Regardless of who “won” E3, there’s no doubt about one thing — no one was expecting one of the biggest megaton announcements that hit during the day of press conferences that preceded the three day show: Backwards Compatibility for Xbox One.
Fans and even some journalists caught up in the moment cheered and stomped at the live show in response to the announcement, and Twitter went crazy. The response was absolutely positive.
Now that we’ve had some time to digest what we watched, we’re left wondering: does backwards compatibility really matter in the long run? Is it a system seller? Does its presence actually improve the gaming experience of its console? How does it affect consumers and publishers?
Let’s figure it out.
Do we miss it?
I’m all about backwards compatibility. I love old games, play old games, and believe that they bring just as much value to a console as the newer games do. I don’t know what I would have done these past few years while the new consoles struggle to catch hold without my PlayStation 3 giving me the chance to go back and catch up on some goodies I have missed.
In a perfect world, all consoles would be backwards compatible with at least the generation before it. It allows us to clear up space on our entertainment units while still making sure all of the games we’ve purchased are still valuable on our shelves. The PlayStation 3 succeeded in allowing it to go two generations back, but when it pulled PlayStation 2 support, I can’t tell you how much it infuriated me knowing that my copies of Dragon Quest VIII or Final Fantasy XII would be useless until I picked up another PlayStation 2, a console whose hardware isn’t exactly known for its longevity.
Of course, Sony made up for this by selling you the games you already owned, which could be seen as merely selling you the convenience of not having a PlayStation 2 lying around, but still plenty of great games remain untapped for this service. This is where I have problems with making classics available on a console through backwards compatibility: it has to be “all or nothing.” We have no legitimate way to enjoy Final Fantasy XII on a modern console, and it brings me to a boil that it has to be this way for a good many other games too.
And that brings us to the Xbox One, where I fear we might have to wait for some cult hits that will definitely be overshadowed by more popular games.
I stand pretty firmly on the other side of the overall discussion around backwards compatibility. While I’m absolutely all for the preservation of gaming history, both for consumers and curators alike, there’s some very specific realities to contend with, of both personal and business natures.
By and large, most gamers don’t use backwards compatibility once a console is in full swing. It’s a transitional feature. Since the release of the new consoles, I’ve gone back a handful of times to play old games, but it’s rare that I have the time to with so much stuff coming out. The only real, important exception was Red Dead Redemption, my favorite game of the last generation.
It also costs companies a lot of money to get backwards compatibility working without it hamstringing the new system (like it most likely does with the Wii U) in terms of either freedom to choose the right hardware and of cost passed onto the consumer. Someone has to pay for it, and the companies making the systems sure don’t want to. I’d rather keep the price of the console down a bit more.
But backwards compatibility is here, sort of, for Xbox One, regardless of all that. I say ‘sort of’ because it’s not the way we getting used to and not the way we would’ve liked. It’s not in the form of a continuing series of remakes (a market all its own), but it’s not every game at once. It’s weird.
Release all the games
This is why I think this will be my final console generation before making the jump to the PC because PC gamers don’t have to worry about such trivial matters, wondering if maybe they’ll be able to play an old game or not.
Microsoft has started this backwards compatibility with the idea that it will roll out support for games in waves. Of course, if you lived at the turn of the previous console generation, this will sound familiar with how Microsoft rolled out Xbox 360 backward compatibility for Xbox games. Absolutely no differences.
That system worked for a while, and we got just about every game “worth playing,” before Microsoft called off its efforts. I was surprised with how many we got, but there are still those who decry the lack of respect for really niche games like GunValkyrie or the Otogi games.
This time around, word is getting out that Microsoft will make games available as it sees fit, but it will only do so with publisher support. This probably means that it will make its own properties available first, like Halo and Gears of War, while it works out contracts with Activision, 2K Games, and the rest of the publishers on how and when their games will be made available.
Copyrights allowed for their games to be Xbox 360 titles, but not Xbox One games. That’s where the need for permission comes in. Immediately, this makes Microsoft look like the good guy and puts publishers in the position to play along. Will they? Well, that’s up for them to decide.
And while there is that wait to get compatibility approved, this is ultimately a much better system for backwards compatibility than we saw the Xbox 360, which required many games to have code built on a game-by-game basis to support the specific ways in which they took advantage of the original Xbox hardware.
Whether a game comes to the backward compatibility list will be determined by, I think, a few features.
First, is the company already working on or have they already released an upscaled version of their game? I can’t see 2013’s Tomb Raider making the list anytime soon, or Sleeping Dogs for that matter. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag probably won’t show up, either.
But at the same time, that doesn’t single-handedly determine it. It’s considered to be almost a given at this point that EA is working on releasing a compiled Mass Effect trilogy — the potential product has even been leaked on a site or two.
And yet, Microsoft chose to highlight exactly that game, a fan favorite, as one of the first titles to make the cut. We don’t know for sure if Electronic Arts and BioWare are working on a rerelease of the games, but the presence of Mass Effect on the list tells us that EA supports the initiative and that they support putting some of their most popular games on the service.
The other question is, if a publisher isn’t going to remake a game, will they license it for backwards compatibility? As it requires no work from the developer or publisher except to sign off on it, it seems like a win-win. If they’re not going to resell the game, then they just get free press for putting it out there. It’s another excuse to put out a press release while spending virtually nothing. If the game isn’t going to sell though, maybe they just won’t bother.
Will it sell systems?
