Two years ago, then-Xbox division boss Don Mattrick said “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards” claiming that only 5% of users used new consoles to play games from a past generation of consoles. It’s funny how much things can change in two years.
While Microsoft might not have had a mind-blowing press conference in terms of new reveals, they certainly scored more than their fair share of points with hardware announcements. The biggest of those announcements was that Microsoft would be rolling out backwards compatibility of Xbox 360 games on Xbox One.
While the initial announcement and caveats of a staggered roll-out of Xbox 360 games made the setup of the backwards compatibility somewhat confusing, the Xbox One will be using software emulation on the console to play Xbox 360 games through digital download and installed onto the hard drive from the disc.
What this will allow is for Microsoft to get backwards compatibility onto the Xbox One to expand the game library for the console without adding any additional costs to the gamers. That’s more than I can say for PlayStation Now though I recall suggesting PS Now try something like this but wedge backwards compatibility in through the streaming service.
There are a couple of issues with Xbox One’s backwards compatibility at the moment. The first is that the backwards compatibility is going through some sort of staggered roll-out. If the emulation software is on-board as Eurogamer asserted in its report, wouldn’t all (or the vast majority) of the 360 back catalog be playable? There is certainly some confusion as to how this actually works. It sounds like there’s some downloading that may need to be done regardless of whether you’re playing off a disc or digital download so it may not even be truly backwards compatible.
The second issue is that Microsoft often tries to be good to its publisher partners but backwards compatibility effectively undercuts the need for HD or Remastered versions of games. I can’t imagine some publishers are happy about that but Microsoft is biting their own hand because it may eliminate the need for that Gears of War remaster.
At the moment, 21 games have backwards compatibility if you can access an early access version of it through the Xbox One Preview Program. Microsoft promises to have over 100 titles backward compatible by Christmas with more being added all the time. Again, this staggered roll-out makes me question how true this backwards compatibility solution is.
It might also be worth noting that while you will be running on software emulation of the Xbox 360, all of the current Xbox One features will be available for you to use. Microsoft promises this includes things like game DVR and Twitch streaming. However, it doesn’t seem to leverage the additional hardware power available from the Xbox One relative to the 360.
Still, you have to give Microsoft some credit. Under Phil Spencer’s stewardship, the Xbox division seems to be revisiting issues that gamers have had since the console’s launch working on solutions. The ability to admit and correct one’s mistakes is good for any company and certainly won’t hurt Microsoft and Xbox in a market that is so hotly contested that little things like this could make a huge difference.
So, Sony, it’s your move. I hope you guys thought about my PlayStation Now idea.