For Our Consideration

Xbox 360

Backward Thinking

Shunning support for older games isn’t just bad for players—it denigrates the entire art form.

By Joe Keiser • May 30, 2013

Deep in the heart of Doctor Who fandom is a small group dedicated to television show reconstructions—building piecemeal renditions of 1960s-era episodes using photographs of the original broadcasts. They don’t do this because they’re following some bizarre fan doctrine only other Whovians understand. They do it because “wiping,” the practice of erasing seemingly unimportant show recordings to free up archival space or re-use tape, obliterated decades of programming. The television industry practiced wiping broadly until the early 1970s, destroying many early Who episodes permanently. And it wasn’t just silly science fictions shows that were lost. The industry proved remarkably bad at choosing what was worth archiving, erasing influential works like The Avengers and cultural touchstones like Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

Such a practice would never occur in television today. It’s generally understood that the medium is a deeply important part of our culture, that we generally do a poor job of determining what from today will have value tomorrow, and that the best practice is to maximize preservation and availability. The industry leaders in most mediums recognize this, and plan accordingly—they never know what they will be able to sell later.

Except in games. Here the industry leaders, Sony and Microsoft, have announced that their upcoming consoles the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One will not be able to play anything their previous machines could play. Sony is making only the vaguest promises about future support of past PlayStation games, and Microsoft’s Xbox chief outright ridiculed the idea of supporting old games, saying, “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards.”

Later models of the PlayStation 3 eliminated built-in support for PlayStation 2 discs. Yet PS2 games sold via Sony’s PlayStation Store ran just fine, using emulation technology that Sony kept to itself.

Later models of the PlayStation 3 eliminated built-in support for PlayStation 2 discs. Yet PS2 games sold via Sony’s PlayStation Store ran just fine, using emulation technology that Sony kept to itself.

No one could argue that the lack of backward compatibility for games is as bad as the outright erasure of television shows; that’s not what we’re seeing here. But what we are seeing is the same cavalier attitude about a medium’s importance that led to all those devastating losses in television—an attitude we now know to be wrong—applied to games. And applied by their most powerful curators, no less. The console makers have espoused an inherent belief in the disposability of the medium to the extent that it’s baked into their marketing messages. Sony offers you a box they claim is gamer-centric but won’t let you play any games you currently admire, and Microsoft offers you an “all-in-one” entertainment machine that will play anything except all the entertainments they have sold you for the past 12 years.

This denigration of games is also visible in how the companies have designed their hardware—not just by what they’ve chosen to leave out, but also by what they’ve chosen to put in.

Consider DVD video support. DVD is an outmoded system by any definition—it’s been mass-market since the ’90s, in decline for years, and a multitude of successor formats have bested it in quality and convenience. You can make all the same arguments against supporting DVD as you would against supporting old games—that most people have moved on to Blu-Ray or streaming, that anyone who cares already has a DVD player. Yet it’s widely understood that both Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One will support DVD video—otherwise, they’d be the only Blu-Ray movie-playing devices on the market not to support it.

Now, the argument against backward compatibility in games is that it is too technically challenging (read: expensive) to implement. DVD playback is a technical lark, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. It’s actually mind-bogglingly expensive, requiring the licensing of dozens of patents, playback mechanisms, and security algorithms. Even the DVD logo comes with a fee.

Let’s just look at one line item from this cost list: the MPEG-2 decoder license. This is required for DVDs to display any video. (The decoder could conceivably be used for other functionality in the console, but is so old at this point that those uses could all reasonably be described as “backward compatibility”.) The license costs a non-negotiable $2 per unit, which doesn’t seem like much until you spread it out across an entire hardware generation. Let’s assume each company wants to sell at least 50 million consoles, much less than they sold the last time around. Even then, this would be a $100,000,000 spend just for one license, which is only broadly useful for backward compatibility with DVD.

In this context, protests about the infeasibility of finagling backward compatibility for games seem to wither.

Now think about how:

1. The public doesn’t know nearly enough about any of the involved machines to say for sure that backward compatibility is impossible;

2. Engineering challenges look very different from opposite sides of a nine-figure budget;

3. The last time we were told backward compatibility was technically infeasible involved significant shenanigans.

Sega Power Base Converter

Sega’s Power Base Converter made Sega Master System cartridges playable on its successor, the Genesis.

Let’s discuss those shenanigans. Sony’s PlayStation 3 launched in 2006 with full backward compatibility for all previous PlayStation formats. PS2 compatibility was achieved through specialized hardware on the PS3 circuit board. 2008 saw the removal of PS2 compatibility from all future PS3 revisions as a cost-cutting measure, with a cheaper software-only solution being deemed infeasible by Sony. Yet in 2011 Sony began selling PS2 games digitally on PS3. Hackers have since discovered that these games are running via a surprisingly robust backward compatibility solution that could be applied to old PS2 discs, but is not.

I have to surmise from all of this that backward compatibility for games would be possible but expensive. Sony and Microsoft could have been faced with a choice between two expensive forms of backward compatibility, and they chose to support one medium, video, but not the other, games.

This sends a clear message that these companies consider the medium of film and television to be more important than the medium of games. Why would two companies with such enormous investments in games make such a seemingly skewed judgment call? Well, they would probably argue that the culture has made it for them, by giving film and television pride of place in society, and relegating games as a lesser medium. And this may be the case. But when gaming’s industry leaders buy into that broader belief, it hurts the long-term health of the art form.

Games will never be afforded their proper place in society if the groups at the forefront of the medium treat it like a second-class citizen. How could it, if its very champions are selling it out to save on short-term development costs? If Sony and Microsoft want to be in control of the most important form of artistic expression in modern culture, and I think we can assume that they do, then they need to treat games as if they already are that very thing. That requires embracing the history of the medium—supporting the playback of older games even if the cost of doing so is dear. Anything else is disrespectful. It’s backward thinking.

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  • Effigy_Power

    Louvre Press-release: “The new frames we bought can’t display anything older than the 1800s. Famous masterworks decrease in value. Mona Lisa sold for $6.98.”

