Whether Used By 1.5% Or 50%, It’s Worth Having Xbox One Backward Compatibility

As the saying goes, there’s lies, damned lies, and statistics. It’s something that we’re facing up to right now with the somewhat heated debate and partisan commentary surrounding the worth of having backward compatibility on Xbox One. One thing’s for certain, that whether it’s 1.5% or 50%, for Microsoft it’s worth having backward compatibility on Xbox One.

There’s certainly a disparity between the figures reported on both sides of the argument, though. The Ars Technica survey that sparked this debate sampled the console usage of around 1 million Xbox One users between September 2016 and February 2017, finding that just 1.5% of the time spent on the console was used to play Xbox 360 games. It feels tiny, insignificant, barely worth mentioning, but it’s absolutely not the full picture and is only a sample of usage.

In response, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer and CMO Mike Nichols fired back late last night to say that roughly 50% of Xbox One owners have tried backward compatibility – a similar stat to what was touted six months ago – and that over 508 million hours of gaming have been enjoyed. Suddenly it’s more significant, more relevant and worthy of our attention.

The truth, as ever, lies somewhere between these two poles. Spin those figures one way, as in Ars Technica’s survey, and averaging it out per person adds up to minutes or seconds of Xbox 360 play time per person. That’s not how people play games though, unless they’re really indecisive. There’s an awful lot of people that haven’t bothered at all, certainly, but there’s racing game fans, RPG fans, shooter fans, Skate 3 fans, and individually and in groups, those players who want to have played hours of their chosen game.

And it is making that happen. Microsoft have had backward compatibility sales, tempting people to add to their collection, but anecdotally, it’s also boosting the second hand market. Anecdotally, as popular 360 games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Red Dead Redemption have been added, their value and second hand prices have shot up in response.

The point is that for 50% of Xbox One owners, backward compatibility was of interest to them. Interest enough that they would dig out an old disc, download an old favourite or dip into the store and buy a new game and try it out, however long it’s for. For them, it’s another reason to own the console, giving them that mental security net that they can go back whenever they want, even if they don’t.

You also have to look at Sony’s efforts. What Head of Global Marketing and Sales Jim Ryan said is certainly truthful, in the grand scheme of things. “When we’ve dabbled with backwards compatibility,” he said in a Time interview, “I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much.” However, don’t doubt for a second that Sony wouldn’t have PS3 backward compatibility on the PS4 if it were technologically possible. In fact, they’ve made their own overtures to that particular market and the kind of nostalgia that goes with it in the past few years, also of somewhat dubious worth when it comes to play time.

PlayStation Now is effectively Sony’s equivalent attempt to breathe a life into PS3 games, but doing this through a streaming service is at least as much a necessity as it was a choice by Sony. The PS3’s Cell architecture is so complex, the games designed for it necessarily coded to work around and with its idiosyncrasies, that emulation on the PS4 simply isn’t feasible. Recognising this issue well in advance, Sony bought up the Gaikai game streaming service in 2012 and now have server farms stocked with PS3 hardware to let you play those same games remotely.

Without proud proclamations of usage time, it’s difficult to say it’s been a rip roaring success for Sony, who initially struggled to find a reasonable pricing model, and have decided to scale back its reach later this year. In the middle of August, they’re ending support for PS3, PS Vita, PS TV, Sony’s and Samsung’s TVs and Blu-ray players, leaving just PS4 and PC as the two platforms. Of course, that doesn’t mean to say it’s an unsustainable flop, but it shows that usage on anything but the surviving platforms simply wasn’t worth it for an active service.

More comparable are the PS2 games that have been wrapped up in emulation layers for PS4, boosting their game resolution, adding trophies and so on in the process. There’s some absolute classics now available, from the PS2 GTA trilogy and Psychonauts to the recent addition of Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X. As good as they are, I can’t imagine the 45 games that have been given this treatment come close to a whole percentage point of time spent of PlayStation 4.

Nintendo are also well versed in various forms of backward compatibility, often working to keep cartridges the same size or include previous system features to enable you to pop a DS cartridge in your 3DS, your Wii discs into your Wii U, and just play. Of course, that lineage is being cut with the Switch, but there’s always the Virtual Console, with Nintendo picking and choosing which games to bring to each platform. There’s certainly the demand there for certain games, as was demonstrated by Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow, and will doubtless be shown again by Pokémon Gold and Silver later this year.

So why bother with this? For all the manufacturers, it’s not really about what’s best for the consumer – just see the shifting roadblocks in place surrounding cross-network multiplayer – but about having a competitive advantage. For all the manufacturers, they can point to to PS2 Classics, backward compatibility, PS Now, Virtual Console, and even the veritable flood of remasters that we’ve seen over the last decade, and it helps to get people through the door and get gamers on side.

What you can say is that they’re value added, if not a specific reason to buy. Some people will use these features regularly, some will dabble with them, but at the end of the day, if it helps tip someone over to buying a console then it’s worth it. After all, you can’t sell the latest Gears of War, Gran Turismo, Call of Duty or Destiny to someone without a console to play it on.

