, all the better.
Now, if only Nintendo would do the same…
Look, I get that most of you are happy with your shiny new
consoles, regardless of what they are.
You should be—just as early Wii U and Vita adopters deserved to enjoy
their machines. But, let’s tone down the
fanboyism. Let’s not excuse flatly
inexcusable things. It’s inexcusable
that Nintendo doesn’t adopt a full account-based system. It’s inexcusable to overlook the lack of
Western games at retail on the 3DS. It’s
inexcusable for Sony to treat a great system like the Vita as just some pricey “add-on”
to their home consoles. And it’s
inexcusable in this day and age for Microsoft and Sony to leave out a feature
that is, quite literally, a part of every other platform, computer, and
electronic device on the market (sans Windows 8 Phones).
It’s okay to be pissed that backwards compatibility is gone
in the PS4 and XBO. It’s okay to be
skeptical that Sony’s “streaming of older games” service might be a totally
misguided stop-gap. You shouldn’t have
to just consider your downloaded PS3 and X360 games “lost” just because you
bought the new console. If anything,
your digital purchases carrying over should be an absolute no-brainer. But
it makes no sense, outside of maybe rampant fanboyism, to defend this missing
feature in the PS4 and XBO—especially for digital software.
Take note, at no time did I say the 3DS, Vita, or Wii U were
superior to the XBO or PS4 because they have backwards compatibility. The Wii U doesn’t currently do it
particularly well, for one thing, requiring a secondary menu for some reason
(especially baffling given that the 3DS does
not require such nonsense). All I’m
saying is that it should not be so easily forgivable for the PS4 or XBO. You bought games on that previous console—you
should be allowed to keep them without having to keep the old box. This is not a defensible issue. It’s a modern standard that MS and Sony