    • HobbesMkii

       Mona Lisa: Black Spots II was fun, but not as much fun as Mona Lisa 4: Modern Formalware.

      • Effigy_Power

        No worries, I hear they ordered 6 billion copies of “Kahlo of Duty: Black Ops 5″.

      • Halloween_Jack

        I’m holding out for Final Mona Lisa XIX: Moan Harder.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards.”

    Sweet jumping Jehoshaphat, he really said that, didn’t he?

    I wish that this wasn’t so ingrained in the technology sector, but I think that this trend in gaming is just a part of tech companies doing their damnedest to manufacture demand. The new thing is coming out, so everyone responsible for selling the new thing has to start tearing down the old one. Even developers seem to fall into this (*cough*David Cage*cough) and it feels like Microsoft is smack dab in the middle of it.

    • Baramos x

       That entire XBone console (and the PS4, frankly) seem to exist solely because executives are upset about a downturn in profits. There’s no message or revolutionary leap forward in these consoles like with past generations–no huge leap in graphics, no promises of vastly improved or amazing new gameplay. Just a heap of refried ideas.

      • The_Misanthrope

         @google-a64ed20b469cb5db810b75e3fd4c980f:disqus :  There’s at least one EA exec trying to convince people that the XBone and PS4 are actually quantum leaps forward and utterly necessary:

        http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/124288-EA-Exec-Xbox-One-and-PS4-Are-A-Generation-Ahead-Of-PC

        Even if PCs are currently lagging behind the miraculous futuristic tech of the next console generation, how long do you think they can keep that lead?  Unless Microsoft and Sony have somehow convinced the leading chip/card manufacturers to sit on their tech for a while,  I can’t see them staying king of the hill for very long.

        • http://geekvariety.tumblr.com/ GeekVariety

          PCs lagging behind consoles!!!! what the F! are you insane!?

        • Halloween_Jack

          That’s a grin that says that he not only eats shit and is proud of it, he considers himself something of a shit gourmet.

      • Simon Jones

         It is worth pointing out that the Xbox 360 is like 3 versions of Direct X behind the current one. So there’ll be a significant improvement in how shiny and moist everything will look.

        • Hunsweasel

          And you’ll be able to appreciate that difference when you cue up a porn DVD – which the XBone can play!

        • Enkidum

          @Hunsweasel:disqus You mean a porn Blu-Ray, surely. DVDs are for looooosers.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Hunsweasel:disqus, @Enkidum:disqus: Actually, it’s all about porn streaming. (Link is SFW.)

        • Effigy_Power

          I am still really confused as to why there’s a demand for HD-porn, if that was in the end really what elevated BluRay to win.
          Is there a hug market for people who want to use their porn for masturbation, but also to analyze the puffy cell-structure of a 20something year old down on her luck?
          “God, this would be so much hotter if I could see her pubic hair follicles in 1080p.” Is that a thing?

        • Citric

          I watch all my porn on vinyl. 

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Citric:disqus: I listen to erotic radio. Ha, beat that!

        • Xtracurlyfries

          Papyrus. All my porn is on papyrus.

        • Effigy_Power

          Anybody seen my vaguely erotically-shaped Mastodon turd?

        • Boonehams

          Many years ago, I was housesitting for someone who owned an HDTV. This was back when very few people had them. I decided to take advantage of this and I watched as much HD programming as possible. Late into the night, I noticed a ribald program was about to air–in HD, no less!  How could I pass this up?

          Within the first few minutes, something was amiss. I could see pock marks and an unmistakable Botox stretch on the woman’s face. No sex yet, and I was already starting to get turned off.  When the couple started to disrobe, confusion gave way to terror.  Surgical scars, zits on asses, stretch marks–flaws that my many years of watching SD signals disguised.

          I turned off the TV while the actors were in mid-coitus. Feeling nothing anymore, I just crawled into bed. Lying there, unable to sleep, I said to myself, “If this is the future, I want no part of it.”

        • Effigy_Power

          Porn from the seventies realized that what we want is blur. Lots and lots of blur.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Xtracurlyfries:disqus: I hear there are some pretty naughty cave paintings in Lascaux…

        • spicollidriver

          I am almost sure we are just a few years away from all bigger porn companies using cgi to “cover up” all the “scary” details that we can see on our hdtvs nowadays.

        • Boko_Fittleworth

          Give me the erotic color prints of the late Ming or give me death.

        • Halloween_Jack

          Surgical scars, zits on asses, stretch marks

          I’ll deal with it, as long as watching it adds to my gamerscore.

    • The_Misanthrope

       Is it just me or has Microsoft really fucked up the PR side on this console reveal?  Granted, Sony’s reveal wasn’t much better, but at least they were ready with the Gaikai streaming solution when they were pressed.  Microsoft has been either quiet, flip-floppy, or downright condescending (like this comment and the famous pre-release Adam Orth twitter debacle).  They had to know some blowback was bound to come, so how hard is it to assemble a press kit so everyone stays on message and doesn’t sound like a dick.  I do kind of agree that from a financial standpoint it may not be wise to offer backwards-compatibility (though the DVD support argument above is a compelling counter-argument to that claim), but there was definitely a better way to say it.  He could have just put the numbers out there and said simply that it was financially unsupportable, but instead, he just decides that insulting a whole customer base is the way to go.  Smooth move…

      I suppose Microsoft just doesn’t care about us knuckle-dragging Luddites.  If we’re not willing to get on board their magnificent train to TomorrowLand, then they’ll just leave us behind.

      • Simon Jones

         Microsoft never stood a chance.

        There’s been roughly six months of gaming sites publishing every dubious rumor, including a couple that were completely made up whole clothall of which seemed to consist of ‘It will give you ball cancer even if you are lady and late at night it will sneak into your bedroom and watch you sleep and it will destroy all your old games.

        • The_Misanthrope

          So, there was all the more reason for them to mount a response that wasn’t wishy-washy or tone-deaf, right? Yeah, there are a lot of people that come with prejudice against Microsoft, but there’s no reason they need to add to it by not managing their response.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          And yet Microsoft’s response was, rather than dismissing the ball-cancer rumors, to basically say “Those people complaining about ball cancer don’t even deserve to have balls! Uh, not that our thing causes ball cancer.”

