Opinion – I Miss Backwards Compatibility, But I Probably Shouldn't

by Kyle Hilliard on Jan 04, 2014 at 03:40 PM

Neither the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4 is backwards compatible. You can't take a disc from your library of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games, put it in your new console, and play. I wish I could, and I understand why I can't, but it does not make me want the feature any less.

When the Xbox 360 released, my college dorm roommates, neighbors, and I were still nursing our Halo 2 obsession. Classes were cut, battle agendas were drawn out, and evening plans were consistently abandoned in favor of playing four-player split-screen Halo 2 on Xbox Live.

When I brought the Xbox 360 into our small cramped dorm room, it didn’t change things. The majority of our time was still spent playing Halo 2, usually on the original Xbox. I bought the Xbox 360 system, but I didn't bring home any extra controllers. When it was time to play Halo 2, we stuck to the Xbox mostly because of the controller options. When I had the chance to play by myself, I played on the Xbox 360, but only because of a strange obligation. I played Halo 2 on my brand new Xbox 360 because I felt I needed to play something – anything on the new system.

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 both have a fantastic library of games I am still working my way through. I am currently playing Batman: Arkham Origins, for example, but I wish I could play it on my new console. I want any excuse to use the new system, even if I am playing a game from a previous generation. When I am playing an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game, I feel like I am wasting my investment. It’s like I bought a brand new house, but I am still living with my parents because that's where the best food is.

I understand why the new consoles are not backwards compatible. To give the hardware the option to play Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 discs is to hold them back. It’s a technical hurdle Sony and Microsoft are working on leaping with non-hardware streaming solutions. Microsoft updated its list of backwards compatible Xbox games for years after the launch of the Xbox 360, spending valuable resources on making sure its new console could play old discs, but I can’t remember the last time I took advantage of the feature. Once a console’s library gets even a small handful of quality, better-than-rushed-launch-games, backwards compatibility becomes borderline pointless. I stopped caring about the Xbox 360’s list of backwards games around the time The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion released.

Sony has made promises with its Gakai streaming services saying it will allow the PlayStation 4 to play PlayStation 3 games online with streaming video, but we don't know how that service will function. The hope is that you will need only a disc from your library to play, but the reality is there will likely be fees associated with playing games you already own. The same goes for Xbox One and Xbox 360 games. Microsoft is already tempering expectations towards how game streaming will work on its console. Even if these systems work well, by the time they are available, the time when they would be most valued will have already passed. The PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, the Wii, and Wii U offer the ability to purchase and download old games from previous consoles, but this is less a function of backwards compatibility, and more a storefront for fans to easily purchase and replay older titles. For backwards compatibility to be a selling point for a new console, the ability to put an old disc from your library into a new system is necessary.

Backwards compatibility is helpful for the launch of a new console. It helps justify the investment by allowing you to actually play your new console (and take advantage of some of the new features) with the last few quality titles of the previous generation. It can be a selling point for for those shifting their console loyalty, as many did this new generation, from Microsoft over to Sony. Jumping onto a new platform with a whole collection of exclusives from the past eight years could have been very attractive to early adopters. It also could have presented a competitive advantage for one console and allowed those like me, running out of space and HDMI ports on their television, to remove old consoles from their TV cabinet.

It could have been a major selling point for either 2013 console, but in the long-run, backwards compatibility becomes a forgotten feature, and I understand why it's absent. The Wii U is fully compatible with every Wii game, but I have already happily abandoned playing Wii discs on the system in favor of games like Pikmin 3 and Super Mario 3D World. I wish I could take my Batman: Arkham Origins disc out of the Xbox 360 and finish the game on my new console with an Xbox One controller in my hand, but by demanding that capability (and likely forgetting it in a matter of months), I am probably short-changing other more important console features that will have greater longevity. I want the feature now in the early hours of my next-gen console ownership, but ask me again in a few months (and after I have finished Batman) and I'm sure I will tell you I don't miss it at all.