Editorial: Is Backwards-Compatibility Really That Important?

Backwards-compatibility is often a sensitive issue in the gaming community. Or, to be specific, lack thereof. Sony was practically crucified when they removed PS2 support from later models of their PlayStation 3 system. Admittedly, I was among the angry masses at one point. Backwards-compatibility was something to be expected; the PS2 fully supported PS1 software, and during the entirety of the PS3’s development cycle, we were promised full compatibility with PS1 and PS2 software. Meanwhile, nobody really gave a damn about the 360’s spotty BC, as long as Sony delivered on their promise.

Understandable, perhaps, since the PS1/PS2’s combined library is far more robust than that of the original Xbox. But looking back on the gaming community’s initial reaction to Sony’s abandonment of backwards-compatibility is almost humorous at this point. Let’s be frank: at the end of the day, how important is backwards-compatibility, really?


Think about it. The gaming community went just fine without console BC for what, over 10 years? We had one, ONE console – the PS2 – that fully supported its predecessor’s software lineup, and since then we’ve come to expect it, at least from Sony. Why? Is it really that much trouble to keep old consoles around? If you really feel the need to play Final Fantasy X again, it can’t be too much of a hassle to break out the ‘ol PS2 again. Sure, it’s not as convenient as popping the disc in your PS3, but come on… it’s not like we’re installing a new OS, here.

Hmm? What’s that? Something about the PS3’s ability to upscale PS1/PS2 titles to high-definition? Sure, it can be nice, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I have (or had, until it broke) the 80 GB PS3 model with PS2 emulation. Upscaled PS2 games range from looking pleasantly sharp and colorful to blurry and washed-out. In short, it’s just not enough of a benefit to bitch about losing. Buy some component cables for your PS2 if you have and HDTV and be happy.

Oh, and don’t try to tell me you wanted to sell your old system for cash. If you’re that desperate for cash you likely didn’t have any business buying a PS3 in the first place.

To sum up, I think that BC has become one of the many Sony Hate Bandwagons that people so enjoy jumping on. It’s yet another opportunity for people to point and shout “LOOK, THEY SCREWED UP AGAIN!” It’s getting a little old, honestly. Let’s all just blow the dust off our trusty PS2s and move on with our lives.

What say you? Is there an important, incriminating detail that I’m missing here? I think not, but let me know if there is.


  1. The difference between the PS1/2 and consoles prior was that the PS1 was what brought gaming to an audience beyond the mega-nerds, and those extended audiences don’t want their collections to go to waste. Indeed, there are probably more than a few gamers out there whose memories don’t go back before the PS1.

    As to the Xbox/Xbox 360, I can’t imagine anyone really expecting full BC, even before MS stepped away from it. The 360 is such a radical departure from the architecture of the original Xbox (which used off-the-shelf Intel and nVidia components as opposed to the custom-made CPU and graphics solution the 360 uses), and adding hardware BC wasn’t going to happen given MS’ unwillingness to work with Intel and nVidia after they screwed the company over the first time. Not only that, but a damn good many people who have 360 didn’t have an Xbox originally, so it matters less.

    The PS3, however, came with the hardware BC because it was all proprietary Sony tech, and dumping it didn’t really save the company much money. It’s just a completely pointless removal.

    Not that BC is something to be relied upon, as I’ve learned the hard way, but let’s not kid ourselves: to the people introduced to gaming by the PS1, it IS important, and Sony needs to get on about re-introducing it post haste.

  2. Yes, yes it is.Sure we went through many generations where it did not exist, but the point that you’re missing is that it’s a feature that is required more and more as we go down the generations and we own an increasing number of disparate gaming libraries. It would be a terrible inconvenience for me to have to use each of my games on their original console, and would result in me playing fewer games from my back catelogue as I don’t have the room to set up my old systems. It’s not like BC is necesarily a deal breaker for me but it’s a reletively cheap value adding feature of the console, without it I’m a little less inclined to rush out and purchase the console and might wait for a few price drops, or evern look to a competeing machiene.

    Anyway this issue is moot for me as I have BC, and find it absolutely invaluable.

    P.s. I am utterly convinced that PS3 upscaling does absolutely nothing.

  3. I’m with MC on this one. This is a boneheaded decision which saved Sony a whopping $6 per console.

  4. Putting BC in and then taking it OUT was a bad decision, but ultimately it is unnecessary and–frankly–I’d rather play PS1/PS2 games on my PS2. It works better and doesn’t put any wear on my PS3. It’s also MUCH cheaper to replace.

    @SN: The upscaling does indeed seem to do nothing; smoothing, on the other hand, has a very visible effect depending on the game it is being used on. Personally, I think it looks ugly and blurry, and I prefer to see my games in their pixellated glory. Hence, I never use upscaling or smoothing.

  5. If I had endless expanses of room around my TV then sure BC would’t be that important, but I don’t so it is. If I had to have all of my original consoles connected in order to play their catelogues, then my TV would be even more of a cluttered nightmare then it already is.

  6. @Noob – Hehe, so true. There’s only so much space anywhere you go. As a guy with 15 systems hooked up, I know.

