Every time a new console is announced, the first question on everyone’s minds is “will it be backwards compatible?” The fear of a new generation invalidating all of our purchases from the previous one is very real in gamers everywhere. The very structure of the PS4 was completely different than the PS3, which was the basis for why Sony said the PS4 could not be backwards compatible. Even so, they’ve made concessions here and there.
Meanwhile. Microsoft is making more and more Xbox 360 games compatible on the Xbox One every week. Sony’s been backed into a corner. It’s time to bring out the claws and make backwards compatibility a feature on PS5. Thankfully, rumors are pointing to this being the case.
PS5 Backwards Compatibility: All The Latest Evidence
The PS4 is absolutely killing it this generation, with over 76 million consoles now comfortably sitting in gamer's homes. That's an impressive install base, but if Sony releases a brand new console without backwards compatibility, they're essentially starting from scratch.
Yes, the PS4 would continue to exist for several years, but when it comes time for the PS4 to go the way of the dodo bird, all those gamers will have a huge library of games that they can no longer play on PS5. It doesn't make sense any way you slice it, and with Microsoft already offering backwards compatibility on Xbox One X, Sony needs to step up.
Here is a look at all the evidence we have thus far:
Software Testing Patent
If you're feeling like you need more technical documentation in your life, you should check out this full patent listing from Sony. If you'd rather get to the point of it all, here's a quick excerpt:
"If the CPUs of the new device have lower performance than the CPUs of the legacy device, many errors in a legacy application may arise due to the inability to meet real-time deadlines imposed by display timing, audio streamout or the like. If the CPUs of the new device have substantially higher performance than the CPUs of the legacy device, many errors in a legacy application may arise due to the untested consequences of such high speed operation."
Breaking this down, the excerpt describes an issue with running legacy software on more or less powerful CPUs. If the hardware is more powerful, such as the case with PS5, there could be unintended consequences of throwing an older game into this new environment.
The goal of this patent is to create a timing testing mode that can "disrupt" the processors and test for errors while in this mode. On it's own, this doesn't guarantee anything, but it does prove that the concept of backwards compatibility is on Sony's mind. Here's a figure that shows how this process could work:
The official description of the images describes it as a block diagram that showcases an example of a CPU core that can be configured to operate in a backwards compatibility mode. It's hard to say if this could be applied to PS4, as the console is in the final stages of its life cycle according to Sony, but it most certainly points to backwards compatibility on the PS5.
Sony IR Day 2018 Report
Business presentations are rarely exciting sources of news, but Sony's IR Day 2018 report has an interesting slide on page 7 that contains a bit of text I thought worth mentioning:
"Aim to mitigate the impact of platform lifecycle compared to past cycle and stabilize profit structure."
Admittedly it's a lot of corporate speak, but the accompanying graph shows an interesting trend. As each console launches, profits go down by a large margin until later in the cycle when they go back into the green. Many believe, myself included, that this drop in sales is due to people waiting to purchase the new console because they don't want to lose their entire library.
Backwards compatibility with, at the very least, PS4 games, would most likely mitigate this drop in profits by encouraging people to upgrade and carry over all of their physical and digital purchases from the prior generation.
AMD Ryzen Architecture
The chipsets in both the PS4 and the Xbox One are made by AMD. It's more than likely that the next generation will also utilize chips from this manufacturer. Now, one of the biggest changes in hardware from the PS3 to the PS4, was the architecture itself. The PS3 had a proprietary cell processor that, while powerful, was difficult to develop for. The PS4 that we know and love was designed to be more like a PC in this regard.
We've already reported on evidence that Sony could be using AMD's Ryzen architecture on the PS5, but if this is indeed the case, it wouldn't be that much different than the current architecture. Therefore, it would be much easier for Sony to simply let you take your PS4 library over to the PS5.
One thing is certain: Sony needs to offer backwards compatibility in some form, because Microsoft is already far ahead in this regard, and it's one of the strongest competitive advantages they have, despite Sony winning in sales.
No One Gets Left Behind: Microsoft’s Plan For Backwards Compatibility
Let’s start by taking a look at the competition. When the Xbox One was first announced, there was no mention of backwards compatibility. The same was true of PS4. A few years ago at E3, Microsoft dropped the bomb that Xbox 360 games would soon be playable on Xbox One. Since this announcement, they have been steadily adding new titles to the list.
If you own the game on Xbox 360, you can simply pop in the disc and download a version of it for your Xbox One. If you owned it digitally in the past, you can download it again. If you want to buy it for the first time on Xbox One, you can do that too. Xbox 360 games are even being offered as free titles in Games With Gold promotions.
On top of this, Microsoft announced Xbox One X At E3 2016. They went on to say that all of your games and accessories would carry forward to the new system. Microsoft introduced the concept of an Xbox One Family, where all of their games would be playable on Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X.
