The current-generation has taken some time to get swinging. Hampered by chip shortages and extended development cycles due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s been a full 17 months since new hardware arrived, and yet we’re still to see anything truly pushing the boundaries. However, a new battleground is emerging: backwards compatibility.
Support for older titles has been somewhat hit-and-miss through the years. Nintendo were famously unsure about whether or not the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) would be successful without support for Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) cartridges back in the early ’90s. The Game Boy Advance supported original Game Boy cartridges, and subsequently the Nintendo DS was compatible with Game Boy Advance. Even the original Wii consoles could run GameCube games on disc.
PlayStation has had similar efforts come-and-go. The original PlayStation 2 consoles supported PlayStation discs, but were very finicky about which would run. The PlayStation 3 launched with PlayStation 2 support, but that was quickly abandoned in favour of reducing the console’s production cost footprint. Conversely, Microsoft has been working in reverse. Adding backwards compatibility via emulation to Xbox and Xbox 360 titles on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles.
But now, thanks to Xbox Game Pass and the upcoming PlayStation Plus reshuffle, that’s all about to change.
Sony’s Backwards Compatibility Strategy
PlayStation 5, up to this point, seemed to have no concern for backwards compatibility. You can play PlayStation 4 games on the system, and you could repurchase older games digitally. PlayStation Now was frankly an underutilised option. And so, it’s pleasing to see the technology rolled into a more comprehensive strategy.
The upcoming PlayStation Plus reshuffle will allow PlayStation Plus Premium subscribers access to hundreds of classic PlayStation games. What’s more, these titles will be able to offer PlayStation Trophy support. A feature for which some gamers is in high demand on Xbox consoles (with the equivalent Achievements system, of course).
What’s more, Sony will allow long-time PlayStation fans to re-download their digital purchases from earlier systems on PlayStation 5. For those which are offered via PlayStation Plus, at least.
“When these titles are released for PS4 and PS5, players can head to PlayStation Store and download a version for the consoles at no extra cost if they already own the digital version of the title,”PlayStation Blog
This is a very consumer-friendly move for a company which arguably has been falling behind the competition. While the PlayStation 5 is undoubtedly outselling the Xbox Series X|S, moves such as charging more for PlayStation 5 editions of PlayStation 4 games and awkward storage upgrade options have not done their reputation any favours. Hopefully, these new elements of PlayStation Plus will readdress these issues.
Microsoft’s Backwards Compatibility Strategy
Microsoft has been making a pretty big deal out of backwards compatibility in recent years. Since an overwhelming crowd reaction to their initial announcement back at E3 2015, the Xbox brand has appeared to be a pioneer in this area. Hundreds of original Xbox and Xbox 360 titles are available to play today on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles. Though this is a far cry from the full catalogue, it’s certainly the highest ration on any modern console.
However, Microsoft has recently confirmed that it is now done with the programme. Backwards compatibility is offered via software emulation, which means that each game can see bespoke problems occur and need additional investment. Plus, there are challenges with licenses for music, characters etc. Microsoft has made a commendable effort to counter these issues, however a line had to be drawn somewhere.
As mentioned above, PlayStation will now support PlayStation Trophies on older games for new consoles. As the backwards compatibility is via a subscription, it’s likely there’s a high ratio of those who subscribe to the service who are also invested in Trophy hunting. Xbox gamers have been calling for Achievement support in older Xbox titles for some time, but unfortunately this has not been offered.
2023 Will Look Very Different to 2022
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. However, one thing is clear: the state of backwards compatibility on modern consoles will look very different next year to how it does now. With Sony upping it’s game, it’s now up to Microsoft to determine whether they want to continue to lead this race, or feel they have served the audience well enough. If Microsoft were to make any new moves, expect them to come before the year’s end.
How do you feel about backwards compatibility? Is it a feature you care about? Let us know in the comments below!