Once upon a time, backwards compatibility was mostly a given with gaming consoles. Thanks to Sony’s fantastic trailblazing with the PS2 running all PS1 games, and Nintendo’s handhelds (and consoles starting with the Wii) coming with the ability to play older games out of the box, people never had to start from zero when buying a new console.
However, times have changed. Neither of the three consoles on the market right now — PS4, Xbox One, Switch — launched with backwards compatibility, though Microsoft has since led the way with a wonderful backward compatibility initiative that has added hundreds of legacy games to the Xbox One’s library.
But going forward, will we see Sony and Microsoft continue with backward compatibility? Surely, with both companies sticking with x86 architecture, as well as how much they have invested in their digital ecosystems this generation, surely they will, right?
According to Marc-André Jutras, a veteran of Activision and Ubisoft, and currently working with Cradle Games on the upcoming science fiction RPG Hellpoint, it is likely to happen—and he does hope it will be all encompassing out of the box, rather than be a limited whitelist.
“The PlayStation I think will do it. I know, was it the Xbox 360 where they had a backward compatibility list with the original Xbox? They had to approve the game title by title? I think that was weird, and I hope it won’t be like that,” he said, in an exclusive interview with GamingBolt. “I prefer to have an emulator that will run all the games a console has, maybe with small bugs and glitches, instead of saying I have 50 games in my library and I can only play four of them because the others aren’t approved yet.“
He said that he much preferred the Nintendo approach with the Wii U, where every Wii game was playable off the bat, and that backward compatibility also ends up being beneficial for console manufacturers—it means their console isn’t starting from zero as far as game library goes, and it acts as a form of ecosystem lock in for them.
“I don’t like it with the Switch that it’s not backward compatible, but when they came out with the Wii U, hey every game on the Wii worked. That should be the way to do it,” he said. “Because let’s say you come up with a new console, your user base at this point is zero, and the number of games you have for your console is also zero. So you need developers to make games, and you need people to buy the console. And that’s a chicken and egg kind of issue. Will developers jump on the bandwagon and make games that make people buy the console, or will people buy the console, which makes developers want to make games? So it’s already a big challenge when you release a new console because you end up not knowing if you have enough games to sell a console, or if enough consoles are sold to sell a game.
“What I want from the PS5 is, Sony made some awesome exclusives, I mean I bought PS4 because Bloodborne was on console, and they got a whole sale for that one exclusive. And I think Microsoft has faltered in that area, though you look at how many developers Microsoft has bought in the last year, I think they finally figured out you need exclusives if you want to sell the console, and they need to be good… anyway, so I have hopes that the next generation of consoles will have great exclusives, and that Sony and Microsoft figure out that if you release a console that can play all the old games, you have a user base that is likelier to jump on board because they can play their huge catalog of games. If I have 100 games on Xbox 360 and 100 games on Xbox One, and a new Xbox comes out that plays all my Xbox 360 and Xbox One games, I am much likelier to buy the new Xbox than I am to buy any other console.”
I absolutely agree with him—and with Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all three having invested in standardized architecture, and made long term plans to stick with it for the coming future, I really hope that they will retain the ability to play older games going forward. Unlike past generational breaks, there really is no reason not to do so anymore.