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 Inexcusable?

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 color screen. 


This is my second time using this image.


The Excuses

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 might.


“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.


Confusing points.

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).





The Reasons

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 “eventually.”


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?


Maintain consumers.


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 game library.    


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 download games. 


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…



It's literature!


End Game

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 omitted.