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Backwards Compatibility is a Feature Customers Want, Expect

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Editor's Note: This is a Point/Counter Point discussion between Matt Paprocki and Ken Edwards on the backwards compatibility of games on the Xbox 360. Please let us know what you think of this issue in your comments below. Check back soon to read more on this topic. If you have not already, please read the previous articles in this discussion.

Microsoft will provide what their customers want. They will bend over backwards, especially in Japan, to get an Xbox 360 (and a nice Samsung HDTV) into your living room. Granted, they are working against an unknown (the PlayStation 3) but until Sony drops to Number 2 in the market, Microsoft will always need to match, and exceed Sony any way possible.

If Microsoft's customers did not want, or care, about backwards compatibility, we would not be having this discussion. But they (we) do care about it. In the book The Xbox 360 Uncloaked, backwards compatibility is not just mentioned in one small part, but throughout the entire book.

It is a topic that Microsoft does not take lightly because this is what the customers want and expect. Since the launch of the PS2, we have come to expect backwards compatibility, for better or worse. I leave that for you to decide.

With a report of the PS3 including the PS2 hardware for backwards compatibility, and the Nintendo Wii using the same family of processors as the GameCube, Microsoft needs to have feature parity with its competition, and when possible, exceed it.

I am not at all concerned with die-hard gamers. I don't think Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony are either.

My point revolves around the "casual gamer." People not like Matt and myself, who do not game everyday, buy or rent games every week, and follow the industry almost by the minute. Casual gamers are the "it" demographic that everyone is targeting right now. This is because it is the demographic that will grow the gaming industry.

Die-hard gamers will buy Outrun 2006, King of Fighters NeoWave, Panzer Dragoon, etc., to play on their Xbox. They will not be getting rid of that system. They will not store it in the closet to make room for The Next Big Thing. In fact, most die-hard gamers wouldn't dream of playing their games on a console other than the one the game was designed for — to a point, that is sacrilegious.

But Xbox 360 owners are notall die-hard gamers. Sure, a large percentage of the early adopters are from the die-hard crowd, but that is the way it works. Far more "casual gamers" will purchase the system over time, and will want the convenience of backwards compatibility.

Running the previous generation software is really a happy medium. It is good for both camps. And this does not just apply to consoles, or computers for that matter. It applies to many things. Why is the HD-DVD format backwards compatible with the DVD-9 format? That, my friend, is convenience (among other things, but lets not stray too far here).

But getting back to the Xbox 360, there are 775 Xbox titles, according to Xbox.com, and 207 of them will run on the 360. I cannot vouch for how well they run of course, but they are said to run on the 360. That means, as of today, roughly 26% of the Xbox's library runs on the 360. That’s nice and all, but hardly enough.

Obscure Xbox titles work on the 360 too, but this is mainly due to shear dumb luck than anything else. If the engine ofX number of games are compatible, those X number of games run — which is great (especially for those Barbie Horse Adventures fans out there).

Knowing a console supports, or will support backwards compatible games, is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. I enjoyed my GBA a lot more because I could play any game from the GameBoy library on it. I enjoyed my DS a lot more because I could play any game from the GBA on it. The same goes for the PS2.

The launch of any system is the most crucial time for backwards compatibility. Until the market is flooded with new games for the new console, the old ones are there to hold us over. But I still have some GameBoy, GBA, and PS1 games that I play, and not on their original hardware.

Casual gamers are going to want to play the games. It doesn't matter if it originally sold one million, or one hundred copies. They just want to play them, and they don't care about all this techno-mumbo-jumble.

Peter Moore, like executives at Nintendo and Sony, has to appease both gamer demographics — not an easy thing to do. A year ago May he had this to say on the subject: "Our goal is to have every Xbox game work on Xbox 360. You will NOT need to purchase a new "version" — your original games will work on Xbox 360." Of course, he just said this: "nobody is concerned anymore about backwards compatibility."

Did he lie? Did he break his promise? He broke a promise of good faith. Sony has done this many times with the PS2 and PS3. But Microsoft has been very up-front about the Xbox and Xbox 360. And remember: it doesn't matter what he said, what matters is how it was received. We all know it made a lot of people, myself included, angry.