        • Army_Of_Fun

          “People with balls should be allowed to keep their balls. We will support balls in some form – though we will not comment on specific forms of support such as a banana hammock. We will clarify our stance on ball cancer in the coming weeks.”

        • Effigy_Power

          The crux is “We’ll share more details about how it all works later.”, which you can now attribute to just about every Microsoft spokesperson.You’re revealing a gaming console for watching TV and shooting dinosaurs with, not the access codes for NORAD. This whole clandestine SpecialOps feel to the so-called reveal has done nothing to alleviate the rumors and only fueled sometimes baseless assumptions.If you keep your “reveal” so vague as to resemble telling a child that they’re about to get a really cool Xmas present, but they can’t know what it is and you start revealing tiny, confusing bits of often contradictory minutia by August, you can’t complain when people go a bit off the rails. People don’t shake half a grand out of their ass, especially not if you have to invest another half grand to get your games library anywhere near varied, without making some serious purchase deliberations first, or at least shouldn’t. Tantalizing glimpses of an expensive thing we may soon “own” and play “games” on without any actual information is not something companies should do. Microsoft should really realize that the most buzz they are creating is negative… you’d think someone there has a notebook or something to check that.For all we know, a very cool piece of hardware with hitherto unreached potential has been destroyed by marketing and promotion before it even had a chance to turn on. It’s sad really, but that’s probably the reality of a market that doesn’t appear to need gamers anymore to sell consoles.

        • spicollidriver

          and it probably actually will.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        I’m not sure if Microsoft is just taking its existing users for granted, or if they’re terrified of alienating them. The Reveal event seemed designed to target new customers who don’t already own game consoles. I don’t think it succeeded on that front; I saw little, if any, coverage of the event in media that would be consumed by “non-gamers”. 

        As far as its reluctance to issue a definitive statement on its used-game plan, that’s likely due to fear of alienating retailers. If the new model is going to hurt Gamestop’s profits, even modestly, they risk some form of pre-emptive reprisal that could impact 360 sales for the rest of the year. They’re probably still weighing their options. 

        • NakedSnake

          Maybe the message on high was: ‘We’ve been in the console business for two generations because we saw it as the path to domination of the living room. When are we going to get there? Fuck it, we’re going all in, and we’re either going to win or fail completely and quit the race’.

        • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

          @baneofpigs:disqus : That sounds very reasonable. Living Room Domination certainly seems like their current intent, but there’s no real indication how they will profit from that.

          As a gaming device, the Xboxes have been a solid source of revenue through sales and game royalties, and especially Xbox Live subscriptions.

          If the Xbone is used solely for its non-gaming entertainment applications, where does Microsoft profit besides the unit sales themselves?

        • The_Misanthrope

          I’m trying really hard to stop paying attention to the rumor mill surrounding all this (since they are as likely to retract or flip-flop on a position) and just let the chips fall where they may, but shit like this keeps turning up and I can’t look away:
          http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57586048-75/microsoft-reportedly-to-take-cut-on-used-xbox-one-game-sales/

      • Halloween_Jack

        I’m not sure if it counts as a fuck-up if their PR department was handed a pint of liquid pigshit in a Chinese food take-out container and ordered to sell it as Chocolate II: The Next Generation. As with Windows 8 being saddled with an interface which really doesn’t make sense for desktops in order to attempt to grab some market share back from Apple, this thing–which simply could have included better graphics, Blu-Ray, support for a larger variety of apps, and yes, backward compatibility–got a mandatory daily requirement for an internet connection and a mandatory always-on Kinect… why? Well, for no reason that benefits the people that are actually expected to shell out money for it, so the PR people have to re-choreograph their dance to avoid the elephant in the living room while making it seem as if the elephant isn’t there and they just happen to be hugging the walls because they prefer it that way.

        • The_Misanthrope

          Yeah, there’s probably no good way to spin some of this stuff–although the stalling non-answer of “We are currently researching the options considering [issue]” still works–but I was more concerned with their control of the message. Don’t flip-flop (or at least avoid the appearance of flip-flopping) and make sure everyone who has the ear of the press is on the same page…in the same book. It’s not that there isn’t any merit to the “backwards compatability is not financially viable” argument, but when you start with a condescending remark, everything else you say is just white noise.

    • Long_Dong_Donkey_Kong

       Enkidum, you can’t go higher than DVD resolution on porn. The actresses’ glazed-over eyes look too drugged out and soulless in 1080p.

    • caspiancomic

       Man, everything old is new again. When I was at my first elementary school, in a bit of a slummy neighbourhood, there was a kid there who was even poorer than the rest of us, who in retrospect had a very difficult upbringing. Kids used to tease him for carrying his books to school in a plastic bag instead of a backpack, and were particularly merciless when they found out he slept on the floor of his bedroom. When that latter round of tormenting started, he defended himself by insisting that sleeping on a floor was somehow superior to sleeping in a bed, and that he would turn down a bed if one was offered to him.

      Remember at the last console generation reveal, when Sony was public enemy #1? When the Sixaxis was built without force feedback because that technology was wrapped up in a murky lawsuit, but Sony tried to bluff their way out of admitting that by claiming that force feedback was a “last generation feature?” And then the very instant the lawsuit was tidied up, suddenly the Dualshock 3 was hitting store shelves, and force feedback had miraculously become a current generation feature? I know these professional corporate spin doctors are basically professional liars, but come on. Our memory span isn’t that short.

  • vinnybushes

    I remember reading a possibly apocryphal story about how the ps2 achieved backwards compatibility, which was to simply build in the ps1′s entire chipset into the new system. This basically allowed any consumer to buy both systems at once and was by all accounts pretty rad.
    This quickly becomes an obvious occam’s razor solution with regards to backwards compatibility, but with increasingly complex chipsets it also becomes increasingly cost prohibitive.
    Emulation is obviously the easier, dirtier, solution, with computing power being the real barrier to feasibility. Though it’s mitigated somewhat by the fact that any software written for the system would be written by people who don’t need to reverse engineer any of the hardware, software or system bios. In the case of the ps4 this would be made more difficult because of the need to emulate an entirely different chip architecture (the cell processor).
    Don’t get me wrong I’ve invested more into this console generation than any other, and it sucks that I’ve got to dote on my older consoles for fear they’ll break, but I can definitely see why an executive might say “fuck it” and trash the whole idea in pursuit of a better profit margin.

