Backwards Compatibility on Xbox One: Does It Ultimately Matter?

Backwards compatibility is many things but is it a killer app for any console?

Posted By | On 19th, Nov. 2015 Under Article, Editorials


Ah, what a pre-holiday-ish season it’s been for gaming. We’ve all been enamoured by Halo 5: Guardians, guided Lara Croft through another perilous adventure in Rise of the Tomb Raider, returned to the wasteland in Fallout 4 and pretty much gave up making any sense of the plot in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Though these past two months have been significant for major releases (except that one Assassin’s Creed game everyone’s already forgotten about), November is especially special for the Xbox One’s biggest update. That’s the New Xbox One Experience, an interface upgrade which purports to offer a faster and overall better experience for those working with the Xbox One’s Dashboard.

It’s not perfect obviously – there have already been plenty of complaints, ranging from the design being cluttered to the usual bugs and errors – but the one major selling point is the backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 titles. Remember the enormous fanfare that the feature got back in June, during E3 2015? Or the usual comparisons of Sony and Microsoft and how the former was charging its consumers to experience old releases, whether in remastered form or through the miracle of game streaming, while the latter was busy bringing backwards compatibility to the Xbox One for free.

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"First and foremost, you’re going to be busy with today’s games and look into the classics later. Perfect Dark is an awesome game but it’s not exactly going to be at the very top of your must play list this holiday season."

Honestly, when something like backwards compatibility is hyped to the point of being a major selling point for a console, it almost always backfires. Remember the PS3’s backwards compatibility with PS2 games and much Sony lost in manufacturing costs during the initial years of its console? Of course, it would have been one thing if it were only the fans that hyped up the functionality.

However, Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg believes that backwards compatibility will actually be a major reason for Xbox 360 fans who haven’t invested in an Xbox One to finally make the jump. The logic isn’t all that bad – pick up an Xbox One to experience all the cool new releases without having to worry that your old library is being left behind – but what about fans who are content to just keep gaming on the previous generation? What about the gamers who still haven’t experienced everything that the previous generation has to offer? What’s stopping them from picking up a PlayStation 3 and enjoying the Uncharted series or Beyond: Two Souls or even The Last of Us? There are a lot of factors to keep in mind when you think about those who still games on previous generation consoles and there’s no easy solution, backwards compatibility or not.

Backwards compatibility as a feature has always been meant as, well, a nifty little feature. It’s not like catering to the hardcore isn’t profitable; otherwise, PlayStation Now would be going nowhere. There are so many ways to look at it from your average Xbox One fan standpoint (do you play Halo Reach first or revisit the Gears of War trilogy?) and honestly, it’s a great way for players to acquaint themselves with some old classics. But first and foremost, you’re going to be busy with today’s games and look into the classics later. Perfect Dark is an awesome game but it’s not exactly going to be at the very top of your must play list this holiday season.

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"You can trumpet the values of one over the other but the fact remains that you’re hooked. If you’re not hooked, then it’s going to take a lot more to get you invested in an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 than the ability to play some older games."

Does backwards compatibility ultimately matter for the majority of Xbox gamers? Again, as a feature, it’s a neat extra. Backwards compatibility didn’t sell millions and millions of PlayStation 4 consoles for Sony at launch. The lack of backwards compatibility didn’t prevent the Xbox One from doing far better than what it could have done in the beginning of its lifecycle. It’s understandable that Microsoft has been trying to promote the feature but whether it brings tens of millions of Xbox 360 fans to the Xbox One is something that can never really be known. Honestly, at this point, you’d have an easier time pointing out the number of players who picked up an Xbox One for Halo 5: Guardians than those who purchased it purely for backwards compatibility.

At the end of the day, both the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility and PlayStation Now share the same distinction. They’re products of services, add-ons to our main entertainment sources to keep us engaged with the brand as a whole without overtly replacing the games either company wants us to drop money on in the future. You can trumpet the values of one over the other but the fact remains that you’re hooked. If you’re not hooked, then it’s going to take a lot more to get you invested in an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 than the ability to play some older games.


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