Backwards Compatibility and Xbox 360: The Feature That Brings You Back

Microsoft has been in an uphill battle since before Day One of the Xbox. They need to sell consoles. And right now the Xbox 360 is again facing an uphill battle, this time against the PS3. They might have been first out of the gate, they might have the software right now, but Sony is not going to give up their market share without a fight.

In order to sell consoles, you need to appeal to the widest audience possible. One of the many ways to do this is with backwards compatibility. Microsoft is not doing all it can to stay one step ahead of the competition, and have dropped the ball on backwards compatibility.

But there is no excuse when an Xbox game released after the launch of the 360 cannot run on the 360. BLACK finally runs on the 360. OutRun 2006 Coast 2 Coast does not. There are countless other Xbox titles that have been released since November, and hardly any of them will run on the Xbox 360.

I would play more Xbox games, like OutRun 2006 Coast 2 Coast, more often if I could play them on my 360. Why? Matt already nailed that one. Because it is convenient. More Xbox software would be sold if it were fully compatible with the Xbox 360.

As of this writing, there are 207 Xbox titles that will run on the Xbox 360. There is another update coming soon. This is great news, and I am glad to hear it. They are making headway.

But Peter Moore's comments could not have come at a worse time, especially seeing as the backwards compatibility team is readying another major update. But it was bad timing for many reasons. Simply put, backwards compatibility sells consoles.

Now, I am not saying that I bought my PS2 because it plays PS1 games, but I did play quite a lot of PS1 games on my PS2 -- and well after the "wow" factor wore off. I jumped on the Sony bandwagon late mainly because of the great library of Dreamcast games, and so I enjoyed quite a lot of PS1 titles on my PS2. But truthfully, that is beside the point.

For Microsoft to sell as many Xbox 360s as it can, they must realize the important of their back catalog of previous generation software. And they have, considering they have poured so many resources into emulating the Intel and Nvidia chipsets on the Xbox 360. But they need to be doing more.

Today, in 2006, I can pick up a PS1 game and play it on my PS2. There are very few exceptions in the PS1 library that will not run on the PS2. I should not have to even own a PS1 that is irrelevant. It has to do with a feature that has become commonplace in the industry. It is something customers want.

Sony has stated that the PS3 will support both PS1 and PS2 games. The Nintendo Wii will play GameCube games. The Xbox 360 might play your Xbox games. That is not the best situation for Microsoft to be in.

Touching on the Nintendo Wii for a moment, they have a Virtual Console. This is Nintendo's way of (other than sucking our wallets dry) providing backwards compatibility at a reasonably low price. While the Wii is not backwards compatible with the NES, it will emulate those games. Backwards compatibility is a Very Good Thing.

While I do not agree with the argument, I do believe the importance of convenience has been overlooked. The reason for backwards compatibility is to push sales, sometimes well after their prime. It also keeps people playing your games and your system longer. This also pushes sales, no matter what generation of hardware the game runs on. Mindshare is as important as marketshare.

Convenience is more important than you think. I like the 360 controller better, and I like playing my Xbox games on my 360 more. I don't even have to turn on my Xbox, let alone deal with wired controllers, etc., etc.

Even though Forza Motorsport looked great on the Xbox, it looks even better on the 360. It took them two tries (it was dog slow before the first major backwards compatibility update) but it runs smooth as can be now. It also runs at a higher resolution.

Is it worth sacrificing your save files to run on the 360? That is a call you will have to make. But I have used the backwards compatibility feature a lot.

How many people are playing Halo 2 right now? It is still the top played Xbox Live game, six months after the launch of the 360. How many of those people are playing Halo 2 on their Xbox 360? That would be an interesting stat to see. Why would people play Halo 2 on the 360 when they could be playing on you Xbox? Because it is "better."

Microsoft's commitment to backwards compatibility stretches back to even the original Halo. If a game from 2001 can make the list, there is no reason the rest can't as well. It has nothing to do with being "the best selling titles" -- that is marketing speak.

Barbie Horse Adventures was a black eye for Microsoft, and something often used against them, even to take shots at Peter Moore. When Barbie worked out of the box, and Splinter Cell (the series) was broken, that was a bad day for backwards compatibility.

Microsoft has and will continue to throw as much money at the Xbox 360 as they need to. This is Microsoft, they will because they can. They will continue to support, and pour resources into backwards compatibility because it is a big part of this generation of hardware. Not only that, it is a firm platform to build on for future generations of game consoles.

To sum it up, backwards compatibility is a vehicle to drive sales, both now and in the future, and to keep product in the hands of consumers even longer than originally intended. The costs involved in backwards compatibility on the Xbox 360 are not just for short-term benefits, but also for many years down the road.

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