XBoxgeddon: The Importance of Backwards Compatibility

This past week Microsoft revealed their new console, the oddly named XBox One. The press conference was in many ways nothing special. They focused on the various features of the console like watching TV while Skype-ing, not one single bit of which looked like anything the 360 couldn’t do. Even the few games they showed were strikingly unimpressive in the graphics department.

It was after the conference, however, when game journalists got to ask all the important nagging questions they had been hearing rumors about: Would it always be online? Are they blocking used games? What about backwards compatibility? The answers were all worse than we could have imagined resulting in a torrential backlash that has put Microsoft on the defensive. They are now blaming game journalists for the mass consumer outrage.

Oh gee, what are you gonna do? Deny them exclusives? Go ahead! As it is you’ve already pissed off GameStop, why not piss on the rest of the industry so that no one is promoting your console. That would be brilliant.


However, the sticking point for me is the lack of backwards compatibility. I am not kidding when I say I would excuse everything else if they had full backwards compatibility.

Now that seems like such a minor thing. Surely the lack of used games and the mandatory installs are far worse, right? Microsoft themselves claim only 5% of gamers use backwards compatibility, even going so far as to say “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards”. Well then just call me backwards.

Indeed, I’m a game collector. Last month I hooked my 32X up for the first time in decades and went shopping for new 32X games and the thing just worked. Better than it did a decade ago (due to me using a model 2 Genesis instead of my old model 1)!

What’s more I just found out about this game called Bulk Slash for the Saturn on Hardcore Gaming 101 and intend to drop $65-$75 on a used copy as soon as I can because it looks awesome. I’m also looking at grabbing a used import Love Tra -Mint-, a Kinect exercise game/dating sim because it looks to stupid not to play.

This is the daily gaming life of GEL. As you can probably tell, none of this would be possible on XBox One.

But it goes far beyond that.

See, even other gamers would tell me “Just keep the old console then”. I mean I did with the Saturn and the 32X, right? I’m not demanding the Dreamcast to have Saturn backwards compatibility!

However, it’s not that simple.

Let’s start with the obvious: the XBox 360 is less durable than an Atari 5200 controller (ooh, collector burn)! I have an NES, SNES, Genesis, PS1, and PS2 all from when their respective consoles launched and all of them still work. Yes, even the PS2 is still working. Heck I actually have an Atari 5200 and the controller even works sometimes! But the XBox 360? I’ve red ringed through 4 of them and the disc drive is giving out on this one too. They only seem to last about 3 years on average. Needless to say, I need to find some statistics on those slim models.

However, it gets worse. Let me ask you a question: What happens when they take down the 360 servers?

First of all, you’ll lose all your patches. You see, unlike a PC or the PS3 or anything designed by sane rational beings, the XBox 360 stores its patches in the cache. This means that they are non-permanent and new patches can bump out old game patches, requiring them to be re-patched. Now, think about what those patches do. For some games it’s not so bad. Others, however, may be rendered near unplayable. You could lose access to DLC, you could be unable to load saves, lord only knows how many game breaking bugs were patched on in that day 1 patch for your favorite game!

Then you get to XBox Live Arcade games, easily the best thing to come out of this console generation. What happens when you move to a new console because your old one broke and the Microsoft servers are no longer online to move the DRM? How many XBLA games do you already have that aren’t assigned to your current system? What about your favorite de-listed games like the 3D remake of Turtles in Time, or in my case, Lucha Fury (what? it had great art!)? What about when a download breaks and you need to re-download?

Let’s not even get into XBox Indie Games, which require an internet connection to play the full version.

In a weird way, when the 360 servers go off? It will almost be like the 360 never even happened. It will darn well nearly blink out of existance. Hopefully, by the time this happens, 360 hacking and emulation will make these things a non-issue. In fact, Microsoft is even claiming that they’ll be supporting the 360 for another 5 years. A good call as in that time nearly every 360 will have disintegrated and only me and a few other people will raise a fuss about it. However it goes beyond even this, doesn’t it?

As some have pointed out, the XBox One with its mandatory installs and permissions linked to accounts is reminiscent of Steam. We all like Steam, right? Heck, we even said we wanted “Steam as a console”! However, there are some key differences, aren’t there?

