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Next Gen's Lack Of Backwards Compatibility - Does This Affect You?

The PS4 and Xbox 720 are "unlikely" to play older games. How important is it to have an old library playable on a new machine?

How important to you is backwards compatibility in your console purchasing decisions? Is the ability to play PlayStation 3 games on a PlayStation 4 (or Orbis, or whatever) something that will make your purchase of any new console more likely?

Backwards compatibility has always seemed a bit of an odd feature for people to demand in a new console. Don’t we buy a new console because we want the new, exciting features and increase in power? Isn’t a large part of the reason we upgrade to get away from the restrictions of a previous generation? And even if you want to continue playing your library of games from the previous generation, won’t you still have that machine?

And yet, it’s an issue that appears in comments sections and on forums over and over again. It’s obviously something that many people are very passionate about.

It’s not exactly a staple of console hardware, either. The SNES didn’t play NES games at all. The N64 didn’t play SNES or NES games and the Gamecube failed to play N64, SNES or NES games. The Wii did have backward compatibility for the Gamecube and emulated a lot of older consoles through its Virtual Console system and the Wii U works similarly, although without any Gamecube titles just yet.


The SEGA Power Base Converer, which let you play Master System games on a Genesis (Mega Drive).

If you wanted backward compatibility on a Mega Drive (or Genesis), you needed an extra device known as the Master System Converter in Europe, Mega Adapter in Japan and Power Base Converter in the US. That was a pass-through device that converted the cartridge slot to accept Master System cartridges. The Master System Converter cost about £40, roughly the price of a new game, and wasn’t universally functional. The Saturn didn’t play Mega Drive games and the Dreamcast didn’t play Saturn games either.

The functionality was much more common in home computers. The new iterations of Spectrum computers ran programs made for older machines. The Amiga was compatible through each step of the system’s life. But it could be argued that the console business has always been slightly different, with larger generational leaps and more defined, lengthier periods with a single hardware focus.

So, backwards compatibility is a relatively new thing for consoles.

Only the PlayStation 2, Wii and Xbox 360 have reliably supported it in home consoles (Nintendo’s handhelds have a good track record for backwards compatibility, to be fair). Sony even removed the ability from the PS3 in the first hardware revision and sales certainly didn’t suffer for it. So why does it seem that many are expecting it in the next generation?

It’s not something that worries EA’s Chief Financial Officer, Blake Jorgensen. He recently said, during an investor call, “an important thing to remember is that next-gen consoles will most likely not be backwards compatible.” He went on to imply that this was a good thing for EA’s business as it would mean they could maintain sales of current generation software.


The PS2 played PlayStation One games without fuss, but the PS3 hasn’t really managed the same universal cover with regards to PS2 games, although it does play PS1 titles.

He also pointed out that incompatibility between generations would mean that groups of friends who enjoy playing online would all upgrade around the same time, assisting sales of next generation software when the time comes.

It’s easy for us older folk to forget that many modern console owners are too young to remember a change in generations that didn’t at least feature plenty of discussion around backwards compatibility. The PS2 had it, and dominated that generation. The Xbox 360 was almost entirely backwards compatible. The PS3 launched with it and there was a lot of backlash, at least online, when Sony removed it. So it’s reasonable that anyone under 20 years old would feel like it’s an assumed feature to at least seriously consider when they’re upgrading.

How imperative is it, though? If Sony unveils the PlayStation 4 and there’s no possibility of playing PlayStation 3 games on it, would you be put off from buying the new console? How far back do you want them to go with it, is one generation enough or would you demand PS2 and PS1 compatibility too? What are your plans for your existing generation of consoles, after you own the next generation?

Of course, some newer questions about backwards compatibility will arise with this generational shift. We now have large libraries of digitally distributed games, made for PS3 or Xbox 360 and sold via PSN and XBLA. We’ll most likely still be using some version of the PSN and XBLA on our next generation of consoles, so will those libraries fragment into games compatible only with this current generation and those compatible only with the next generation?


Will all your PSN games play on the PS4? Common opinion is that no, they won’t – the PS4 won’t play any PS3 games at all.

It would be, I believe, a major selling point if Sony or Microsoft can claim to have an existing library of hundreds of digitally available games when they launch their next consoles. Quite aside from the convenience of being able to re-download or even transfer my existing purchases to a new machine, I think the appeal to newcomers would be significant. But it’s certainly not a deal breaker for me.

Ultimately, when I buy the next generation of consoles, it will be because I want something new. I won’t pack away my PS3 or Xbox 360 until I’ve finished playing games on those consoles and when I do, it will be because there’s more excitement in the new than there is temptation in the old. But we’re all different, so let’s hear how you intend to bridge the generational leap with your own buying and playing habits.