True. Its good PR, but I think there are a few monetary reasons behind why publishers wouldn’t want this to happen. For one thing, plenty of publishers have found ways to monetize their back catalog. Free is good, but that helps Microsoft more than it helps them. Square Enix might not be making a killing on retro releases through PSN, but it is making some.
And why would a publisher want you to play older games for free when that steals the free time you have to dedicate to paying for new games?
Also, some people are calling for mainly multiplayer games. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo. Servers for the multiplayer portion of these games cost money to keep up and running, and that’s another balance publishers are going to have to weigh when making the decision. Does Activision really need the servers up for Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops II anymore when it has Black Ops III, Advanced Warfare, and next year’s inevitable Call of Duty as well?
There are still a few good many questions to be answered here, but my guess is we’ll figure out more once the second wave of games is announced. We’ll find out who is on board and in what capacity by then.
As for if this is going to sell Xbox One consoles? Well, I’m not so sure it will. Despite how much Microsoft is seeming like they “LOVE” old games right about now, plenty of publishers have stated on record over the years how many gamers actually go back to play old games.
Hint: they don’t say it’s a lot. In fact, some seem to treat old games like a dirty napkin. I don’t think this will sell a lot of Xbox One consoles or play into the general audience’s decision on buying one, but it should drive down the prices of Xbox 360s on the secondhand market now that they will be dumped off in droves.
And I think it actually will sell a bunch of systems. There’s limited shelf space, as you say, and there’s a lot of reticence to put away the dozens of games people collected over the decadelong life of the console.
Gamers don’t play a lot of older games (except for you!), but we definitely have a great love for old games. We want the backward compatibility there just in case, for that imagined day when we have a bunch of uninterrupted time and no super-hype modern game to talk about. We want it there at the beginning when there either aren’t many games out or we don’t have that many new ones to play yet.
It’s a transitional feature, basically. It gets late adopters and game hoarders in the door.
The Xbox One just isn’t selling as fast as the PlayStation 4. There’s no arguing around that. Last time Sony reported in, they’d sold 22.3 million consoles worldwide. Microsoft, on the other hand, hasn’t reported in quite a while. Analysts expect the PlayStation 4 to continue its lead.
Microsoft is determined to catch up, but I don’t think they’re dumb and I don’t think they’re desperate. They wouldn’t have done this if they weren’t behind, but they wouldn’t do it if they weren’t pretty sure it’d make a difference, either.
This is purely anecdotal, but more than a couple people I’ve talked to have said that the backward compatibility has them interested in the system. They get to keep their old games out — assuming they’re licensed — and put the quickly aging console away in favor of something more modern.
How successful this is, I think will be determined by how dogged Microsoft is about going after different kinds of publishers. They’re not just going to put this feature out there and take the Field of Dreams approach. If they simply build it, no one will come. They’ve probably already put one of their publisher liaisons in charge of pursuing backward compatibility licensing for titles, and how good that person or team is at their job is going to help decide whether the feature matters or not.
We’ll see how much success can be attributed to backwards compatibility. I was convinced to pick up an Xbox One within the year thanks to a few games I saw this year, but backwards compatibility still had some affect on that decision as well.
This is the right move to make for attracting fans into upgrading to the new console. It’s not too risky, and it gives them something that they’ve been asking patiently for, but at the same time, I don’t see it as a very viable way to lure in new gamers or a new audience. With all we’ve debated on how much “gamers” matter and how broad of a term that is these days, I don’t see that group being as big as we might think.
At any rate, what are some games you want to see made available first? I’m looking at this as a person who games on multiple consoles and still sees the PlayStation 3 as a viable “retro” console thanks to my enormous collection of PSOne and PlayStation 2 Classics that will never come to the PlayStation 4. Plus, I own a lot of games for the PC these days as well, and hopefully will have a way to play them in the coming year as well.
Strictly speaking about myself, I can play Red Dead Redemption and a good many other games these days on other options, and have them be backwards on the Xbox One doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.
I think this means I am looking for just Xbox 360 exclusives that can’t be found or enjoyed anywhere else. Without an Xbox 360, these are just dust in the wind. From Microsoft’s own catalog, I think that Lost Odyssey is an excellent choice. It’s one I’ve always wanted to go back and play, but I can’t now that I no longer own an Xbox 360.
Square Enix also had a duo of oddball JRPGs that don’t exactly scream of being remade or available again in any other way. Infinite Undiscovery comes to mind as a pretty maligned game, one I want to dig away at and pick apart for its problems. The Last Remnant is another, even though it is available on Steam.
I will forever love Earth Defense Force 2017 and wish that it gains immortality through these means, and when it comes to Xbox Live Arcade, there are no other ways to play ’Splosion Man and the HD remake of Guardian Heroes, Treasure’s SEGA Saturn classic.
I guess Fable 2 is another choice seeing as how that is the best Fable game, and it is also the only one stuck on its home console. I love the Ace Combat games and don’t want to see it anymore in free-to-play format. Who knows if Bandai Namco agrees and will allow Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation to be backward compatible, but I sure how it does.
And of course Crackdown because it’s the best Xbox 360 exclusive, or pretty much best Xbox 360 game ever.
I’ll keep it simple. I loved Splinter Cell: Blacklist well-balanced levels that made climbing leader boards appealing. Crackdown was one of the best surprises in the system’s lifetime — there’s the one we agree on. I miss Dead Space something fierce. Dragon’s Dogma needs more life now that it’s relegated to free-to-play status. Assassin’s Creed II is the one Ubisoft game I’d pull over and finally, if I was going to pick on any Xbox Live Arcade game, Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved.
However they do it, I hope Microsoft sticks with this feature and makes it something they can brag about.