In an Interview with Windows Central, Xbox Services GM, Dave McCarthy, was asked if there would be exclusive games for the Xbox One X. His reply was this:
”Will there be a range that developers will take advantage of in Scorpio? Absolutely, but again, that’s going to be a developer choice. But, on our devices all of your games are going to work. Period. We made that promise today: those games will work across the whole line-up. They have to work across the whole line-up.”
Microsoft has made it clear that there will be no Scorpio exclusives. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s also a massive promise in terms of backwards compatibility. This kind of sweeping stance on the matter leaves Sony with a very important decision. At this point, backwards compatibility absolutely needs to be a feature on the PS5 for Sony to remain competitive.
PlayStation Backwards Compatibility: Past, Present, and Future
The first time we saw backwards compatibility was on the PS2. This system was indeed capable of playing PS1 games, but the caveat was you had to use a memory card from the original system to save your data. You couldn’t save PS2 data on a PS1 memory card.
That being said, there were some PS1 games that could not be played on the PS2. This list changed based on the model of the PS2. When the PS3 released, there were several models.
The 60GB PS3 was fully backwards compatible. The original 80GB model was also compatible through emulation. All other models did not have PS2 compatibility but could still play PS1 games. These systems offered the ability to make an “internal memory card” that could be used to store data from older titles.
Jump to the PS4 and there was zero backwards compatibility at launch. The reason for this had to do with the system’s architecture. The PS3 had a proprietary cell processor that created some phenomenal first-party games, but ultimately alienating most third-party developers.
The PS4 is designed more like a traditional PC for the purpose of welcoming quality experiencing across all developers. This shift in structure was the reasoning behind Sony’s decision to not make the new system backwards compatible.
As time went on, we’ve seen a few workarounds:
1. PlayStation Now
PlayStation Now is the streaming service Sony created after purchasing cloud gaming company Gaikai for $380 million. This service offers users the ability to stream PS3 games to their PS4 or Smart TV via an internet connection, much like Netflix does for video.
The issues with this service are a lack of selection, high costs, and the need for a strong and reliable internet connection. It’s a noble attempt, but it’s never taken off as intended.
2. PS2 Classics
Sony has slowly been figuring out how to make PS2 games playable on the PS4. These titles run at an upscaled 1080p resolution and include trophies. The caveat is that you have to buy them again, regardless of whether your not you own them. Prices usually hover around $14.99, but there are sales from time-to-time.
3. Remastered Releases
Perhaps the most controversial way that Sony has been bringing games forward from the previous generation is through the release of remastered games. Many popular games like The Last of Us, Uncharted, and God of War III have been re-released on PS4 with updated graphics, higher frame rates, and DLC included.
These are a double-edge sword. On the one hand, when done correctly. these new versions are vastly superior. On the other hand, people are essentially paying for the same game twice. Cynical gamers will say that this is the only way we'll see backwards compatibility on the PS5 because it makes Sony money on something twice, but I would argue that there's a place for these remasters.
Certain games shouldn't fade into memory. Some of them deserve to be redone and resold, if only to show a new generation of gamers experiences that shouldn't be missed. I will agree that it's a slippery slope towards cash grabs, but I think Sony knows that remasters are a business model that can only take them so far.
New I.P and new franchises should be the focus, and if E3 2016 is any indicator, Sony hasn't lost sight of that focus in the slightest. Will remasters go away on PS5? No, I don't think so. I do think that Microsoft will force Sony to offer a more comprehensive solution for backwards compatibility, but at the same time I think several of PS4's biggest titles will warrant a refresh on the next generation. It's a balance.
Even so, people aren’t too keen on buying these games again.
So that’s where we stand with backwards compatibility on PS4. With Microsoft going full-steam ahead on a future where games works across all of the platforms currently available, Sony needs to have an answer for gamers who want a more comprehensive solution to the backwards compatibility question.
Sony is clearly taking steps not to fracture the market with PS4 Pro, and this follows in Microsoft’s footsteps. If Sony could somehow bring PS3 or PS2 into the fold in a more meaningful way, then they could stand on the same ground as Microsoft.
That may not be possible now, but it could be with PS5. At the very least, PS5 will play PS4 games as Sony has never been one to be beaten by Microsoft. It's also clear that gamers don't want to be "left behind" as Microsoft puts it. If they could perfect PlayStation Now and make it more cost-effective, that could be a real solution to the issue of playing PS3 and PS2 games on the new console.
Since it’s clear cloud gaming circumvents the issues around system architecture, I believe Sony will leverage this technology on PS5 to offer native backwards compatibility with PS4 and cloud-streaming for PS3 and PS2. Ideally, by this time they will include such streaming in the cost of PlayStation Plus and not charge for it as an extra service.
Of course, at the end of the day, Sony is here to serve the gamers. Do you want backwards compatibility for the PS5? Make your voice heard in the comments below!
Note: The thoughts expressed in this article are the opinions of the author (Bradley Ramsey) and do not yet represent facts or the opinions of Sony Computer Entertainment. Although it will probably be accurate, for now it is pure speculation. Thanks for reading!
Article by - Bradley Ramsey