    Also In Sony’s case they never advertised any sort of backwards compatibility once they dumped the ps2 functionality, leading 90% of my friends to never hear about the fact that you can pop any ps1 disc into a ps3 and it will work perfectly. I have never understood why they made that choice.

    All previous opinions are by someone who has no background in hardware or software engineering. So, if I’ve got something wrong by all means correct me.

    • KidvanDanzig

      no that’s more or less it. It’s not impossible but virtual software emulation of an x86 system on an x64 system is a project, and given the motherfuckery that is getting many older games to run on a x64 PC, I wouldn’t expect software emulation to be presented in a state that anyone would be satisfied with.

    • Dwigt

      The main CPU from the PS1 (conceived by MIPS) was included on the PS2 as a I/O controller, which killed two birds with one stone.
      The main problem with backward support for the next generations is the Cell processor. It’s a monument to Sony hubris. Sony had won the console wars for the PS2 and they developed a specific processor architecture for the PS3 (in association with IBM and Toshiba), so game developers would focus on the PlayStation 3 and not try to port on Xbox or PC, allowing them to crush even more the competition.

      It totally backfired for two reasons, in addition to the Wii becoming an unlikely early hit:
      - the Cell processor wasn’t completed in time for the release of the PS3. Sony had to get rid of one of the seven parallel units. Toshiba actually finished the job on their own but it was too late and they didn’t want to license the revision to Sony (yields are the official reason). And the dismissed unit was the one that was supposed originally to handle some of the graphics, which made the overall architecture even more problematic.
      - Sony did an awful job to help developers, confused by the details of the architecture, while Microsoft sent teams to support developers as fast as they could. It was only two or three years into the life cycle that Sony swallowed their pride and became more cooperative. As a result, there are only a few games that really take advantage of the hardware (mostly stuff such as the Uncharted series) while everything else is at best as good as on the 360. Nobody really bothered to optimize code for the PS3.

      So, there was little reason for Sony to develop a Cell 2 or to use the Cell as a co-processor on the PS4. The good thing is that they are now relying on standard solutions and seem much more cooperative with everybody.

      • http://mathmanmustdie.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

        The Sega Genesis achieves backwards compatibility in much the same way. It uses the SMS’ Z80 CPU as an audio coprocessor in Genesis mode and as the system’s CPU in SMS mode. The Power Base itself is just a passive adapter that matches the edge connector on SMS games to the cartridge slot on the Genesis.

    • http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz132/toemali/stuff/bosun.jpg Colliewest

      ninja’d.

  • George_Liquor

    Well put. It’s not so much the lack of backwards compatibility that bugs me as the lack of effort. When Sony started selling PS3s sans-Emotion Engines, I thought “OK, bummer. But then again Sony over-built the PS3 to begin with, and now they’re trying to offer a proper cost-adjusted model which gives up some features in exchange for affordability.” Then Sony started cranking out PSN network versions of classic PS2 games which were clearly running under emulation, and I asked myself “Self, why can’t this technology be applied to the original, disc-based versions of the same games? After all, the PS3 can clearly read DVDs, the technology underlying the PS2′s media, so why do we have to buy them all over again and… ooooooooohhhhhh….” 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      For real, “DX,” “Online,” ”HD,” and now what?  What ludicrous annexation will convince peope to repurchase 1-generation-old games?

      • vinnybushes

        A few ideas:
         ”Vintage!”
        “Now more sperm destroying wireless signals!”
        “Now with auto-pilot! only play the parts you like!”
        and on a more serious note:
        “Virtual Reality Edition”(maybe…)

      • The_Helmaroc_King

        Let me know when “HD” stands for “Holodeck”.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        Don’t forget “100 New Achievements!”

        Yay!  Imaginary gold stars for doing things in a virtual environment!

        • Enkidum

          Yeah, but those gold stars will be EXTRA SHINY with MOAR POLYGONS!

    • GracieLaww

      It is annoying, especially since the backwards compatibility on the PS2 is what made me a Sony Girl FOR LIFE.  It was just so nice of them to do that. You don’t often see companies being nice. 

      I think it makes even less sense now that games have become much more social.  People who would normally be early adopters might hold back if the bulk of their friends are still on the previous generation, but if you could still play your old games, it wouldn’t be an issue.

      But what do I know.  I’m so 2000-and-late.  

      • spicollidriver

        unfortunately I am almost sure that if you played video games in 2000, Sony doesn’t even really consider you their target audience.

  • Ted Kindig

    Welp, there’s always piracy. The great, seedy old public library of the medium.

    • PaganPoet

      Yeah, but isn’t it sort of sad that for many games, there is no viable, convenient, legal way of enjoying them? I would feel much better about showing appreciation monetarily, delayed as it may be, than to download a crack or a ROM on some seedy website.

      Also, think about games like, say Earthbound or Okami. Games that were commercial failures in their first go, but have gained a cult status through word of mouth. Now, thankfully, those two games specifically are relatively easy to get ahold of legally currently, but there are many other games which were not so lucky.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Honestly, it floors me how pirates have managed to archive games so thoroughly. You can download every single SNES ROM ever with ease, along with any other system from before/around then. 

      • Simon Jones

        It’s not really that amazing if you consider:

        The SNES came out 23 years ago.

        ZSNES came out around 16 years ago.

        They’ve been doing this for a long ass time.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        And you don’t even need to go to seedy filesharing sites to do it, anymore.

        I can only hope that there are people doing similar archival work with newer systems, though larger file sizes may hamper that. A cursory Pirate Bay search indicates that you can find some individual Gamecube, PSX and PS2 games, but no exhaustive archive. There do appear to be complete N64 Rom collections.