    @Lusipurr – Buy me one. ;)

  7. Why dosn’t anyone remember that when Sony finally dropped BC they also issued a price cut as well?

  8. Yeah, I used to be on the BC boat, and I was one who was livid with Sony for taking it away, but now I pretty much agree with this article. I have my PS2 hooked up anyway. It’s a tiny console, and it’s really not an issue. In fact, now I can pause FFIX on my PS2 and have the ability to switch over to Flower on my PS3 without changing discs.

  9. I’m with SN on this. I’m rapidly running out of room around my TV (not to mention video inputs), and the fewer devices I have to have plugged in, the better (yet another reason I’m constantly bemoaning the PS3’s lack of decent video streaming software, but that’s another story). It’s not a huge, dealbreaking feature for me, but the reason I got a PS3 when I did was because I wanted a model w/ true hardware emulation instead of one of the software-compatable models.

    I think the loss of emulation might actually hurt Sony in the long run, though. How many PS2 games would we buy collectively if they made them downloadable on PSN? I know I wouldn’t mind dropping $10-$15 for some older titles I, for whatever reason, don’t have in disc format any more (or maybe never got around to playing in the first place). Then, when the next generation PSP comes out that can emulate the PS2, I could play them on the go, which would excellent.

    I think, at least for me, it’s not so much that the PS3 specifically can’t play PS2 games that I dislike, it’s more Sony’s abandonment of the “brand” image, where the Playstation played Playstation games, and you didn’t have to worry so much about the details. I hope they pick that trend back up, especially for the PSP2, whenever that’s coming out.

    That being said, I do think the internet haters made much too big a deal about this. It’s definitely in the “nice to have” column, but it’s not the requirement a lot of people think it is.

  10. I think this question is always going to divide people along the lines of whether or not it inconveniences them, but since the issue seems to break about 50/50 it would seem that Sony are alienating about half of their potential market.Nice move.

    BTW Sony have recently patented emotion engine emulation on the Cell, I don’t know what if anything this will mean for BC, but it certainly seems a promising development.

  11. @SN: I was a bit confused about the news regarding that patent. The way I understood it, that’s essentially what the software emulation the original 80GB models had, then the PS2’s GPU was removed on even later models to save more money and that’s when the emulation was removed completely. Don’t they need a way of emulating the PS2’s GPU (on either the Cell or the PS3’s nVidia GPU)? Either way, I hope that’s good news on the bc front, though. Either that, or they’re looking to emulate the PS2 on something else that utalizes the cell processor. Probably not something in the near future, but it would be cool to be able to emulate PS2 games directly on your Sony TV without having to bother with a console at all.

  12. Perhaps they do have GS emulation, and havn’t patented it yet.

    My theory is that they patented the Cell emulation so that devs can licence it in the form of a patch, in order for them to apply it to their games and sell them over PSN.

  13. Obviously they should just hire us, we’ll tell them what to do!

  14. I can see this article making sense from your perspective as a PS3 owner, with a bit of “time heals all wounds” hindsight going on. Remember, though, Sony went from the best selling console of all time to 3rd place out of 3. No one thought the millions of people who purchased PS2s would pass on the PS3. This is more than just whiners on forums yelling “LOLZ! SONY IS TEH FAILZ!” You are trivializing it. The sales numbers don’t lie. Look outside the gamer-rage that permiates the industry – look at it from a general business persective – and common sense says that if you want the 140 MILLION people who bought PS2s to also buy PS3s, making the entire back catalog incompatible is a big mistake.

    It would be like Apple making a new iPod that doesn’t work with “old” mp3s. Sure, you can listen to old music on your old iPod, and new music on your new iPod, but it makes terrible business sense. This is really no different. It’s a dumb move independent of TV inputs and entertainment center space.

    And youngling, Ataris were all BC back in the day, and PCs are. The PS2 didn’t invent it. It was a smart move that helped millions of PS1 owners transition to the PS2.

  15. @Glennbo: Some spot on points that I hadn’t thought of.

    Also, I always forget that my Atari 7800 is backwards compatible. Which is a good thing, because I have about 200 different 2600 games, and only maybe fifteen or so 7800 games.

  16. @Glennbo – THe funny thing is that you can actually use most CD-based games from the PS1 generation down on PCs, given the eagerness of the emulator culture.

    *Sticks his Valis II CD in his PC, plays some stages*

  17. If the emulators on PC for the PS2 weren’t such massive resource hogs I think they’d probably be preferable to actual PS2s at this point. I generally replay any PS1 games on my PC at this point, and it’s not some piracy thing I’ve got lots of PS1 games.

  18. @paul – I hear ya there. save states make it so much easier to play games like Star Ocean 2. But yeah, PS2 emulators are going to be resource hogs at this point, simply by their nature. I imagine once Xbox emulation comes into its own, it’ll make PS2 emulation look forgiving by comparison.

  19. I can’t stand playing PSX games with pre-rendered backdrops on my PC, they look so grainy. Emulation vastly improves full 3D titles though.

  20. Hehe, well, with pre-rendered backdrops, it depends on your resolution. Most of them were made for your regular old 640×480 TV. Set your emulator to fullscreen 640×480 and off you go.

  21. The PSX native resolution was actually only around half that of the conventional 640×480 tv.

  22. I guess it’s sort of like playing SD games on a HD TV these days, at any rate it means that pre-rendered backgrounds look horribly garbled when seen at proper resolution, which is why I wanna hack my PSP.

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