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Eurogamer’s January report about the possibility of Sony using software emulation to get original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games playable on the PlayStation 4, instead of streaming through the PlayStation Now service, has had some people giddy all year.
Some of these folk have been talking online about how Sony could make old PS1 and PS2 discs work on the PS4 — and while it might be easy to write this off as fanboys, it’s could happen. And depending on how the technology works, disc compatibility might not even be that difficult for Sony to implement. You could even argue against possible business concerns.
As Eurogamer states, this would basically be the same way compatibility with PS2 and PS1 games works on PS3 models that don’t use the Emotion Engine (i.e., everything built after the 20GB and 60GB Japanese and North American models that debuted in 2006). Sony has a PS1 emulator that runs most of these games well on the PS3, the PSP, and even the Vita, without those games needing any alternations. Sony also has a PS2 emulator running for the PS3, but it can only accurately run a relative handful of PS2 games — the games in the PS2 classics section of the PlayStation Store. Eurogamer’s sources indicate Sony intends to bring that emulation to the PS4.
This is interesting for people hoping to run old discs because that emulation is exactly how the PS3 runs PS1 discs (even the Slim model). Heck, even save files are compatible between PS3, PSP, Vita, and old PS1 memory cards. If Sony has already nailed PS1 emulation so well, why not carry that capability over to the much more powerful PS4? Sony Worldwide Studios head Shuhei Yoshida even admitted last year that emulation would be ideal: “The easiest thing technically would be to make PS1 games work on PS4 through emulation.”
The situation with PS2 games is a bit more clouded. PS3 hackers have actually managed to get newer models of the system to run PS2 discs through its own-board emulator, but it doesn’t run most games accurately at all. Even PC emulators like PCSX2 can run PS2 discs. Theoretically, the PS4 should be much more capable of emulating a wide variety of PS2 games, hopefully even most of them. If Sony reached a point where PS2 emulation on PS4 worked as well as their PS1 emulation does now, they could technically enable people to run PS2 discs. At the very least this would let Sony toss many more PS2 classics on the PlayStation Store for PS4.
As for the running of old games at HD resolutions, if it happens, it would probably only be for a select few games. This is one of the main allures of PCSX2, but it only works well with a small number of PS2 games for which the emulator is constantly tweaked (such as Final Fantasy XII). Still, the results are often nearly as good as an HD remaster with a fraction of the effort. Theoretically, this could also work with physical copies of old games.
Why do all this instead of streaming a game? Eurogamer’s report suggests letting users simply download PS1 and PS2 games could put much less stress on their servers than streaming them repeatedly. A PS1 game is usually less than a gigabyte in size, and most PS2 games are only a few gigs. Using PS Now for those games really only makes sense for less powerful devices like the PlayStation TV or Sony Bravia TVs, which can stream games.
And of course, there’s the question of why Sony would let people buy and run old discs instead of buying the games again. Well, for the most, part the market for used PS1 and PS2 games is a tiny one today — that’s not much of a threat to the market for new games. GameStop has already begun to phase out used PS2 games, and they definitely aren’t common anymore outside eBay, Amazon, and the odd retro game store. Even where these places do exist, Sony has already shown the capability to price its digital classics competitively. Final Fantasy VII became one of the top-selling games on PSN despite the PS3 being able to run the original PS1 disc, most likely because those discs can cost as much as $70 these days as opposed to the $10 for the PSN version. For PS2 Classics, Sony has focused specifically on rare games that are expensive at retail, releasing digital versions for a quarter of the price or less. And how many PS4 owners still have a PS1 and PS2 games lying around? Not many, I imagine. It doesn’t make sense to lock out that minority of players who might actually buy a PS4 if they find out they can run their PS2 discs on it.
And even Sony probably knows it can never release every PS2 game ever made that’s worth playing on PSN. There are simply too many, and that’s not even taking licensing restrictions into account. For many of those games the original physical copies will probably remain the only legally available versions for the foreseeable future.
Sony had basically nothing to fear from people being able to run PS1 discs on the PS3, and has little to fear from people running PS1 and PS2 discs on the PS4. At the same time, I think Sony can only really gain from making the PS4 compatible with possibly the most valuable library of any game console ever. The only reason I could see for Sony not allowing PS2 discs (assuming any of Eurogamer’s report is true) is if its PS2 emulation is still too imperfect.