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Backwards Compatibility Is Important, And Could Win The Next Generation

Posted on Monday, March 11 @ 05:21:16 PST by Heath_Hindman

My friend and colleague Anthony Severino said on Game Revolution's most recent podcast that when a new generation begins, he dives in head first and doesn't look back. He doesn't often replay old games and rarely goes back to play one he missed. He's not alone in this. I understand this mentality; it's not one I share, but I completely understand it. This audience could still be served by a PS4 model that doesn't include backward compatibility.

Adding backward compatibility to the PS4 would probably increase production costs and therefore jack up the retail price, but didn't the addition of all the Facebook and streaming stuff do that too? And the inclusion of built-in Move support? And didn't the Gaikai purchase cost almost $400 million? If you took a poll of PS3 owners right now, and asked them which type of PS4 they'd prefer between a package containing the Move support plus all that streaming and social stuff, or backward compatibility, I'd be willing to lay a few bills on the table to say backward compatibility would win. I'd bet it would be the one more people want, and I'd bet it would be the one more people would be willing to throw in some extra money for.

How in-demand is an increase in motion control right now, really? If you're going to spend money implementing features that you think people might want, why not also spend it on things you know a lot of people do want? (That said, if a PS4 Slim comes out that sheds the Share features and ditches Gaikai and Move support, and is sold for less than the regular one, I'm all over that. I doubt it will happen, I'm just saying I'd buy it.)

"You know what I really want next generation? More motion controls." - No one

Oh yes, I know that many people will eagerly point out that I could just buy another PS3, and a PS2, and a PlayStation for the amount of money I named above. That's nice, except that the older a console is, the closer it tends to be to its deathbed. And besides, I'm already a guy who keeps his old consoles:

Beyond that, my TV only has so many input sockets, even including the multi-source adapters and such, and my living room only has, you know, so much space in it. This is an especially big problem in Japan and Korea, where houses tend to be much smaller than North America, as physical space is at a premium. I've found that electrical outlets tend to be fewer in number as well, here in Japan; that's not a show-stopper, but every pain in the ass is something to consider.

"But Japan's game market isn't as big as NA or EU anymore!"

This argument is puzzling, because it implies that somehow, making less money is good. I understand that you can't put the bigger part of your focus on the smaller part of your market, but ignoring it entirely is a stupid friggin' idea, especially when such a preference is shared by (if the internet is any indication) a lot of very vocal people in other territories. Money is money; customers are customers. Companies need to be efficient with their resources, but one shouldn't underestimate the ways in which people will support things that are important to them. Backward compatibility is something important to me, and gaming is part of my lifestyle. I'm willing to put money towards it in the way other people spend money on whatever it is they might buy.

"Well, we never had backward until recently! We were fine before!"

Truly, it's always easy to move up, but never easy to move down. Once you've had an HD TV for a while, it can be hard to go back to an old tube. Once you've lived in a six-bedroom house with a deck and three floors, it's hard to move into an apartment where your bed is a loft, your hallway is single-file, and your toilet is in the shower.

More to the point, though, it's never been as possible as it is now, thanks to Sony's home console games having never been in cartridge format. The disc-based GameCube being able to play N64 cartridges just wasn't as feasible as a disc-based system playing other disc-based games. The types of optical discs used in each does indeed vary, but an optical disc player being able to handle multiple formats is not unheard of.

Both of Sony's consoles, after its first, have included hardware-based backward compatibility (at least to start), so it seems like a step, ahem, *back* to not have any kind of backward compatibility in PS4. It was taken out of the PS3 to reduce cost later, and what happens now? HD collections and PSOne/PS2 classics. These things are in high demand, and when they come out, they sell. What this indicates to me is that a large part of the "you know, I never really play old games" crowd isn't playing the previous gen's games simply because doing so is a cluttersome pain in the ass. Maybe some of those people would enjoy doing so if it were, you know, possible?

Playing old games might not always put more money in the pockets of their makers so many years after the release, but they can open people up to new experiences and keep those companies and franchises in the spotlight and on people's minds. One of the most popular types of article on game websites is a list of which PS2 or PSOne classics we want released next, because there are still a mountain of them that haven't made it to the store. Some, seemingly, never will.

Additionally, it can have an indirect profitability, in that every new console is someone's first console. These are the gamers who are most likely to be interested in the games of the past. Their willingness to buy bargain bin or second-hand copies of old games puts more money in the pockets of the gamers who sold them. And where might that money go? Any number of places, but a likely story could be that someone is now buying a new game or accessory with that cash. And the circle of life continues.

Gaming is important. It's an important medium that has great impact on our lives, our culture, and our history; we see more evidence of it every day. If we discard backward compatibility, we disregard part of our history, and part of our passion. What was once only for social outcasts and tech "geeks" is now popular culture, and dare I say, rightly so. In order to continue taking these strides, the medium needs a sense of identity and self-worth, otherwise gaming will always be a scapegoat for insane behavior and incomplete homework, rather than recognized as the beautiful thing that it truly is.

There are some things you can't put a price on, my friends.

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