        • Cloks

          There are some more private sites that have exhaustive collections of games for pretty much every console from Atari to present. My friend “Clocks” has been able to download PSX games to play on his PSP in complete batches based around the alphabet. For example, he wanted to play Klonoa so he got a batch that had every PSX game starting with K.

        • Citric

          The entire archive of SNES games is going to be smaller than a robust PS2 title.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @Citric:disqus That’s true, but storage space and transfer speeds are still steadily rising. I remember a time when downloading a single SNES ROM meant tying up the phone lines overnight. Now I can get the entire library in an afternoon.

          @Cloks:disqus I understand it’s delicate enough that  you may not want to be too specific, but by ‘private sites’ do you mean, like, those torrent clubs that have memberships, or those weird, byzantine services like Usenet? Or are these things folks can suss out though Google-Fu?

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I’m guessing Cloks means a private torrent site. My, uh… friend is on one for retro gaming and they have stuff that goes as recent as PS2/GC/Xbox. Those systems libraries aren’t complete but you can get big batches of games alphabetically. It’s just that the games are more recent/hard to find rips of and take up more space i suppose. 

          But yeah, I feel like some official group should be archiving stuff like this.

        • Citric

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus  True, but it also means that it doesn’t make sense to do comprehensive archive torrents because they’re going to be crazy big, especially now. Even doing all the PSX games starting with R is going to be gigs and gigs of data, which is kind of a pain when all you want is Racing Lagoon. I think archive torrents in batches make more sense for the consoles with larger data.

        • DonBoy2

          I worked on an N64 game in 1998 that never even shipped.  About a year ago I discovered that a ROM for it was findable online. But until then, not.  (It was the Japanese version so I take it to be a leak from that end, not from people in the US who worked on the game.)

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      Well, that’s probably over now. I don’t really understand this stuff myself, but from what I’ve read the reason we still don’t have passable XBox 1 emulation (and the same will apply to X360 and PS3, I suppose) is that the hardware and instruction sets have become so complex that unless the engineers spill the beans, the future of emulation is looking rather dim.

      • Simon Jones

        It’s certainly looking that way. We have PSP emulation but only barely so I’m thinking we’re probably at the end of the road.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I never looked into it, but it’s weird that Xbox isn’t emulated. PS2 and Gamecube emulation both seem pretty robust (though not as ubiquitous and straightforward as emulation of 8- and 16-bit systems).

        • http://mathmanmustdie.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

          I ran across an interesting post here concerning why the Xbox is so difficult to emulate. From what I understand, the emulator community’s focus has shifted somewhat from trying to build an Xbox in software to recoding Xbox games to run natively in Windows.

        • TheBryanJZX90

          Unfortunately I don’t think patents expiring would help much. Patents might have a short shelf life, but the OS of the console will probably be protected by copyright, and that’s much longer.

      • Citric

        I remember when people were saying that the Saturn was too complicated to emulate, and now we have SSF which works well, near as I can tell.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

    I’m a Backwards Compatibility guy.

    I play PS1 games on my PSP almost everyday, and Backwards Compatibility was the main reason for me to buy a PSP in the first place.

    Hell, i’m even downloading PS1 and PS2 games for the PS3 via PSN.

    The day Backwards Compatibility for Playstation dies is the day i’ll ditch the console system forever. Hopefully Gaikai does make Backwards Compatiblity accesible for the PS4.

    • vinnybushes

      That’s not really backwards compatibility as much it’s repurchasing digital editions of older games which is the alternative Sony is trying to push on everyone. If you want to throw your originial ps1, ps2 or ps3 disks into a ps4 you’re out of luck.

      • The_Lame_Dane

         because of the prospect of downloadable ps1-3 games the PS4 looks like a better buy for me who has never owned a sony system. since I’d be buying these games for the first time at least.

        though I’ll probably build a gaming pc before that, so no matter what I’ll defiantly be able to play things like Mr. Mosquito and Battletanx 2, you know the essentials.

    • PaganPoet

      Download Persona 3 FES for your PS3. Sorry I don’t have anything of more substance to say, but I take any shameless moment possible to promote Shin Megami Tensei games.

      • George_Liquor

        Funny, I actually did download P3 FES off the PSN because I couldn’t find a physical copy. That’s the game that alerted me to the fact that my PS3 slim is running an emulated copy of an actual PS2 game and not a version recompiled for the PS3. 

        I admit I don’t know the whole story behind the PS3′s software emulation. The relative dearth of PS2 games available on PSN might indicate that their software emulator is spotty enough to limit its usefulness. 

    • DogSwallow

      Well that’s what this article ignores… it’s not just that it’s a pain to be backwards compatible.  It’s that now they’ll be able to charge you a second time for PS2/3 games through the store.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.downie.353 Matthew Downie

    I thought it was well established that the reason they avoid backwards compatibility is so people to buy new games (= profit) rather than play old second hand games (= no profit).

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      And, of course, re-buy old games rather than play the copies they own on their new system.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        The PS3 took an interesting approach. The earliest models were backwards compatible to make the system more exciting for early adopters. If Resistance wasn’t your thing, then you at least you had Final Fantasy XII.

        Then they take away backwards compatibility once PS2 retail sales taper off, and they want to offer them digitally.

        I’m surprised that Microsoft isn’t taking that approach. The best games of 2013 will probably be on the 360 and not the Xbone. And it would be a little embarassing for the 360 to outsell the Xbone this Christmas.

  • Robert Laser

    The main problem with this is that they are able to re-sell their most popular games for a premium as HD “upgrades.” Why sell games for <= $10 when you can repackage them with a minimal amount of work and charge $40 for a collection?

    • PaganPoet

      Maybe I’m just stupid enough to fall for it, but personally I think many of the HD collections are well worth it for the upgrades (e.g. God of War, Metal Gear Solid). Sometimes the original games were so good, I don’t mind paying twice to enjoy them on another platform (Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6, Persona 3 and 4). And sometimes, yes, it’s a shitty port cash in trying to milk fans with no effort (Silent Hill).

