As excited as most gamers are about each new generation of video games consoles, one of the first questions to crop up is inevitably “will the new system play my old games?” Unsurprisingly, most consumers don’t seem to enjoy filling their entire TV stand with legacy hardware. Ideally, the more games you can play on one system, the better.
In 2000, PlayStation 2 released to surprisingly strong sales despite a small lineup of new games at launch largely because it ran every game in the original PlayStation’s library and doubled as a DVD player. The games, controllers and memory cards all worked the same – no adapters needed. Consumers could safely trade in their old PlayStation for credit toward a PlayStation 2 knowing they wouldn’t lose anything in the process.
Sony struck gold with its initial backward compatibility strategy, but they’ve taken a more blasé approach to the matter in recent years. The company is being noncommittal about which old games will run on the forthcoming PlayStation 5, and to make matters more complicated, on Monday it was announced that PlayStation 4 controllers will not work for PlayStation 5 games. With very few enhancements made to the latest iteration of Sony’s trademark “DualShock” controller, it seems like an arbitrary restriction to force consumers to purchase new controllers.
The same day, Microsoft shot back at Sony with the announcement that the upcoming Xbox Series X will be compatible with all Xbox One controllers across all games. It makes sense – the newest controller only has an added “share” button for menu shortcuts and a more tactile D-pad. Some might say the lack of new features is unappealing, but the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind.
Not so long ago, the tables were turned the other way. The Xbox One released in 2013 with no backward compatibility and a relatively weak game lineup. The system’s now-touted ability to play many games from older Xbox systems was added post-launch in 2015 via emulation. The feature seems like a no-brainer to some, but backward compatibility often requires manufacturers to include legacy hardware within the new system, which significantly increases production costs.
In recent years, that’s become a smaller obstacle. Without getting too technical, the hardware in game systems continues to get beefier, but the overall infrastructure remains similar. Accordingly, the old games run the same or even better. Simply put, backward compatibility is easier to achieve with today’s technology.
I remember watching kids sell off all their old games and systems for a fraction of the original cost just to get a head-start on buying a new console. As a rather judgmental child, I held disdain for this practice – why sell the old games you know and love when you might get nostalgic and want to revisit them years later? Of course, now I realize – to each their own.
Personally, I hang onto the games I know I’ll periodically replay. To this day, one of my favorite RPGs is “The Legend of Dragoon,” a 2000 release for the first PlayStation. I give it a couple of years between play-throughs so I forget most plot points and experience the epic tale all over again, oohing and aahing over everything but the most memorable plot twists.
Some classics are popular enough to warrant remakes after a decade or two. “Resident Evil 2” and the original “Crash Bandicoot” trilogy were lovingly remade in 2019 and 2017, respectively, and sold even better than their original releases. But what about games like the aforementioned “The Legend of Dragoon,” which sold well enough to be branded a “greatest hit” by Sony but is unlikely to ever receive a proper remaster?
If you’re unwilling to hold onto old systems, you’re stuck chasing around the hundreds of games of similar popularity. Sony bothered to port “The Legend of Dragoon” to PlayStation 3 in 2012, but in order to play it on said system, you’d have to buy it for $5.99 even if you still own the original CDs. While $5.99 isn’t breaking the bank, it’s still a bit of a slap to the face of a dedicated consumer.
For these reasons, I rejoice whenever game console manufacturers choose to offer backward compatibility options. It’s the consumer-friendly choice. The Xbox Series X is looking to offer unparalleled backward compatibility, and the gaming community is already taking notice. This will hopefully push Sony, the direct competitor, to make similar efforts in the future.
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