Expect the Death of Backward Compatibility Next Year

With the next console generation just barely peeking up over the horizon, I think we can safely say one thing is certain: For the most part, they won’t be backwards-compatible.

Already, the vestiges of the practice of making old games work in new consoles are disappearing. Nintendo’s Wii-U might end up a notable exception — it’ll play your old Wii games, for example. Not GameCube games, though, even though the Wii was capable of supporting those. For the rest of your old Nintendo library, you’ll need downloads.

As for the next Playstation and Xbox iterations, it’s probably pretty safe to say that you’re seeing the last of those platforms’ backward compatibility capabilities. The Playstation 3 originally included backward compatibility, but that hardware was thrown out to reduce costs within the first year of the system’s life. The Xbox 360 notably managed to become backward compatible for most of the games in the old Xbox library, but it required a ton of extra software because Microsoft didn’t own the rights to the original Xbox processor — which mean that compatibility programs for every game had to be created after the fact.

While backward compatibility between the next generation and this one will likely be easier for the console makers to accomplish, there’s one big reason that they won’t do it: They don’t have to. If there’s anything the rise of digital distribution has demonstrated, it’s that gamers are willing to pay again for old games. You’ve demonstrated that you like your old games, and would like to play them on your new hardware — so why would Microsoft, Sony or anyone give away the privilege for free?

We’re already seeing the push in the new direction of paying for games more than once. Nintendo has done extremely well with its Wii Virtual Console, which has made a host of back-catalog Nintendo games available to customers who want to pay for them. Many of those games haven’t been available on a new system for years, really, like items from the old NES and SNES library.

Sony has picked up on the trend, too, making a whole lot of old Playstation and Playstation 2 games available as digital downloads, as has Microsoft. Given the success all three have found in making older games available to new players, it seems obvious that there won’t be any sort of push to make sure you can play Xbox 360 games on your Xbox Whatever — and even if you can, you definitely won’t see original Xbox games being played on it. Of course, hardware costs are undoubtedly a factor when it comes to consoles, but there’s clearly money to be made in this space, and Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are interested in making it.

On the one hand, it’s a good thing. Nintendo’s Virtual Console managed to scare up games that are simply no longer available anywhere else. If you’re lucky enough to have an old copy of Super Metroid, plus a working SNES, then congratulations on being lucky and fortuitous in your protection of video gaming history. If not, though, there were years when you were SOL on that front, particularly if you knew nothing of the emulator scene on PC. Opening up old game libraries makes a lot of titles players have never heard of available to them for the first time.

On the other hand, we’re almost definitely going to be rebuying the same games we’ve already bought in the future. There’s not really a solution to that part.

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10 Comments on Expect the Death of Backward Compatibility Next Year


On November 29, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Interesting article. I had honestly not really thought about backwards compatibility in a while. Mostly because my ps3, wii, and computer all have it. For the ps3 and computer it is really handy that they have been updating and releasing old games. The ps2 game Sparta total warrior has sadly yet to make the list. If it did i would buy it right away, the original while buggy, was pretty fun. Though it is very sad to see backwards compatibility fade away. I do hope they continue updating catalogs of old games that work on current systems. Hoping things turn out well.
Nice article Phil.

T Wal

On November 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Why am I punished for liking video games? If I was a movie geek things would be so much simpler. I can easily watch a 40 year old movie today…hell, if I was a book geek I could read a book from 100 years ago. But instead I chose the hobby with the shortest functionality lifespan possible. If a tech genius invented a device that had universal compatibility with everything from cardridges to download only titles and made it available to everyone, he would be a hero of gamer kind. He would be a sued by every gaming corporation on earth, but he would still be a hero.


On November 29, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I’ve already come to terms with the idea that I won’t be selling my PS3 when the PS4 comes along like I did with my PS2. The vast majority of the PS3′s sales came after the backwards compatible hardware was removed, demonstrating that customers preferred a lower price over extra hardware. While I’ve always enjoyed the convenience of all my Playstation games working on my PS3, I think I’ll probably be willing to keep my PS3 if it helps keep the PS4 at a more reasonable price. And, the prospect of not having backwards compatibility on the next console has made me consider how often I return to older titles. Sometimes I get an itch for an older game, but right now I barely have time for newer games, so I think I will ultimately be ok with trading convenience for a lower price.

