The Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s entrant in the next-gen console war, will have thousands of games at launch thanks to the console being completely backwards compatible from day one. Is this something the PlayStation 5 should consider?
We’ve known since the Project Scarlett reveal that the console would have backwards compatibility, and Microsoft reiterated that fact during its reveal of the console at the Game Awards. Xbox head Phil Spencer later told GameSpot that this would be a feature at launch: “We wanted to make sure we had that, day one, we could deliver on the compatibility promise, and so I’ve been playing quite a few [Xbox 360] games on my [Xbox Series X] and Xbox One games on the [Xbox Series X] and that’s just to ensure that we can be there day one.”
This makes one thing we know about the Series X that we don’t currently know about its competition, the PlayStation 5. It’s possible we’ll learn at some point between now and the latter’s release that it, too, will be backwards compatible with the previous four generations of PlayStation games. And to be clear, the console will be compatible with PS4 games as the PS5 is in part based on that console’s architecture. But older games are so far an unknown factor. So let’s ask the question: should the PS5 have the same level of backwards compatibility?
The simple answer is “yes,” of course. Backwards compatibility is something that every console should at least consider, if only because it adds so much value. I mean, how much more likely are you to buy a console if you know that your back catalog of games will still work? Or that you can buy an old game and have something to play it on without having to buy a whole new console?
But the circumstances surrounding the answer aren’t simple. Part of the trade-off when you design for backwards compatibility is you have to devote resources to making it physically possible. The Series X architects have admitted this was a challenging part of their work. So going that route means there has to be a tradeoff. Microsoft has made it, but would Sony? Would it drive costs higher than Sony is willing to stomach?
There’s another possibility: backwards compatibility via Sony’s PlayStation Now service. This is how the company currently offers older games to PC and PS4 players, and on the face of it there’s (theoretically) nothing stopping them from offering PS Now as a backwards compatible solution without compromising the hardware. But that might require cajoling players into paying for a service that offers games they already own.
Either way, Microsoft has played one of its trump cards. The ball’s in Sony’s court now.