  1. cam the man
    Since: May 2009

    My original PS3 could play PS2 games but the only time I put a PS2 title in the slot was to see what the upscaling was like for GT4.
    Not bothered about backwards compatibility as I’m intending to keep my PS3, for a while anyway.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 15:54.
  2. bmg_123
    Since: Feb 2012

    I still have my ‘fat’ PS2 standing next to my ‘fat’ PS3, and I can give an approximation as to how many times I chose to play the PS2: 4-ish. Last generation was great ‘n’ all (it was my introduction to gaming after all) but it’s time to move on when you get a new console. It’s funny to me when people claim that last gen was all about ‘fun’, yet when I go back to the ol’ PS2 I find myself, not so much bored, but longing for HD visuals and the frankly better controls of HD games. I might play a HD re-release of a game, but even then it just doesn’t feel as involving, as the archaic game-play mechanics and save systems are just too obvious, and so again I just want to play newer, technically better and more involving games.
    Well…have fun reading all that!

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 15:56.
    • CR8ZYH0RSE
      Since: Sep 2012

      You have to realise that when they were talking about “fun”on the ps2 there was no hd console out then but when you go back to playing your ps2 you have already sampled hd visuals.8)

      Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 17:25.
  3. DeathByNumbers
    Since: Jul 2009

    I think it’s a mistake, it would increase the numbers of consoles sold and there would be no reason to stop making games for previous gen-consoles as mentioned in this article. If the number of things that play your games increases why would that mean a decrease in potential sales? I have loads of PS3 games left to play so when the PS4 releases I’ll have to take that into account, if it had reliable BC it would be a no-brainer; I’d just upgrade my 2 ps3’s to ps4’s. Without it I’d not be able to trade both in, so straight away that is one lost console sale.

    With so many games being available through the Playstation Network/XBL it makes sense to allow people with a large download list to carry on playing their games on a new system. It also makes sense to let new ps4 customers have access to the back catalogue, it can only help increase sales for publishers. I don’t see the sense in it myself, yes I want a new console, yes I want new games, but I don’t want to get rid of my ps3 games. When I bought a ps3 I had to put my ps2 away as I didn’t have the space for it. I have a whole shelf of games that I would have been able to play with backwards compatibility so if the new consoles don’t have it I know the same will happen to my ps3 catalogue and that is a real shame.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 15:57.
    • bowie
      Since: Jan 2012

      While I agree that BC is desirable the problem is that it is not free. It usually entails including additional chips which makes the design more expensive. I suspect BC is something people want but is less important to them than overall cost of the system. I would be fascinated to see how well a BC SKU sells vs a cheaper, non-BC SKU.

      Comment posted on 14/02/2013 at 08:37.
  4. D-Nichol
    Since: Dec 2008

    I will probably, like a lot of people, fund the purchase of the new console by selling the old one. Without BC I will then need to sell all my old games (finished or not) as I wont have the ability to play them.

    This situation would be even worse for digital content as I will have just wasted the money. I waste enough money as it is.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 15:57.
  5. kjkg
    Since: Apr 2010

    It’s doesn’t bother me. It’s a nice feature to have but I rarely used it with the PS3. Plus I won’t be selling my PS3 so I an still play games on that thankfully.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 16:00.
  6. bacon_nuts
    Since: Mar 2011

    I don’t know. On the one hand I want it, on the other I have played my PS2 only a handful of times this gen. I would like the PSN and downloaded games to carry across, although if it pushes the price of the console up a lot I guess I can do without it…

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 16:05.
  7. Jumping Monks
    Since: Jan 2009

    I have no intention of selling my PS3. If the PS4 is backwards compatible then I may consider it… but in all likelihood I wouldn’t sell it even then, at least that way if the PS4 does brick it, I’d be able to fall back into my PS3 for all my HD gaming needs. (It’s not like I don’t also have every other console I’ve ever owned still in storage… so y’know) Backwards compatibility is nice, sure, but I much prefer to play games on their native console anyway…

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 16:10.
  8. DeathByNumbers
    Since: Jul 2009

    One thing to add to my initial post regards the graphical leap between the last gen and this one, it was massive with the switch from SD to HD. I’m assuming most people will be playing their ps3 and ps4 games on the same HD tv they have now (apart from people buying those 400k ones or whatever if the ps4 supports it), as such they will look the same then as they do now; whereas I tried my ps2 games on my 50″ screen and they looked shit. lol

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 16:10.
  9. Taylor Made
    Since: Oct 2011

    Yes & no, I’m not bothered about playing ps3 games in ps4 just like how it never bothered me not being able play ps2 games on ps3 due to the fact that the graphics improved big time.

    So I’m not bothered about no BC it’s no biggie, eventually an 4K HD collection of ps3 games will get released on ps4

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 16:24.
  10. JohnnyBoy
    Since: Oct 2010

    I won’t be buying a PS4 on day one, I will still be wading my way through all the PS3 games I haven’t touched.
    When the stream of PS3 games being released dries up (probably well after the PS4 has arrived) I’ll get myself a PS4 which hopefully should have a decent sized back catalogue for me to catch up with so the old PS3 games will be gathering dust.
    I’m not one for revisiting games after I’ve done with them anyway – I’ve got a pile of PS3 games I’m never going to play on my PS3 never mind putting them into a PS4.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2013 at 16:27.

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