Recently, backwards compatibility in this current generation of consoles has been a subject of much debate within the gaming community. For those who don’t know, it is the ability to play games from previous generations on current consoles. Microsoft and Sony have each taken different approaches to implementing backwards compatibility on their respective consoles.
For Sony’s current solution, PS3 games are available for purchase through the PlayStation Now service, while there is a selection of PS2 games available on the PlayStation Store. The downside to this arrangement is that even if you had previously owned any of the games available, you will need to purchase them again. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Xbox One has over 300 games from the Xbox 360 that do not require a second purchase if you still own the original disc. As of now, Nintendo has no answer when it comes to backwards compatibility. However, is this even necessary for the current generation of consoles? Is backwards compatibility more trouble than it’s worth?
This week in an interview with Time, Shawn Layden, the President and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment America, went on record to say that backwards compatibility is not something consumers even use. During the interview, Layden said, “When we’ve dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much.” However, does he have a point? Is the ability to play games from older systems something that just isn’t used by consumers as much as it is requested to be implemented? As we discussed above, Sony’s current solution for backwards compatibility is much worse than Microsoft’s. With having to buy old games even though you had previously purchased them, it is widely thought to be inferior compared to Microsoft’s backwards compatibility service. Even with this being widely known, the PlayStation 4 has sold more units than the Xbox One. Also on Nintendo’s front with the Switch, it currently has no Virtual Console or any sort equivalent but it has become the fastest selling Nintendo system to date regardless.
As previously mentioned, the two most popular consoles at the moment either have an inferior system for backwards compatibility or none at all. For the Nintendo Switch, it looks like re-releases are enough for the console owners, with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe selling a whopping 449,000 units on its first day of release. This made it the fastest selling Mario Kart game in the franchise, beating out predecessors by over 20 thousand units. On top of this, the recent announcement of Pokken Tournament DX making a return has gotten a lot of Nintendo fans excited, which is being ported from the original Wii U release from 2015. A report from Ars Technica recently found that only 1.5% of time spent on Xbox One is used playing backwards compatible games. Xbox marketing officer Mike Nichols quickly dismissed this by stating that roughly 50% of Xbox Ones have used backwards compatibility, while over 508 million hours of gaming has been enjoyed using the feature. With Xbox firing back at these reports, it is unclear how accurate the numbers from Ars Technica are.
At any rate, even with Xbox coming out with their own figures, the question remains: is backwards compatibility a system seller? It really doesn’t seem like it. Backwards compatibility is a perk that a consumer appreciates because they don’t need to pull out an older console to play certain games, but it isn’t a situation where it’s the primary reason for initially purchasing the console itself.
With E3 days away, it is easy to see the excitement for new games, not playing the same game that came out years ago. Remasters and remakes also, if done correctly, give behind the scenes looks into the development of the given game. An example of this is the remake of The Secret Of Monkey Island, which overhauled the graphics and included voice acting. Also, the market has shown that remasters or re-releases are more popular than backwards compatibility. At the end of the day, backwards compatibility has always been overshadowed by remakes and re-releases. While being a great convenience for gamers, it is not a huge factor when it comes to selling the consoles themselves.