I know I've touched on backwards compatibility just a couple of posts ago, but I think it's a subject worth going back to one more time.

It seems that every week I read a story on backwards compatibility and what it means for this and future generations of consoles. One of the latest articles I've read is from xboxoz360gamer.com. The article touches on the benefits and problems with making last gen games playable with this generation of hardware. Of the many reasons, price and technology are the biggest.

Price is the obvious one. First off, if a publisher isn't going to make any money off of an older game being emulated on new hardware what incentive do they have? Writing new software for an old program costs money, and there's no way anyone will spend money on a title that may not sell. Here's an example from the publisher's viewpoint. Of all last gen games on the market, say an Xbox title, are customers more or less likely to be able to buy a new game or a used one? The stores I frequent don't even sell new Xbox games anymore, so what recourse do I have? If I want an older title I have to buy a used copy from either a brick and mortar retailer or order it from somewhere online (Amazon marketplace is a favorite of mine). How much of that sale does the publisher get? Zero. So, why would they spend money making emulation software for a game sale that they probably won't get any money from, when instead, they could be selling you a current generation game for $60? I don't think I need to answer that one.

Hardware manufacturers see it a little differently. Sure, it still costs them money to make old games play on new hardware. And it's also true that they don't get any money from a used game sale, but there is still two ways profits can come in. Number one is having the option for games to be downloaded digitally. Emulation without a disc is a more profitable option for old games since all the software necessary to play the game is downloaded with the program itself, no need for a physical disc and separate software. The benefits for this method of delivery is that the cost of programming emulation software for an older game is offset by the fact that money will be collected and given to the companies that made the game instead of Joe Blow down the street. Also, there's no need to manufacture a physical disc and packaging, thereby saving substantially on distribution costs, but there's a catch. Only games that are projected to provide a profit will get this treatment. Here's the way I see digital downloads: This situation is a win for both sides. On the developer/console maker side, they get the profits that they need to stay in business without spending millions on developing, packaging and marketing a new game. On the gamer side, they get the last gen game that they might not have played otherwise that is guaranteed to work and at a reasonable price.

Now, number two. Having a console that is backwards compatible may possibly increase overall hardware sales. Don't underestimate the benefit of having the ability for core gamers to stick in their older favorites and play them. I know I wanted backwards compatibility when I bought a next gen console. That's why I decided to get the 80 gig PS3 instead of the 40 gig model. The 40 was cheaper, but I could play most of my library of PS1 and PS2 games on the 80. I would have been less likely to buy the 80 gig, the more expensive model, if that option didn't exist. As far as the PS4 goes, though, I don't expect support for PS1 games. It's even likely that PS2 games may not be supported (if any older generations are at all). I think that would be a mistake, as I thought dropping BC for the 40 gig was. But, that's just my opinion.

In this generation, I can see (if not agree with) why Sony didn't include support for older games in some of it's consoles. The PS2 is still selling strong and is still getting new games. With that kind of staying power and wide availability, if customers without BC really want to play a last gen game, they can pick up a new PS2 pretty cheaply. Microsoft is a different story, though. Support for the original Xbox has been abandoned and that makes the need for BC an important feature for the 360's survival. So, why is BC important for the 360? I'll use myself as an example. The 360 is my first Microsoft console. Having that be the case, since the 360 is backwards compatibility, I wanted to go back and get a few of the older games just to see what I missed. To date I have more older games then new. Now, how is this good for Microsoft? I'll tell you. Look at the install base on the old system versus the new. Knowing that current numbers for the 360 just short of it's third year are almost equal to the 5 year total of the original you have to agree that there is the potential for a huge audience out there that has not played any of the older games. Now combine that with the ability to put those old Xbox games on Live and what do you get? Instant, reliable, and possibly substantial, income.

For me, physical discs and backwards compatibility is where it's at. For the console makers, publishers, and developers, though, it's going to be digital downloads in the future. It's a cheaper, faster, and more reliable method of getting the games in the hands of gamers. Maybe I am a dinosaur. Maybe I'll come around in the future. Either way, the guys and gals that put out the games are going to tell me, whether I like it or not.


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