Backwards Compatibility is a Feature Customers Want, Expect

Editor's Note: This is a Point/Counter Point discussion between Matt Paprocki and Ken Edwards on the backwards compatibility of games on the Xbox 360. You can keep up with the entire discussion at Blogcritics. I encourage you to read the other articles in this series.

Microsoft will provide what their customers want. They will bend over backwards, especially in Japan, to get an Xbox 360 (and a nice Samsung HDTV) into your living room. Granted, they are working against an unknown (the PlayStation 3) but until Sony drops to Number 2 in the market, Microsoft will always need to match, and exceed Sony any way possible.

If Microsoft's customers did not want, or care, about backwards compatibility, we would not be having this discussion. But they (we) do care about it. In the book The Xbox 360 Uncloaked, that Matt will be reviewing shortly, backwards compatibility is not just mentioned in one small part, but throughout the entire book.

It is a topic that Microsoft does not take lightly, and is because this is what the customers want and expect. Since the launch of the PS2, we have come to expect backwards compatibility, for better or worse. I leave that for you to decide.

With a report of the PS3 including the PS2 hardware for backwards compatibility, and the Nintendo Wii using the same family of processors as the GameCube, Microsoft needs to have feature parity with its competition, and when possible, exceed it.

I am not at all concerned with die-hard gamers. I don't think Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony are either.

My point revolves around the "casual gamer." People not like Matt and myself, who do not game everyday, buy or rent games every week, and follow the industry almost by the minute. Casual gamers are the "it" demographic that everyone is targeting right now. This is because it is the demographic that will grow the gaming industry.

Die-hard gamers will buy Outrun 2006, King of Fighters NeoWave, Panzer Dragoon, etc., to play on their Xbox. They will not be getting rid of that system. They will not store it in the closet to make room for The Next Big Thing. In fact, most die-hard gamers wouldn't dream of playing their games on a console other than the one the game was designed for -- to a point, that is sacrilegious.

But Xbox 360 owners are not all die-hard gamers. Sure, a large percentage of the early adopters are from the die-hard crowd, but that is the way it works. Far more "casual gamers" will purchase the system over time, and will want the convenience of backwards compatibility.

Running the previous generation software is really a happy medium. It is good for both camps. And this does not just apply to consoles, or computers for that matter. It applies to many things. Why is the HD-DVD format backwards compatible with the DVD-9 format? That, my friend, is convenience (among other things, but lets not stray too far here).

But getting back to the Xbox 360, there are 775 Xbox titles, according to Xbox.com, and 207 of them will run on the 360. I cannot vouch for how well they run of course, but they are said to run on the 360. That means, as of today, roughly 26% of the Xbox's library runs on the 360. That’s nice and all, but hardly enough.

Obscure Xbox titles work on the 360 too, but this is mainly due to shear dumb luck than anything else. If the engine of X number of games are compatible, those X number of games run -- which is great (especially for those Barbie Horse Adventures fans out there).

Knowing a console supports, or will support backwards compatible games is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. I enjoyed my GBA a lot more because I could play any game from the GameBoy library on it. I enjoyed my DS a lot more because I could play any game from the GBA on it. The same goes for the PS2.

The launch of any system is the most crucial time for backwards compatibility. Until the market is flooded with new games for the new console, the old ones are there to hold us over. But I still have some GameBoy, GBA, and PS1 games that I play, and not on their original hardware.

Casual gamers are going to want to play the games. It doesn't matter if it originally sold one million, or one hundred copies. They just want to play them, and they don't care about all this techno-mumbo-jumble.

Peter Moore, like executives at Nintendo and Sony, has to appease both gamer demographics -- not an easy thing to do. A year ago May he had this to say on the subject: "Our goal is to have every Xbox game work on Xbox 360. You will NOT need to purchase a new "version" -- your original games will work on Xbox 360." Of course he just said this: "nobody is concerned anymore about backwards compatibility."

Did he lie? Did he break his promise? He broke a promise of good faith. Sony has done this many times with the PS2 and PS3. But Microsoft has been very up-front about the Xbox and Xbox 360. And remember: it doesn't matter what he said, what matters is how it was received. We all know it made a lot of people, myself included, angry.

Moore pulled a full one-eighty on the issue. Both the Gamerscore Blog and Larry Hryb (Major Nelson) have been back peddling for him this week. Hryb even devoted a portion of his podcast to reaffirming Microsoft's commitment for backwards compatibility. Now why would he do that?

Comments (2)

LKM:

You reminded me of two more points:

First, most casual gamers are somewhat confused. If they buy an Xbox 360 and then buy an Xbox game for it and it doesn't run, that's annoying, and it's likely to happen: If it says "Xbox" on the game, it should run on the Xbox, right?

The other point is perception. If you see a shelf of Xbox 360 games, well, that looks kind of small. But if you include all the Xbox games, it looks quite a bit better already. That makes it easier to sell people on a system.

LKM:

And of course, Microsoft has changed its position on backwards compatibility again:

"Boy, do we care about backward compat[ibility]... We're going to get darn close to that stated goal of every title done," Moore promised.

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