      • Robert Laser

        It’s funny, because I say all of that, and yet I’ve paid for a lot of the upgrades for games I’ve never finished, instead of plugging in the original consoles (God of War, and probably the upcoming Kingdom Hearts upgrade).  And I’m assuming you meant the PS1 versions of FFVI and Chrono Trigger (since the GBA and DS versions have additional content), and I don’t really count P3 and P4 because there’s a portability factor that makes them a little different to me.

      • Baramos x

        I would have bought the digital versions of FFVI and Chrono Trigger, but some slight research shows me they don’t work any better than my PS1 copies, which I still have.

        • TheKingandIRobot

           That can’t possibly be true, the load times on the PS1 versions of those games were abhorrent.  Just playing Chrono Trigger on an iphone is a million times better that the PS1 port.

      • Citric

        I find myself very tempted by the MGS legacy collection that’s coming out soon, even though I basically own all of the games (though my MGS3 isn’t the fancy later version, so I don’t have Metal Gear 1 and 2). Then I feel dumb for wanting it.

        I did see the older HD box for $30 recently, does that also have Metal Gear 1 and 2?

    • mizerock

      Making an HD version is adding value. Putting it back in print (titles like ICO and Beyond Good & Evil) is useful. Otherwise, I’m perfectly happy to play the original game on the original system.

  • Enkidum

    I’m of two minds here. In general, I agree with the notion that backwards compatibility is a good thing. I would way rather play something that is ten years old and good than brand new and shit.

    But the idea that it’s a feasible business model…. I really doubt it, honestly. True hardware compatibility is incredibly expensive, and software emulation requires custom-tweaking each game. I’m against The Man as much as everyone else, but I really don’t think that Sony’s PSN emulations of PS2 classics are a scam to get you to pay money. Or at least they’re not only a scam to get you to pay money. The issue is that each one of those games has to be very painstakingly and carefully ported. 

    We think of the 360 as being backwards compatible, but it’s not a simple hardware tweak, it also requires porting the games, essentially emulating them. This is why not all Xbox games can be played on the 360. (There’s a good comment by TurboFool close to the beginning of the comments in the article linked to about Microsoft’s Xbox chief, which goes into more detail.)

    Think of how hard it has been to get 20-year old arcade games working on modern computers, which in terms of sheer processing power and storage space ought to be able to simulate thousands of them at the same time. Some games have never been ported properly. 

    Microsoft discovered the hard way that they don’t make money supporting your ability to play any old game you want – I would wager they did not even come close to breaking even there. Sony, by forcing you to pay for the games, probably did a little better. But really, what’s in it for them? 

    I do think it would be fantastic if they allowed the community to develop custom emulators for old discs and let us buy our own. But again, what’s in it for them?

    • Baramos x

       They could just put the emulation software in there and if it works it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I would rather have limited backwards compatibility than none.

      • The_Misanthrope

         Yeah, this is the internet age.  Even if they just put the emulation in there without testing, it won’t be too long before people generate a list online of games that work or don’t work.  Or just build a reporting system into the system, so users become the testers for the emulation system.  They can even put a disclosure on there about “functionality of old games is not guaranteed” to cover their asses.  If the emulation proves popular, they can think about patching in support for games that previously didn’t emulate properly.  There’s also the quasi-sleazy angle of using the system to track what old games are still popular and thus due for a sequel/remake.

        God, the more I think about it, the stupider they seem for not doing this.  They could put forth very little effort and still reap the benefits.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          The issue is probably security. I wouldn’t be suprised if two weeks after release someone found out that saving in slot 5 in 007: Agent Under Fire crashes the game and then allows root access or something.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I think it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If the emulation was broken for certain games, particularly if it was in such a way that, say, you could make substantial progress before the game irreparably broke, they would be deluged in complaints from angry customers and parents. Consoles aren’t built for tinkerers, they’re built for people who want something they can plug in and play, and in that respect, the curated, play-tested, guaranteed-to-work things on offer through the PS Store or Virtual Console kind of make sense.

          Which is one reason why I think the emulation scene will probably always be more robust on PCs. Not just because it takes techie types to make the things, but because even running games on them (especially on emulators for newer systems) often requires quite a bit of technical jiggery-pokery that is anathema to the intended console experience.

          While it’s easy to say “partial compatibility is better than no compatibility,” it’s just as easy to say “why bother doing it, if you’re going to do it in a half-assed way?”

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      I can understand not making their console backwards compatible for technical reasons, and I can understand why they wouldn’t for business reasons, but that quote from Don Mattrick raises my hackles because it’s neither of those things. It’s just… marketing, and at some point it feels disrespectful.

      • Enkidum

        Oh yeah. I mean, it’s basically “what kind of pathetic loser would seriously want to play the kind of crap we put out after the fact?”. 

        Answer: me!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I love the implication in his statement that ”Yeah, those old games we made are shit, who would ever want to play those? Now, these new ones are great, honest!”
          It reminds me of a Domino’s ad campaign that I found hilarious in my adolescence, which was essentially “Domino’s: Now with real ingredients!” The implication was that they were using better ingredients and making a healthier pie, but the unspoken implication was that all the Domino’s you’d been eating up until that point was toxic and fake and probably killing you.

        • Enkidum

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus To be fair, that implication was probably true…

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus: As a regular consumer of Domino’s, I can ensure that it’s still toxic and fake and probably killing me. But what else are my friends and I going to eat for cheap on our weekly pizza nights?

      • Flying_Turtle

        That’s the thing that gets me worked up about this. Look, I get that maybe it’s too difficult a problem to solve, at least in a cost-effective way, but why do they have to be so damned dismissive about it?

        • spicollidriver

          because obviously they loathe their customers.

      • duwease

        That’s marketing (and politics) for you, though.  Either you figure out a short, snappy reply that hopefully benefits you, or you say nothing at all, because no one’s going to broadcast your long, even-handed treatise on the complexities and costs of hardware/software emulation.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=663669914 Sean Richardson

        The marketing isn’t the reason, though, it’s just that they’re trying to sell the reason to people, so they need to, you know, market it.

    • duwease

      I charged in the comments all ready to say this, and you beat me to it.  The woes of finally being among like-minded gamers..

