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Backwards Compatibility is a Wasted, Unneccesary Financial Risk

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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. This is in direct response to Ken’s article.

The Xbox 360 is a different piece of hardware. Backwards compatibility is an issue because of this, and the cost to implement new emulators for games isn’t cheap. Ken’s right to say that newly released titles for the original Xbox should be ready to go on the 360 when they launch.

In theory, that’s a great idea. In execution, it’s not worth the time. How many people out there are buying the new Outrun? King of Fighters NeoWave? Why should Microsoft be worried about niche titles like these when they could be spending money in their gaming division on countless other things?

When it comes down to it, games like King of Fighters are aimed right at the die-hard audience. These gamers have an Xbox, and most likely a 360. They’re not going to give up their old hardware, special controllers, and game saves just to say “I played King of Fighters on my 360.” That continues to dwindle the number of people who would be playing this game on the 360 hardware, and NeoWave is hardly lighting up sales charts. Is it then logical to create an emulator that only a handful of people will ever use?

The issue seems to be turning into “what Microsoft promised.” In strict marketing terms, there’s nothing on the box that says it will be compatible with all Xbox games. There are no flyers or posters in stores that say all games will be playable. Why? Because they never promised it. A quote in a magazine is not a promise; it’s a discussion, and one that’s being blown completely out of proportion by people who believe they need something they really don’t.

Ken also seems to think that backwards compatibility sells consoles. This is where you need to step back and think of the reasons you buy a video game system. Why would anyone NOT buy a 360? Maybe they don’t like the game selection, don’t have access to Xbox Live, or they would prefer to move over to Sony’s and/or Nintendo’s camp. That’s fine, but to think Microsoft will lose sales (or even excessive market share) because the audience can’t play Panzer Dragoon is absurd. You buy a new game console to buy new games, period.

It’s hard to defend the Barbie Horse Adventure scenario, too. It’s doubtful Microsoft will ever live this one down, and they have no one to blame but themselves for not making it clear enough. “Best selling games” being backwards compatible is a statement that will forever haunt them.

Maybe it’s time for a different perspective though. Think to yourself, aside from all the pricing issues and features debate, would the ability to play Madden ’98 on your Playstation 3 be a make it/break it deal for you? How often do you see yourself playing ANY Playstation 1 games on your shiny new Spiderman font-inspired Playstation 3?

After a few weeks, you wouldn’t think twice about it. You’re far too engrossed in gorgeous new worlds and franchises to even think about having the time to go back and enjoy older games you used to play. If anything, this could be seen as a bad thing for the industry, pulling sales away from increased budget next-generation games and putting money into the hands of a developer who spent far less.

The latter is an admittedly weak argument, but there is a point to be extracted from it. This isn’t a consumer-based problem. This isn’t a broken promise scenario. It’s a financial one, and if people are not putting Xbox games into their Xbox 360’s, why should Microsoft continue to waste their time?

It’s time for some true soul checking if you believe backwards compatibility is a needed feature. Ask yourself this one question:

“Have I played/have any desire to play Drake of the 99 Dragons on my Xbox 360?”

I’d be willing to bet the answer is no, and since they’re still losing money on the hardware, it’s only logical for Microsoft to say the same thing.

Be sure to check back to see Ken’s response later this week.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • Dynamo of Eternia

    There are some good points made here, IMO.

    As for this…

    “It’s hard to defend the Barbie Horse Adventure scenario too. It’s doubtful Microsoft will ever live this one down, and they have no one to blame but themselves for not making it clear enough. “Best selling games” being backwards compatible is a statement that will forever haunt them.”

    The Barbie thing is kind of silly.
    But, if I recall correctly, I think I read somewhere (when exactly I read this or wear I am unsure, it’s just something that I read in passing a while back) that part of what made some games easier to translate than other was the kind of coding it needed to be emulated.
    I don’t fully understand all of the extreme technical aspects, but in lamens terms, some games may share some common coding elements that other don’t necessarily have. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that the games are of similar genres. They could be two different types of games, but some aspect of the base programming could be similar. So, if they program emulators to play certain popular games, it is possible that some more obscure titles will be compatible as a result because it may require little to no additional programming to make them work.

    In fact, I have discovered that I have a game from my original Xbox that works on Xbox 360 that isn’t even on the compatibility list.
    I have the limited Collector’s Edition of Mortal Kombat Deception, which came with a 2nd bonus disc. Now, the primary disc with the actual MK Deception game on it (this being the same disc in the single disc edition) does not currently work on Xbox 360. However, the limited bonus disc that only came witht he collectors edition, which has an arcade perfect version of the original Mortal Kombat and a few other bonus feature does work. Obviously MK1 is a very simple game by today’s standards, but as a result, the programming on the disc is probably very simple and basic. It’s possible that the people who program these emulators aren’t even aware that it works, but it just happens to be so simple and maybe shares some element that is compatible with what they’ve already programmed (or maybe they are aware of it and decided not to list it for some reason). At any rate, that’s probably why the Barbie game works.

    At least the Barbie game is a game that actually exists. What I am much more interested in knowing is why “He-Man: Defender of Grayskull” is listed on there. This game never even got released. It was based on the 2002 cartoon “He-man and the Masters of the Universe” which was an update/remake of the 80s cartoon series/toyline of the same name (I am a He-man fan, hence the name Dynamo of ETERNIA). This video game was supposed to be released for Gamecube, Xbox, and PS2, but its release was canceled as the newer toyline and cartoon series never really caught on. The PS2 version was eventually released in the UK, but that’s the only version that I know of ever being released, meaning that no Xbox version was ever released anywhere. It’s not a big deal or anything. I am not screaming my head off about it. But I just find it kind of funny that a game that was never released is on the backwards compatibility list. It just seems kind of silly.

  • You know Matt… I forgot to mention that Japan had only 12 games out of the gate that were backwards compatible. But I am sure you would say that they simply do not care.

  • Sorry, but Mr. Edwards is completley right on this one. You don’t buy a new system like the 360 JUST so you can play Halo or whatever on it. But that is a deciding factor for many people who are still on the fence as to which console they will buy. The fact that Battlefront II wasn’t playable on the 360 (untill recently) but was going to be on the PS3 was a big thing for some people. So…sure, you’re not going to buy a new system just for the old hardware games, but it could be the issue that tips the scales one way or the other.

  • Simon

    As Alexander said, BC can certainly tip the scale in favour of a purchase. If someone lays out a wad of cash for a shiny new 360, they might only be able to afford one or two 360 games for the time being. Knowing that they can play a bunch of their old xbox games could well be an attractive proposition.

    And I’m not sure that previous gen games become as redundant as this opinion piece suggests. I still go back and play ps1 games, and I certainly play a bunch of DC games.