Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
16 June 2006
Next-Gen on Backward Compatibility
Next-Gen.biz has an editorial today about backward compatibility in videogame consoles. The shorter version is that they think it's a nice but not necessary feature, and that Sony shouldn't waste too much energy on the PlayStation 3's promised 100% compatibility with PSOne and PlayStation 2 software. A bit I submitted luckily made it into the final article, and I also wanted to publish the longer version of my position. Here 'tis:

I'm in favor of backward compatibility, primarily because it's a feature that I use regularly. Over the more than five years that I've owned a PlayStation 2 my PSOne library has increased from 30 to 130 titles. I also completely replayed an old GameBoy game, Super Mario Land, in the past year, exclusively on my GameBoy Advance. However, I suspect I'm in a tiny minority that takes advantage of backward compatibility on a regular basis.

I do think there is business case to be made for backward compatibility.

A console maker send a strong message of support to its constitutents -- publishers, retailers, and of course consumers -- when it provides backward compatibility. Any publisher putting out a final big name game for the older platform, backward compatibility enlarges the pool of possible buyers by adding those folks on the new platform. For retailers, backward compatibility means that they are not immediately stuck with piles of software that no one will want to buy. And for the consumer, backward compatibility provides a huge catalog of older titles to enjoy in those first few anemic months after a new system launches. Certainly, one might reasonably expect that all three of these groups did benefit when games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 and Final Fantasy IX, both PSOne titles, arrived right around the October 2000 launch of the backward compatible PlayStation 2.

There is one other benefit I'd highlight for consumers: if there are exclusive games on the older hardware that the consumer never played, backward compatibility provides the obvious means for doing so. Many migrating PlayStation 2 and GameCube owners were probably gratified to finally pick up Halo 2 to play on their new Xbox 360. I'm sure Microsoft was pleased to welcome them.

There are, of course, caveats. The Xbox version of Half-life 2 launched the month after the Xbox 360 launch, and it wasn't immediately backward compatible. Valve subsequently complained about poor sales, so even good publishers and developers can get left behind when backward compatibility doesn't quite work fully. Retailers like GameStop are already already flooded with used games, and it is far more likely that they will be able to move those games, rather than any new product they have sitting on shelves. And, finally, any consumer reduced to playing last year's games on his new super machine is obviously going to feel a little letdown.

Stepping out for a bit, so more later.

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--Matt Matthews at 08:51
Comment [ 5 ]

Comments on this post:

I was thinking that it would be nice if there were some way to 'offload' backwards compatibility onto the homebrew scene. If you could expose only the bits of the console that might be useful for implementing BC to homebrew programmers, they would probably be more than eager to go after it. Emulation is only around today thanks to the volunteer efforts of programmers anyway, why not let those volunteers serve you in the future? Not that I think itwould be an at all appealing idea to a big manufacturer, as there's no way they're going to essentially give the keys to outsiders to completely open up their console (which they'll do with enough time anyway).

By Blogger BruceC, at 16 June, 2006 14:16  

I'm with you all the way about backward compatibility.

The first game I played when I finally bought a ps2 in 2003 (i'd last owned a ps1 in 1998) was Chrono Cross.

Then I played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Then, and only then, did I play FFX , which i ended up deleting my save game right before the last boss, because i realised i really didn't care what happened to the characters, infact i actually wish they would all die. painfully. Especially Yuna.

i'm still annoyed at that abomination. whoever thought an rpg on rails was a good idea?

Just last week I finished metroid zero mission entirely on my DS. Also working on Aria of Sorrow.

BTW: I finished Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow recently, and it was a really really cool game, if a bit easy (if you take the time to get the right mix of souls).

So when you getting your DS Lite dude?

By Anonymous adrian, at 16 June, 2006 17:36  

adrian: Good to know I'm not the only one who got a lot of PSOne use out of the PS2.

Getting DS Lite next month, I suspect. Don't worry, there will be a post when it arrives... :^)

And, yes, I'll be getting one of the DS Castlevanias right off the bat.

By Blogger jvm, at 16 June, 2006 17:40  

My neighbor's kids have Nintendo DSes, and I do as well, but they never had Game Boy Advances. If there wasn't backwards compatibility, they might never be exposed to some great GBA games.

I got rid of my PS1 when I got my PS2, but kept several PS1 games. If the PS2 wasn't back-compatible, I'd have another box to find room for.

By Blogger Kat, at 16 June, 2006 21:07  

jvm: when you get your ds lite, it is absolutely imperative that you also get a copy of Phoenix Wright : Ace Attorney.

It's one of the must own titles for the system, and it absolutely rocks =)

By Anonymous adrian, at 18 June, 2006 13:26  

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