By: Peter Allen Clark
Rereleases are the new backwards compatibility. So, don't hold your breath for it coming any time soon.
As Microsoft and Sony gradually announced features for the current consoles, they destroyed many players’ hope to play Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 games on the new machines.
In their February 2012 Playstation 4 announcement, Sony curved the question of coming backwards compatibility by answering it with what would become the Playstation Now service. More on that in a bit.
Microsoft put it less gently.
“If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards,” Don Mattrick, former head of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business told the Wall Street Journal days after the Xbox One reveal. Remember that guy?
According to the article, he said only 5% of customers play older games on a new video game systems so it wasn’t worth their time to develop hardware supporting backwards compatibility.
Both companies brushed the question of backwards compatibility off their collective shoulders in favor of a new business strategy.
Remade in their own image
The first 15 months of the current console generation has not seen a great deal of exclusive titles for each of the top two contenders. However, players have been flush with rereleases both exclusive and multi-platform.
So far in the generations’ life the Playstation 4 has seen the arrival of some 20 rereleases and the Xbox One has had 16. Those numbers includes some high profile titles like the Playstation 3’s Last of Us and the long legacy of Halo games contained in the Xbox One’s Master Chief Collection. They also include digital rereleases like the upcoming Journey and last year’s Guacamelee rerelease.
The future looks even brighter for those playing catch up or fans of updated versions. Already new editions of previous gens’ Saint’s Row IV, Borderlands Remastered, Devil May Cry, multiple Final Fantasies, Doom, newly announced Darksiders 2 and several more have been announced.
This console generation does not stand as an exception. Last generation had a lot of rereleases as well. However, one could argue past rereleases were more notable since the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 represented a large shift to a higher visual fidelity. God of War/Team Ico collections and the first Halo’s remastered edition arguably brought a different and some might say better experience than the previous generation versions.
This early time of rereleases might prove a positive thing. Evan Wells, Co-President of Last of Us: Remastered studio Naughty Dog, said the process allowed the developer to get familiar with the new console. He said working with an established title would help to put out an even stronger game in the future.
Playstation Now, Playstation forever
Instead of building backwards compatibility into the Playstation 4, Sony instead used cloud gaming service Gaikai, bought for $380 million in 2012, to launch the Playstation Now service last year. Playstation Now streams past releases to the Playstation 4. Sony charges either a set time with games or offers a subscription plan rolled out in January.
It’s certainly difficult at this point to find anyone who is completely satisfied, or even moderately satisfied with Playstation Now. The selection of games and the awkward pricing left many feeling cold after last summer’s release.
However, to Sony, having the service is the ultimate response to demands for backwards compatibility in future consoles. It not only saves them money on an individual console’s infrastructure, it allows them to them to continue making money off old games instead of letting brick and mortar retailers reap profits from used titles.
Sony has continued tweaking pricing structures and game availability, ultimately offering monthly updates similar to the Playstation Plus service.
Exes on the box?
At the BUILD Conference last year Microsoft Executive Frank Savage said the Xbox team had a very tentative idea for an Xbox 360 emulator to run on the Xbox One.
“There are [plans], but we’re not done thinking them through yet, unfortunately,” Savage said. “It turns out to be hard to emulate the PowerPC stuff on the X86 stuff. So there’s nothing to announce, but I would love to see it myself.”
Doesn’t sound too promising. We told you to keep breathing.
More recently, Phil Spencer, the Head of Xbox sounded cooler on the subject in an interview with the Inner Circle.
"Back compat is always a hot topic at the turn of a generation, and I get why, especially on [Xbox 360] so many people bought so much digital content and it means that a lot of us, we're holding on to our 360s," Spencer said. "I get the question. I totally respect the question. There’s nothing I can say about it right now, but I’ll just say 'I hear you.' I definitely hear you and I'll continue to try to work to build something that can help people out."
Speculation has also continued on the Sony-side of things, but through more ephemeral hearsay, like this tweet from Ahsan Rasheed, an industry insider known for leaking things:
Be excited: 1. Local PS2 / PS1 support on PS4 w/ native 1080p rendering for select titles. 2. Bluray+Media Player updates— Is A Parrot (@isaparrot) March 25, 2014
Again, keep breathing.
Wii looking at U, kid
As usual, the Wii U stands alone. Like the Wii before it, the Wii U will gladly accept both the games and the controller inputs of the console that came prior. Heck, the Wii U even comes with a Wii remote sensor bar in the box.
On top of that, Nintendo rolled out the Virtual Console in the Wii and have continued to support it in the most recent Wii U.
Nintendo seems to want to get back in the game as they announced during their January Direct a few notable rereleases on the Virtual Console like the almost unattainable Metroid Prime Trilogy, Donkey Kong titles and Mario Galaxy 2. A caveat exists in that Nintendo has done nothing to update those games for its current console.
Despite the slight swirl of Microsoft rumors, the future of backwards capability looks pretty unlikely. In their efforts to be businesses, the big three manufacturers have all found ways to monetize past releases instead of giving players the ability to use old discs. Whether the rereleases have the added benefit of aiding a studio in future development, they seem to be here to stay.