Well, unless you’re Nintendo.

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I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!


  1. Great article, brings all the arguments into perspective. Now we can put this to bed and talk about important stuff – like the NMS audio cassettes mystery! ;)

  2. Isn’t the 1.5% total time spent whereas the 50% is a percentage of total users who’ve tried it? Two very different things.

    • Yes it is, but I can only fit so many words into a title, mate. ;)

      My point is that it can be viewed in different lights to be considered a success or a failure, but the most important point is that it can add perceived and/or real value to the console. It’s a feature that’s there to help sell consoles, keep people engaged and ultimately help Microsoft or whoever make money through people buying old games, new games and future games.

      • Oh I totally get that, but in the first paragraph you talk about lies, yet I don’t see how any of these statistics need to be untrue.

      • Yes, as in the popular phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics”, which is all about picking facts and stats that suit your argument. Microsoft can say it’s an unbridled success with their stats, others point at the survey’s 1.5% game time and laugh at it being a failure, but neither stat paints the entire picture. Even if the 1.5% stat is completely accurate, it’s still worth it from the positive public perception.

    • Yeah, my thoughts exactly. Not really comparable stats. They could both be true!

    • 50% tried it, only 1.5% bothered to again. Not a great return rate…

      • Hm… Not quite sure you’re understanding the meaning of the numbers?

  3. Fantastic article. :) I am not even sure what the hell the point was of the ‘1.5%’ statistic. I personally love the feature, I have already bought so many 360 games for it that I never played before. All with the same features as before AND the Xbox One features added to it. That is simply a win-win for gaming.

  4. Looking at the stats shown it is pretty straight forward to pick it apart. Working in statistics for most of my job, you get to see through the spin pretty quickly. The headline figure of 1.5% of the average Xbox One owners time is spent using BC paints a meagre picture, but doesn’t mean it is an unworthy feature (as Teflon is pointing out).

    Using it as an average it detracts from the real world data set. 1.5% of a 15 hour a week (just over 2 hours per day) gamer is 14 minutes. That doesn’t sound much but change it from a mean average into a real world ‘hour a month’, it starts to sound more significant. And again as has been pointed out that the original average is over all those surveyed. If those 50% tried are regular users (they aren’t of course – some use it more than others but even so….) even those 50% are using it for 2 hours a month.

    Essentially when looking at statistic, in particular averaging things, remember there is a real world scenario (in fact lots of scenarios) and has been further pointed out, depending on your side of the fence, you pick which one you want to prove your point.

  5. Backwards compatibility is an absolute must for gaming. I dont see it impacting much on hd remakes but it would stop lazy deaspool like ports. Offer us value. Not turds on a disc. I will never sell or chuck old games away but I would like to have less consoles on my shelf if possible.

  6. Remember the main reason they did this was to get people still on 360 to get an Xbox one. And it seemed to work as it did get a good sales increase after it was added. Also look at the stat another way – only 54 of use was gaming on Xbox one games. I’m sure Microsoft will be happy with that as it means it is that all around entertainment box they always wanted it to be.

  7. Such a long article about such an unimportant feature, wow..! You really confirm what I said yesterday, that BC is the most overhyped feature in console history.

    50% of people spend a meagre 3% of their play time using it. Truly impressive.

    You claim it to be ‘certain’ that ‘for Microsoft it’s worth having backward compatibility on Xbox One.’ That is an assumption, but I admit I agree, BECAUSE the feature is so terribly overhyped.

    MS was desperate at the time. They lagged far behind, had messed up big time right at the start into this gen, painfully much so. They really got their act together meanwhile, and Spencer is doing a very good job (I sometimes wish Sony would make efforts like them), but the damage was done. So they needed to tick as many boxes they could, elite controller, better free games than Sony,… and also BC.

    Of course it’s a bullet point speaking for the XBox, and it truly is a strong one. Not because the feature is relevant and used by players. We now have strong numbers showing it is not. But because it is so overhyped that it becomes a relevant reason for some to own an XBox. As there are not that many reasons for consumers in general, MS better stick to it for the time being.

    • I personally think it’s a well balanced write-up, and a worthwhile read. All the points are valid and rational, and it’s an enjoyable read because it’s an important feature.

      PS now, virtual console, BC, all had money checked at them to offer expanded game libraries. Spencer got it right when he said quality is quality regardless of generation.

      All platforms are engaged with BC, and it’s important to many people, even if just for the sake of having the option.

      Also where is the hype? There’s demand, that’s why certain 360 games shot up in price, but I’m not seeing millions of people go giddy around the knees over it.

    • Exactly, the actual real world usage doesn’t really come into it in terms of the value that Microsoft themselves get out of BC. After all, they don’t necessarily get the royalties from new sales, and the new games that are sold through the Xbox Store are all reduced in price.

      For Microsoft, it’s about having an appealing feature that gets people through the door. That’s what BC really is, as you say, and as I conclude. For the end user? Well it’s lovely to have it there if you want to use it. It certainly doesn’t hurt anyone!

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