#1) Steam is on PC. PC has always had mandatory installs and next to no used game market. The lack of installs is a part of what set consoles apart from PCs.

#2) Steam offers things at a lower price. But most importantly…

#3) Steam offers peace of mind. When your PC breaks and you need to wipe the harddrive? You can just re-download everything, grab all your saves off the Cloud, and jump right back in. There is no worry that your stuff will get taken away. It is all there on your account.

This is where the lack of backwards compatibility catches up to Microsoft. Without backwards compatibility there is no reason to keep the 360 servers running. There is no reason to keep your XBLA games available.

As such, why should I expect Microsoft to keep the XBox One servers running when the XBox Two comes out? What happens 15 years in the future? Do all of the games I purchased for my XBox One suddenly stop working? If the XBox One had its own Bulk Slash, would I never be able to play it when I find out about the game a decade later? They just blink out of existance?

Then why would I ever buy an XBox One game!

Oh sure, Microsoft can say that this time it will be different, but why should  I believe them? I can’t get Turtles in Time or Lucha Fury anymore as it is! Don’t even get me started on what those assholes did to Kung-Fu Strike! Now they have no incentive to keep those 360 servers running at all! Why would I ever believe the XBox One would be different? Microsoft needs to build trust and they had their opportunities. I have no reason to trust them for anything now!

MS will probably point to the popularity of MMORPGs that also require a server to run. Something that, as a Dungeon Fighter Online fan, I know all too well. However, there is a key difference: modern MMOs are free-to-play. In fact, this is why they are free-to-play! Very few people wanted to spend $50 on a game that required a monthly fee and stopped working when the servers went down! It is a very hard sell! Shoot, speaking personally I rarely bought boxed MMOs and never bought “online multiplayer only” games on 360 and PS3 like Shadowrun, MAG, and Warhawk.

You can see how this all comes together now, can’t you? Had Microsoft built upon their existing service, they could have had something. Imagine having access to all your 360 games, your account, and even your friends. Imagine calling up your XBox 360 friends from your sweet new XBox One in an XBox Live Party and telling them how awesome these next-gen dogs are! You can’t buy publicity that good! If they had made this a smooth and seamless upgrade? They could have maintained their lead in the console war.

However, like Sony and Nintendo before them, they got cocky with their third console.

I won’t say that purchasing an XBox One is completely out of the question. I’ll be real here. There is always a chance, however slim, that a must-own GEL-centric game becomes an exclusive. Whether it’s a new Rumble Roses, Monster Rancher, Bust a Groove, DOA, Twinkle Star Sprites, or just a home port of Planet Harriers, there is always a chance I’ll get your console. However, it will never ever be my “main”. If a game is available on PS4 and XBox One? I’m going PS4. I don’t care how much better it looks or runs or what kind of exclusive DLC you have, the preserveability of my game is more important.

Then again, from their own words, it sounds like Microsoft doesn’t even want my business! I mean, I am “just backwards”, right?

Of course, as The Only Guy On The Internet Who Likes Motion Control (and The Kinect GEL Ride Guy), you might think I would at least be interested in the new Kinect. The answer is no. Because, you see, it doesn’t matter how well the Kinect works, it’s incredible technology behind a bad idea. You need buttons and a tactile controller to do anything worthwhile with it as a gaming device! How do you navigate your environment? How do you manipulate objects? How do you shoot? You do realize you can’t even do a lightgun game on Kinect without a strikingly Move-esque peripheral, right? The only thing the current Kinect is good for is dancing games. The only thing a future Kinect could be good for, theoretically, is maybe a boxing game too.

As for it always being connected? Yeah, that worked out so well with the current one, didn’t it? It’s not like I didn’t disconnect that damn thing after one day of leaving it hooked up! It’s not like the one friend I have who is too lazy to disconnect his isn’t constantly screaming “XBox! Back! Stop! Pause!!! DAMMIT! Uurrrrrrrgh!!!” while in a party chat with me. It’s not like the current Kinect actually fucked with people watching the XBox One reveal!

Oh wait, it’s exactly like that.

