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. Top that off with the announcement of Xbox 2 being backwards compatible, and now Sony’s been backed into a corner. It’s time to bring out the claws and make backwards compatibility a feature on PS5.
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 Project Scorpio (Xbox Two) 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 Project Scorpio/Xbox 2.
In an Interview with Windows Central, Xbox Services GM, Dave McCarthy, was asked if there would be exclusive games for the Xbox 2/Project Scorpio. 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 choice to make.
Let’s find out what that choice could be.
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.
With the PS4 Neo confirmed, we know that this new “high-end” PS4 is going to play both regular and Neo-enabled PS4 games without issue. We also know that every game that comes out will work on both consoles. This may be a small compatibility victory, but it’s a victory nonetheless.
Sony is clearly taking steps not to fracture the market, 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!