      • Enkidum

        HOW DARE YOU STEAL MY THOUGHTS!!!

    • spicollidriver

      brand loyalty from the customers?

      for example: there is this new GTA game coming on the PS4. in the weeks leading up to it, Sony also has articles on their webpage that are like “witness how it all started” – next to download link to a working emulation of GTA III.

      the result might be a more brand loyalty from the customers. because as several of the comments here show, we like to be taken seriously by the companies whose products we buy.

      (and of course, as demonstrated by my example, they could also use old games as a way to promote sequels etc.)

  • TheBryanJZX90

    I’m disappointed at a lack of backwards compatibility as well, but I’m not sure that the fact that hacked PS3s can play even a majority of PS2 games through software emulation somehow means that companies are outright lying when they say backwards compatibility is too expensive to do. A hack is not a retail product. For Sony to actually add software backwards compatibility they would have to, at a minimum, test and determine which titles won’t work with the software solution. But even the act of testing PS2 games to see which are compatible with PS3 software emulation and which aren’t costs money. Approving the game for software emulation would take just as much time as playtesting the game for release. Don’t you think consumers would be mad if they go to pop in their copy of Final Fantasy 12, play for 100 hours, and then encounter a glitch that prevents them from beating the last boss? And it would have to be done for every single title in the PS2 library just to be able to tell consumers what games will and won’t work.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Yeah, while I have no problem loading homebrew on my Wii or navigating the various plugins and settings to get a PS2 game emulated on my PC, for most folks, especially those accustomed to the ease of use of a console, would not be up for that amount of tinkering to play game, and would see the requirement of that much tinkering in a retail product to be a failure on the part of the manufacturer.

      Hell, I bet younger folks raised in the Virtual Console era might have trouble even with the fairly straightforward 16- and 8- bit emulators. “Wait, so I open this program, and I can then open up Mario World in there and play it? Wait – why won’t it let me open Sonic the Hedgehog? I need to use a totally different program to do that? And why are all the menus and commands different in that one?”

  • Sillstaw

    I think Nintendo has the right idea about DVD/Blu-Ray capabilities: If you want to watch a Blu-Ray, you probably own a player already and don’t need your game system to do so as well. The things are so cheap at this point that only a stubborn moron would insist that he needed a PS3 to watch Blu-Rays (i.e. my brother).

    In other words, I don’t care if I can watch my Blu-Rays on the next-gen hardware. Just give me my old games.

    • Dikachu

      Well, the issue is, how many machines do I really want in my living room?  My PS3 plays Blu-rays just fine, I don’t WANT a second machine just for Blu-rays.

      And becoming entertainment centers is kind of the whole push these consoles have nowadays anyway.  They want to be the center of the living room, but not supporting old games means they’re going to share space with others, which means they’re not really the center, are they?

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Odds are, though, when you bought a PS3, you didn’t already have a Blu-Ray player. But by the time you bought a Wii, you likely already had a DVD player (even if that player was an older console doing double-duty, as was the case with my PS2).

        • Dikachu

          Actually in my case, I never had a separate DVD player… I used my PS2 until I got my PS3.  And I never bought a Wii cuz the graphics were a fucking tragedy (also, I’d bought a GameCube and saw how they released maybe 3-4 games worth playing for the life of the console, and vowed never to buy a Nintendo console again).

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @Dikachu:disqus Exactly, and I did the same. But in that case, the PS2 WAS the separate DVD player that meant the Wii didn’t need one. By the time people were buying Wiis, they already had something (probably multiple somethings) that could play DVDs in their house.

          When people were buying PS2s, that wasn’t necessarily the case (my PS2 was my first, and for a long time, my only DVD player). Just as when people were buying PS3s, Blu-Rays weren’t ubiquitous.

      • Guywhothinksstuff

        Exactly. XBox One is supposed to represent ‘All in One’, meaning the only system you’re supposed to need. Except for another XBox, of course.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Yeah, my thought in reading this was: Nintendo has, for at least a decade (even longer for portables) included at least one generation of backwards compatibility and excluded DVD (or MP3 or MPEG, in the case of portables) playback to save costs. Yet as a result they are at best totally ignored (as in this analysis), and at worst are crapped all over for not including something as “trivial” as DVD playback or whatever.

      I mean, the company has its problems, and not all of its choices are the best, but in terms of the priorities set out by this article, it’s the company doing the most right.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Yeah, say what you will about nintendo, but they seem to be the one out of the big three to actually focus on videogames.

    • Citric

      My TV has one HDMI in. It is an older LCD model, but it works fine so I have no need to upgrade. So, I do want one box to play games and play video, because that’s more convenient for me. Thus, PS3 is my bluray player, and will be for the forseeable future. I even bought a bluray specific remote on the weekend (because it was $2, don’t know how well it works yet).

      That’s the appeal of an all in one machine, some of us simply don’t have the input space.

      • Sillstaw

        That I can understand. (I’d say, “Well, get an HDMI splitter,” but I guess the last thing most people want is to use another remote to use their devices.) It’s certainly better than my brother’s excuse, which was “the PS3 has a hard drive that can download special features” (something I’ve never had a problem with on my $60-at-most store-brand Blu-Ray player).

  • PaganPoet

    Another interesting angle to consider is how this problem seems to affect games moreso than other media. What I mean is, do we expect our Blu-Ray players to be able to play VHS tapes? Do we expect our iPods to play cassettes?

    I think for me, the issue is not so much “When my PS3 dies, will my Arkham City disc still work?” For me it’s “When my PS3 dies, will I still have a way to play Arkham City again if I wanted to?”

    • vinnybushes

       Exactly. Ideally a legal way that’s not going to make me reinvest in everything I already own. User friendliness is what engenders the most brand loyalty. You want me to buy your new system? Let me go with what I like rather than the lesser of two evils.

      • Enkidum

        Well, “a legal way that’s not going to make me reinvest” = the company spending lots and lots of money for no direct benefit, in order to please a tiny minority of consumers. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to.

