Backward Compatibility: Future gaming in reverse?

February 19, 2013  15:05 · no Comments

PS4 Event post 2

How much importance should backward compatibility really have when it comes to reshaping the home video game landscape? In the build up to a new era for PlayStation we examine if your old games really should matter to the next console generation.

One of the big arguments within consumer technology is how much new generation of products should acknowledge the past. Every iteration of every device owes a debt to its own engineering lineage of course, but some face further scrutiny over support for legacy features.

Whether it’s modern hi-fi products straddling MP3 functionality and the demands of a nostalgic vinyl, cassette and CD collector or indeed PCs phasing out certain storage formats – it’s a fine balancing act.

In video gaming and specifically console design, the desire for consumers to enjoy their old collections after jumping up to a nextgen system is a recurring headache. To some degree the problem has been alleviated with direct download capabilities and the re-issue of virtual versions of past classics at reduced price.

However, is this inevitable money-spinner fair when most have bought these games already and is a call for native backward compatibility worth hindering innovation for?

“In video gaming and specifically console design, the desire for consumers to enjoy their old collections after jumping up to a nextgen system is a recurring headache.”

This week Sony seems set to reveal plans for a new PlayStation 4 system, with Microsoft tipped to follow suit with its anticipated Xbox 720. Rumours suggest both will ignore backward compatibility and in Microsoft’s case may try to block the playing of preowned titles too.

There’s a distinction worth drawing here though, with the likelihood being that a loss of backward compatibility will refer to previous generation’s discs rendered redundant. It seems commercially suicidal for neither console to ship with emulation software for playing back your virtual store purchases.

Reports this week have in fact speculated that Sony will deploy a streamed service to provide PS3 titles on demand. Having acquired the Gaikai technology last year it seems likely this mode of delivery could prove critical should the PS4 system be unable to run old code locally.

Gaikai website

Sony bought cloud-based game streaming service Gaikai last year for $380m

Harking back to the PlayStation 3 launch and the original units off the production line, initial levels of native backward compatibility were cut to trim unwieldy manufacture costs. This seemingly didn’t deter most early adopters, especially if like me they had traded an entire history of gaming purchases at Gamestation to obtain the thing. There were no old games left to play.

This is actually a worthy point. There’s no doubt that although console makers and games publishers dislike the resale market for obvious reasons, they acknowledge its existence. Sony would know that in all likelihood backward compatibility becomes less relevant to those who literally upgrade their prior purchases in this way.

Game collector Youtube

Some avid gamers take backward compatibility to quite literal extremes…

Alternatively of course, you do have the choice of hoarding your treasured console collection. There has never been a law of one generation or the other. It might be cumbersome to have a lifetime of consoles stashed under your plasma television, but provided the plugs are still supported you’re free to do it.

Money can’t be too much of an issue, because all the YouTube videos I’ve seen featuring insane gaming collections emanate from middle-aged men who have ample disposable income to burn on childhood dreams. Basically the kind of purists who would oppose backward compatibility anyway.

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