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With new gaming consoles looming on the horizons, speculation is spreading throughout the Web. How powerful will they be? Are the controllers going to be the same or change dramatically? Will I need to overcharge my credit card in order to afford one? This buzz is pretty intense, especially with Sony’s event in just a few short days. However, I don’t really want to talk about that. The main reason I bring all this up is to talk about one such discussed feature that is always mentioned when new consoles are about to hit – will they have backwards compatibility?
Backwards compatibility is of course the ability of a console to play games from the system that came before it. This usually means that the system has to build something either into its hardware or software to allow it to run older games. Hardware emulation is when the original parts are included within the system and is usually more reliable (but harder to include cost-wise). Software emulation is a way of tricking the game into thinking it’s being played on the older system, which can be much more finicky and prone to bugs and glitches. This concept is something that has existed for a quite awhile but only became a sticking point for consumers in the last few generations.
I’ve seen many forum posts in the last few weeks discussing the potential of the new consoles not including backwards compatibility. It wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility; the time and money it takes to develop these features isn’t usually worth the return, and the last generation of consoles gave up on backwards compatibility pretty quickly (with the Xbox 360 ceasing to add new games to its BC list and the PS3 taking out the feature in newer console revisions). Some comments I’ve read shock me with the level of vitriol they have for Sony or Microsoft for potentially not including these features. Some even say that this feature is a “deal breaker” and that they won’t buy a system without the feature. I think this is absolute insanity.
Is it nice to have backwards compatibility? Sure. It means one less thing I need to have plugged into my television if I want to play an older game. Is it necessary for it to be there at all? Not really. Obviously, if I have the older games I probably also have the older system to play them on. It can be a hassle switching out HDMI ports and power supplies but if I really want to play those older games, I can stand a little hassle. I still have a PS2 attached to my television, for crying out loud. I know and understand that many people sell their old consoles when the new ones come out. If you care that much about these games, how about you just don’t sell the older console?
Backwards compatibility is a convenience, not something we should demand a console to have. It just creates more problems than it solves for console developers and might even cause other, more important features to be cut out. Think about the 100 friend limit on Xbox Live, said to be an issue because of holdover from the original Xbox’s infrastructure. Do you really want stupid issues like that on your next gaming console?