Moore pulled a full one-eighty on the issue. Both the Gamerscore Blog and Larry Hryb (Major Nelson) have been back peddling for him this week. Hryb even devoted a portion of hispodcast to reaffirming Microsoft's commitment for backwards compatibility. Now why would he do that?

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About Ken Edwards

  • Dynamo of Eternia

    Here’s the thing I don’t get. If so many people care about backwards compatibility, then why aren’t they utilizing it?

    Peter Moore pretty much said the reason that they won’t continue with the downloadable updates is because not enough people are using them. They likely can track how many times the updates are downloaded. And if not enough people are downloading them, the it just brings up cost issues.

    I am somewhat on the fence about this myself. On the one hand, I can understand why they would stop making the updates. On the other hand, I have downloaded the updates that have been available so far and would be interested in having more. However, if I have to settle for playing my old games on the old Xbox, I can live with it.

    It does stink for those who do want the updates. But clearly, if not enough people are using this feature (which can be tracked in this case), then it must not be THAT important to many of them.

  • that’s bullshit i want xbox games to run on the 360 not some but all.how many people got rid of their xboxes because we were told every game would be compatible with the 360.i’m done trying to make xtra room for that big ass xbox just to play games that were promised to play on my 400 dollar system..no excuses just get it done

  • Dynamo of Eternia

    “that’s bullshit i want xbox games to run on the 360 not some but all.”

    That would be nice and ideal, but it may not happen, unfortunately.

    “how many people got rid of their xboxes because we were told every game would be compatible with the 360.”

    I don’t know how many people got rid of their Xbox’s, esspecially if they did so because of the specific impression that the old games would work on the new system, but if they did, then they were foolish in doing so.

    While this current decision by microsoft to not continue to make the backwards compatibility updates does contradict their previous statements, they never did say that every old Xbox game would absolutely, positively be playable on the Xbox 360 eventually with no if, ands, or buts.

    They said that there goal was to ultimately TRY and make as many of them compatible as possible, with the optimal goal being making them all compatible if possible (at least that’s what it said in anything that I’ve read on the matter). They specifically said that the emulation process can be complicated, and they recognized the possibility that some games may be harder to make compatible then others. Plus, they likely do not want to create an emulation update that when put onto the hard drive would possibly interfere with any of the 360’s main functions (including playing the newer 360 games).

    So, logically, no one should have gotten rid of their Xbox until the updates were done and complete. If they got rid of it prematurely, then that was a case of bad judgement on their part.

    However, I believe that this would only effect a handful of people anyway. As stated by Microsoft, there hasn’t been enough interest in the backwards compatibility to warrant spending the cash on contnuing to make the updates.

    “i’m done trying to make xtra room for that big ass xbox just to play games that were promised to play on my 400 dollar system..no excuses just get it done”

    Well, again, it would be ideal for the compatibility to continue, and having 2 large systems set up is not exactly optimal, but there are reasons and excuses for what is happening. If you just choose not to see them, understand them, and realize them, then you’re just forcing yourself to be blind to the reality of the situation.

    For the recoard, I would PREFER for the compatibility updates to continue. I would prefer to see every Xbox game work on 360 (provided that the updates do not conflict with any of the system’s other functions for any reason), but I can also accept the reality of the situation. I’m not thrilled about it either, but I can accept it.

    I have downloaded to compatibility updates that have occured so far, so I’ve done my part in supporting them to try and keep them going. But, obviously not enough people have done this accross the board to make it work the trouble of continuing to do so.

    If you really want to see backwards compatibility for this system continue, then I would suggest getting the word out there to as many 360 owners as possible in any way that you can to tell them to download the updates if they haven’t done so yet. If enough people do so, then it could make Microsoft change their minds on this matter. But if not enough people are interested, then it doesn’t make much sense for Microsoft to spend a ton of money on a feature that only a handful of people are interested in. They’d be better off making other features that a larger part of the overall audience would enjoy.