Backwards compatibility is a major selling point- at least, that’s what we have been told. It can help ease the transition between console generations, and it is a very consumer friendly move. Nintendo have always been at the forefront of backwards compatibility, with continuous support for their previous handhelds each time they introduce a new one, and extremely faithful hardware based backwards compatibility on their consoles, at the very least since the launch of the Wii.
Microsoft and Sony have been iffier on that front- Sony used to provide full backwards compatibility with their consoles, before they cut the feature in the PS3 midcycle, only to not have it return on the PS4, and only in a very limited fashion on the PS Vita. Xbox has never been fully backwards compatible, though of course, the Xbox 360 played a limited amount of Xbox games, and a similar whitelist of backwards compatible games is also enabling partial compatibility on Xbox One.
But Microsoft’s attempts to have backwards compatibility have not helped them any in the marketplace; meanwhile, Sony’s honestly cynical attempts at making users pay for content they may already own don’t seem to have netted them any ill will from customers.
Is Sony’s approach to backwards compatibility, then, better than Microsoft’s? In an exclusive interview with Shahid Kamal Ahmad, former Director of Strategic Content for PlayStation, we raised the question of backwards compatibility with him. Ahmad, who is now working at Double Eleven as part of its advisory board, had an interesting take on the matter.
“I’ve been making games, or helping people to make games since 1982,” Ahmad said. “I’ve seen a lot of things come and go. I’m not a great believer in backwards compatibility. I think that each device should have its own repertoire, its own “vibe.” As for whether publishers should charge for it or not, well that’s really a matter for them.
Ahmad went on to draw analogies with how it is handled in other media, pointing out that backwards compatibility, while always making for a great marketing bullet point, is rarely ever practical for mostly anybody beyond a niche.
“If you look at film and music, those are different categories entirely. Obviously if I’ve paid for a tons of CDs and vinyl, then I don’t like to pay again for the digital streamed version, which is why I think iTunes Match is such a neat idea. Amazon have done a great job of allowing your previous CD purchases via Amazon to become instantly available in your cloud collection. That’s smart, but I bet they had to pay the publishers for that. It’s a great consumer benefit. With film too, if I’ve bought a Blu-ray, I don’t want to pay again for a streamed version, but you know what? I do. I’d bought the Bond collection on DVD, but when it became available on Apple TV, I bought it again, no hesitation. If I want to enjoy the originals, I still can. I can dig out my old consoles, or my CD player, or my DVD player, but do I really want to? It becomes more and more of a niche. An important niche, no doubt, but we are enjoying the benefits of technology and that means we often need to move with the times.”
Personally, while i can understand his viewpoint on this matter, I cannot say I agree with it much. Whipping out my 3DS or Vita, and having the ability to play my last gen games on them, or knowing that I don’t need to dig out and set up my Wii to play my favorite games on it, is a much appreciated convenience- and as we move into a market dominated by ecosystems rather than discrete hardware platforms, software continuity becomes more and more important- and backwards compatibility is a big part of that.