And as was pointed out, digital versions are replacing backwards compatible hardware, so there is comfort in knowing that I can at least retain the ability to play those older games simply by keeping my old console.

What I’ve been reading about Windows 8 also makes me somewhat nervous. Having to jump through Microsoft’s hoops like they have in place for Xbox Live doesn’t seem like a great prospect for PC gaming. Microsoft’s policies for Live already demonstrate that they aren’t fond of free DLC since they can’t get a cut if it’s free, which is really frustrating to think about when there are companies like CD Projekt Red out there. That company has provided various bits of DLC for The Witcher 2 at no cost to PC gamers, and it seems wrong to impose added costs on them and on player’s when the people making the content are generous enough to provide it for free.


On November 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I think not having backwards compatibility is insulting but I’ll live with it by taking care of my hardware. My ps1 and Ps2 are both old has all hell but I still play them nearly has much has my Ps3.
I never bought the same game twice. the only games I ever bought on playstation Store are games I never played and couldn’t find in stores.
I’m probably a rare breed of gamer though.


On December 1, 2012 at 6:43 am

I DO mind paying for the same game twice. As much as Sony tried to argue the point that it wasn’t cost effective to put backwards-compatibility in the second version of their PS3 consoles for the reason that “most people aren’t interested in playing older games” (their words not mine), it seems very interesting that they didn’t hesitate to try to milk the teat of the cash cow dry by putting all the games out as paid digital content. First off, whenever some big corporation thinks they speak for me or my other fellow gamers as to tell me what I’m interested in it’s insulting to me, but the real middle finger was then regurgitating the same content to us for a price, of course. For a long time, I actually had boycotted Sony and the PS3. The only time I DON’T mind paying for the same game twice is when they actually go and put the work into doing an HD makeover and adding new content that wasn’t previously available. I bought God of War Saga (at a deep discount) and do I feel it was worth it? Every penny.


On December 1, 2012 at 9:48 am

I don’t object to consoles no longer being backwards-compatible with old disks, but I DO object to being expected to pay to download games I already own onto a new console. It’s offensive. It should be one or the other.


On December 4, 2012 at 8:47 am

i never really cared if a new system was backwards compatible. When i buy a new system its for the new game not for the old ones.


On December 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

The need for profits, has undermined technological progress as we know it. I say this not just for consoles, but technology in general. Want to play an old game? Well you need to hold onto all your old consoles. If you don’t you will have to pay for them again and again because companies don’t want to release simple emulation software. The video game industry needs to look at wasted money spent and over the top marketing and PR campaigns as opposed to over charging the gamer.

Preordering gets you nothing but paid day one DLC

Kinnect is now more or less a way to spy on you as Microsoft has ways of peering into your homes. This shouldn’t even be a possibility as a program should have never been created to utilize it. Why? Well they claim for marketing… Oh and other articles claim to identify pirated materials. A camera in every home made possible because its a entertainment device.

New consoles will be more powerful but have one time use access codes.

Games being sold in bits and pieces basically all have an elite yearly package style now…

In game items made into comodities to be paid for. Used to be optional as you could earn them too! Now there are exclusive paid for only items on F2P

Packs sold for money have random drops to keep you paying, The drops you want are rare so its like gambling for gamers. The most recent game to do this is Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer.


On December 5, 2012 at 11:21 am

This is why you don’t fall into the trap of the console market. PC games tend to be back compatible all the way to the late 80′s, and if not, DOSbox is your best friend.


On December 8, 2012 at 6:22 pm

I don’t understand why they are so insistent on forcing us to buy it again. Everything has USB ports on them. If you really want to encourage virtual console then why not put a usb-addon for original catrigdes? And if you don’t have the original cart then you don’t actually own the game therefore you should need to buy it again; And if your copy is just broke then you’d have to buy a new one anyway.