Every single facet of the XBox One looks terrible beyond words. It makes me long for the days of game systems that were really money laundering scams by the Swedish mafia. Those were far less terrifying and scammy, and they were actually a scam!

Of course, the worst part is that Sony hasn’t made any of their own plans entirely clear yet. They could have this console war in the bag! It is literally being handed to them! Then again, so was last gen and if any company can drop the ball, it’s Sony. If they do…then could Nintendo win this console war by default?

Well, it is The Year of Luigi.


…and Luigi wins by doing absolutely nothing.

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8 Comments on “XBoxgeddon: The Importance of Backwards Compatibility”

  1. Sleepy Says:

    Actually, indie games won’t even work with demos unless you’re connected online. I tried yesterday when my internet was down.

    I don’t see myself ever buying the Xbox One, regardless of how many awesome exclusives they end up having. I just can’t support something so blatantly anti-consumer, also the internet at my house sucks.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of the #PS4NoDRM twitter campaign on NeoGAF. It’s kinda sad that console gaming has come to the point where we literally have to beg companies to let us play our games without interference. Next month, I plan on buying a new gaming-focused laptop because, quite frankly, if console gaming is becoming more and more PC-ized, I’d rather just cut the crap and go with PC.

  2. Billy Says:

    Backwards compatibility is not really an option at this point. Both the PS4 and the Xbox One use a different architecture than the PS3 and 360. True backwards compatibility (as opposed to Sony’s idea of using Gaikai or whatever to stream games) would require duplicating the PS3/360 hardware in the new console.

    Software emulation just isn’t going to work. Sony couldn’t manage it with the PS3 for PS2 games. Some coders questioned whether you *could* make a commercial quality PS2 emulator for the PS3. (Sony’s own approach was to have the various chips of the PS3 emulate different chips in the PS2. Even in a good world, that can become a nightmare of organization. Apparently Sony also found themselves short of resources, leading to stuff like their abandoned emulator trying to emulate one particular PS2 chip on a PS3 chip that had half the bandwidth.)

    The PS3 and 360 are even more complicated.

    • GEL Says:

      That last part about the PS2 is actually questionable. They DID have software emulation on some machines, though it wasn’t great. I’m hearing that people later looked into the PS3 and found it actually DOES have a pretty decent (though not 100%) software PS2 emulator now, which is used for the PS2 games they sell on PSN. Apparently there’s a hack out there that allows gamers to use that emulator for any PS2 game.

      I understand the PS4 not being able to emulate the convoluted madness of the cell processor. However, emulating Power PC on X86 doesn’t SEEM like it should be that hard and even if it is I still call it a lack of foresight. Not building on the great foundation they had with the 360 is just a bad idea. I’m hoping Microsoft considers poking at software emulation of the 360 in the future.

  3. pws (@pws4) Says:

    When a company comes out with a console that includes backwards comparability… full backwards comparability… I always figure I’ll eventually buy it if I owned the previous system from the company. Now, I broke up with Sony pre-PS2 because I was mad at their no 2D game policy, so I didn’t buy a PS2 but that was an exception based on a grudge.

    However, other than that backwards compatibility has always worked as a must buy for me on consoles. I owned a Gamecube, I got a Wii. I owned a Game Boy Advance, I got a DS.

    On the other hand, no backwards compatibility causes me to evaluate each new game generation separately. NES to Genesis to PS One (break because of silly anti-Sony grudge) to Dreamcast to Gamecube to Wii. I didn’t evaluate the Wii as a separate console, I started out with a Super Gamecube that I eventually bought a lot of Wii games for.

    This pattern was replicated in handhelds, Atari Lynx to Sega Nomad to Neo Geo Pocket to GBA to DS. I wasn’t that interested in the touch screen, but I was very interested that it could play both my old GBA games as well as new DS games.

    Without full backwards compatibility I will evaluate Xbox One purely on it’s merits. God help them.

    • pws (@pws4) Says:

      Autocorrect changed compatibility to comparability, above in some cases. I’d have preferred to lo leave it mispelled).

      • GEL Says:

        *nods* Indeed that is an interesting way of looking at it and I basically agree.

        Random sidenote: It’s kinda trippy that the PS3 now lacks PS2 backwards compatibility but DOES have full PS1 backwards compatibility! XD

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