Going Forward, Backwards: Xbox One and the Backwards Compatibility Furore

backwards compatibilityWhile still dealing with both backlash and praise regarding the reveal that the Xbox One will have backwards compatibility functionality for Xbox 360 games, Xbox head Phil Spencer recently hinted at the possibility of extending this to original Xbox games as well. This was of course neither confirmed nor denied by Spencer, but it will no doubt only add fuel to the fire that has been raging around the idea of backwards compatibility since it was first announced at E3. It certainly got me seriously thinking about the whole issue, and whether or not it’s something that Xbox should be focusing on. Will it be worthwhile? Is backwards compatibility a noble cause in the gaming industry nowadays? After mulling over this for the last few weeks, I’ve finally come to a conclusion.

If we look back to 2005/2006 when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were released, backwards compatibility was yet again a contentious issue, and to be honest, a bit of a mess. The 360 was compatible with a couple of hundred original Xbox games, and only the 20GB and 60GB PS3 versions were compatible with almost all PS2 games. However, they soon sold out, leaving people with either the choice of the 80GB console, which had almost all PS2 games compatible, or the 40GB version, which had none. It was, needless to say, a bit of a minefield in terms of choice. And yet, it was something that people really wanted. The catalog of original Xbox and PS2 games that people had built up over the previous years was huge (particularly the PS2 users), and it was perfectly understandable that they would want to be able to play those games on their current gen console, more than likely having traded in their older one, or it simply no longer working.

Fast forward to 2015, and we find ourselves in a similar position. There isn’t the messiness of the previous generation’s setup, which is something to be thankful for, but now there is the question of whether people find the function useful at all. Browsing through the hundreds of comments on various sites about it, you’ll find essentially two groups: those who think it’s a great thing and are excited for it, and those who think it’s a stupid idea and a waste of time. In the interest of balance, I’ll attempt to sum up both groups’ arguments in a couple of lines and where I think they’re both coming from.

For: They are the ones who currently own an Xbox One, or plan on purchasing one. They either got rid of their Xbox 360s, their old consoles no longer work, or they simply like the idea of only having one system taking up space under their TV. Also, those moving from PlayStation to Xbox, who are looking to avail of exclusives they had missed out on last generation.

Against: They are generally people who don’t have Xbox Ones, have moved to the PlayStation 4 from the Xbox 360 or have always been fans of Sony or Nintendo consoles. They think that Xbox are moving backwards by setting up this functionality, and are happy to have a console that “looks forward” and focuses on new games only.

I think I’ve covered the general feeling of both sides here. Correct me if I’m wrong, of course, but I’ve spent enough time looking through comments to have a pretty good idea of where both sides are coming from.

PlayStation NowAt the end of the day, my feelings on it is that backwards compatibility is a good thing. The line-up of upcoming Xbox exclusives over the next few months and into next year are strong enough that the argument that Xbox is somehow moving backwards by adding this functionality is not a valid one. If you’re genuinely happy to have a console that only plays current gen games, then that’s great – more power to you. But to claim that free backwards compatibility is a bad thing, when Sony’s streaming service for old games is a paid service, seems ludicrous to me.

Now before you all accuse me of being biased towards one system, let me dispel that notion immediately. I’ve had the privilege of owning both a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One, and they are both excellent pieces of hardware. I appreciate them both for what they can do, but right now, what the Xbox One is offering with backwards compatibility is ultimately a free perk that gives users an option to play games they might have never had the chance to play, and that surely is a good thing. People are always going to argue, and no amount of internet bashing is going to change peoples’ opinions, but I had to say it once and for all from my point of view. Let’s not continue hating each other because one person’s machine can do something another’s can’t.

When a company offers an additional service for free, it’s not moving backwards. Whether you’re going to even use the function or not is moot; the option is there, and it’s not costing you anything. Claiming this is a bad thing is ridiculous and counterproductive, and serves only to further widen the gap between gamers of each console. That is the bad part of this whole debacle, not a free service that a company offers us.

What do you think? Is backwards compatibility a worthwhile endeavor or not? Let us know in the comments.

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