Backwards Compatibility is a Wasted, Unneccesary Financial Risk

The Xbox 360 is a different piece of hardware. Backwards compatibility is an issue because of this, and the cost to implement new emulators for games isn't cheap. Ken's right to say that newly released titles for the original Xbox should be ready to go on the 360 when they launch.

In theory, that's a great idea. In execution, it's not worth the time. How many people out there are buying the new Outrun? King of Fighters NeoWave? Why should Microsoft be worried about niche titles like these when they could be spending money in their gaming division on countless other things?

When it comes down to it, games like King of Fighters are aimed right a die-hard audience. These gamers have an Xbox, and most likely a 360. They're not going to give up their old hardware, special controllers, and game saves just to say "I played King of Fighters on my 360." That continues to dwindle the number of people who would be playing this game on the 360 hardware, and NeoWave is hardly lighting up sales charts. Is it then logical to create an emulator that only a handful of people will ever use?

The issue seems to be turning into "what Microsoft promised." In strict marketing terms, there's nothing on the box that says it will be compatible with all Xbox games. There are no flyers or posters in stores that say all games will be playable. Why? Because they never promised it. A quote in a magazine is not a promise; it's a discussion, and one that's being blown completely out of proportion by people who believe they need something they really don't.

Ken also seems to think that backwards compatibility sells consoles. This is where you need to step back and think of the reasons you buy a video game system. Why would anyone NOT buy a 360? Maybe they don't like the game selection, don't have access to Xbox Live, or they would prefer to move over to Sony's and/or Nintendo's camp. That's fine, but to think Microsoft will lose sales (or even excessive market share) because the audience can't play Panzer Dragoon is absurd. You buy a new game console to buy new games, period.

It's hard to defend the Barbie Horse Adventure scenario too. It's doubtful Microsoft will ever live this one down, and they have no one to blame but themselves for not making it clear enough. "Best selling games" being backwards compatible is a statement that will forever haunt them.

Maybe it's time for a different perspective though. Think to yourself, aside from all the pricing issues and features debate, would the ability to play Madden '98 on your Playstation 3 be a make it/break it deal for you? How often do you see yourself playing ANY Playstation 1 games on your shiny new Spider-Man font-inspired Playstation 3?

After a few weeks, you wouldn't think twice about it. You're far to engrossed in gorgeous new worlds and franchises to even think about having the time to go back and enjoy older games you used to play. If anything, this could be seen as a bad thing for the industry, pulling sales away from increased budget next-generation games and putting money into the hands of a developer who spent far less.

The latter is an admittedly weak argument, but there is a point to be extracted from it. This isn't a consumer-based problem. This isn't a broken promise scenario. It's a financial one, and if people are not putting Xbox games into their Xbox 360's, why should Microsoft continue to waste their time?

It's time for some true soul checking if you believe BC is a needed feature. Ask yourself this one question:

"Have I played/have any desire to play Drake of the 99 Dragons on my Xbox 360?"

I'd be willing to bet the answer is no, and since they're still losing money on the hardware, it's only logical for Microsoft to say the same thing.

Comments (1)


Fanboyism aside, claiming that backwards compatibility is somehow "bad" is utterly absurd. I realize that Microsoft screwed this up, and since people (deservedly) love the Xbox 360, they feel compelled to defend Microsoft.

That doesn't make them any more right.

Backwards compatibility is a huge selling point during the first year of a console. When the PS2 came out, it killed the Dreamcast in part because right out of the box, it had thousands of awesome games you could play on it. Both owners of the "prequel console" and new owners profit from this:

Previous owners only need to hook up one console to their TV. They can move the old console to their second TV, or they can sell it, or they can put it into a box and store it in the attic to free up a bit of space.

First-time owners get access to the whole catalog of games for the old console. There are a few Xbox and plenty of PS1/PS2 games I would like to play, but not enough to get me to buy an Xbox or a PS2. If I could run those Xbox games on an Xbox 360, I would be a lot more likely to buy one.

And yes, people do buy games for the "previous" console. My girlfriend only owns a DS, but she bought half a dozen GBA games. My brother bought PS games for his PS2.

Backwards compatibility is a huge selling point. The Xbox 360's backwards compatibility sucks for technical reasons, and only for technical reasons. MS would love to have better backwards compatibility, no matter what they say, despite the Xbox's somewhat limited back catalog.

And yes, I absolutely would play PS1 games on the PS3. I own a stack of awesome PS1 games which I haven't played during the last few years since I never got a PS2 (interestingly, the ones I cherish the most are mostly 2D side scrollers).

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