        • vinnybushes

           I did say “ideally”…

      • Enkidum

        I agree, actually, so long as we recognize the nature of the problem. It’s what I want, but in the three years I’ve owned a console I’ve paid for precisely one AAA game at full price. I’m just not who Microsoft makes money off of.

        • vinnybushes

           Also, for a lot of people (including me to an extent) it comes down to protecting what feels like a major investment. I’d like to have more than a large collection of colorful boxes in a few years.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I mentioned this above, but I wonder if in the future, when patents expire, we’ll have cheap, legal 3rd-party hardware equivalents like the Retro Duo, but for later systems.

        Of course, that won’t do any good for games that depend on DRM codes and online verification…

        • Enkidum

          Well, if companies had any honour, they’d let those DRMs expire somehow. But, yeah, that’s not likely.

        • zerocrates

          Unfortunately, it’s almost certainly the copyrights to things like the BIOS/firmware/software/DRM that are the bigger hurdle, and they last way way longer.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @zerocrates:disqus : While it would probably not be too hard to generate a new software OS for the new hardware to boot games from, the BIOS/Firmware thing is a worry.
          Weirdly, software has been more and more covered by patents than copyright (I forget the case that led to this, but it’s been a tremendous boon to patent trolls), because it allows litigation against code that is functionally identical even if it isn’t actually identical. I wonder if any of these BIOSes and so on are patented rather than copywritten?

          I don’t know the details, but it would be deliciously ironic if the shift from software copyright to software patenting meant that, while litigation could be more aggressively pursued in the short term, protections on that firmware expired on a shorter patent timeline than the obscene copyright timeline.@TheBryanJZX90:disqus 

    • Dikachu

      Fuck legality.  If my current generation console can’t play the previous generation’s content, then I say it’s open season for emulators.  I’ve bought a few “remastered” editions of PS2 games for my PS3, but only because they were cheap (3 games for $30, for the Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, and Sly Cooper collections) and looked noticeably better.

      God bless the emulator community, doing FAR more to preserve orphaned artwork (games) than the artists (game companies) themselves.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Seriously. The litigious IP clusterfuck that surrounds digital media has prevented games from being widely adopted in institutions like public libraries (as has a general media bias against games), and the massive, free, exhaustive (and illegal) archives of games collected by the emulation community are the closest thing we have to a public library of games.

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         To be fair game companies are artists in the same way the movie studios are artists. AKA they aren’t.

    • zebbart

      How is the durability on the last two generations of consoles? My Atari 2600, NES, SNES, N64, and Gamecube all still play their cartidges, and with the exception of the 2600 those consoles are easy and cheap to buy used. But they are also pretty simple on the inside.

      • mizerock

        Paddles go bad over time, and can’t be emulated well. Those 2600 paddle-based (or driver-control) games are the ones I long to play the most, if only because they aren’t easily available.

        Also: the TRON arcade game.

    • Jon Benson

      For definitely. I live in constant fear of the day my extensive N64 collection is rendered a pile of bricks.

  • itisdancing

    So I’m going to be a jerk and mostly ignore the actual topic (my opinion: backwards compatibility is cool but increasingly difficult as Moore’s Law flattens out and console hardware gets more complex, and it’s not the end of the world to lose it). I want to bring up another example of forced obsolescence in gaming: online-only games.

    As far as I understand it, nobody will ever play Demon’s Souls again. At some point the same will be true of Dark Souls, Diablo III, the new SimCity, etc.

    I have a floppy-disk version of the original SimCity around here somewhere. I could track down a floppy drive pretty easily and jump through some hoops and be playing it legitimately. Or I could download it and run it in an emulator. Pretty much every game released up until the late ’00s can be played on modern hardware somehow, and that is amazing. If you take games seriously — I do, and I think pretty much anyone reading this site does — you have to recognize them as part of the cultural heritage of mankind.

    I kind of see the shift toward pushing game logic into the cloud as the gaming equivalent of the nitrocellulose tragedy in cinema. The difference is that as time went on movies were more and more easily preserved, while we’re now moving away from being able to preserve games. And that’s a shame.

    • KidvanDanzig

      I’d support that. You’re also starting to see old tech butt up against new, less inhibitive tech with things like copy protection – back around the time it was first published, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2 was sold on Steam, but one day it disappeared from the store listings – turns out that the CD-key system was designed to correspond to physical discs, setting a hard limit on how many could exist at a time, and at some point Steam ran out of keys and couldn’t sell the game anymore. They only fixed the issue last year.

    • Dikachu

      Your last idea is a great one.  Which is why this country will never actually do it.  Don’t forget who really pays for Congress.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      You may be interested in MoMA’s archival efforts. They’ve added EVE Online to their collection, and have developed, in collaboration with the developers of the game, a “stand alone” instance of the MMO universe running on its own server. On the one hand, this means the game will be playable indefinitely, even after the official servers have died. On the other, that server is necessarily cut off from the larger, genuine, MMO server, which means it’s a largely empty universe that is fundamentally different from the ‘actual’ EVE Online experience.

      The Library of Congress is also archiving old games, though there’s no ‘formalized abandonware’ project underway….yet.

      As for the issue of always-online games, I don’t feel so bad if the online access is essential to the game in some way. Like, most MMOs won’t be playable when the servers go down, but, also, most MMO’s wouldn’t be worth playing by yourself on your computer without the online/social component. So much of that experience is inherently ephemeral that it being lost to time seems almost to be by design (likewise, when Facebook’s server is down, I won’t lament not being able to ‘run Facebook’ on my computer without an internet connection – the connectivity is fundamental to its structure and value).

      However, games that merely require online connections for DRM, or require it in perfunctory ways that mask DRM are another story. Those companies are shooting their own legacies in the foot to an extent. BUT those are also the kinds of systems that are easily cracked by hacker and pirates on the reg, and if the online component isn’t essential to the game, cracking it won’t seriously detract from the experience.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Some games, though, that kind of toe that line, are trickier. It would be a shame to lose Journey, and its online component is essential and artful, though not necessarily central.

        On some level, though, I guess I can accept a game with truly essential online components as being ephemeral in the same way, say, performance art is necessarily ephemeral and bound by time.

    • Steve McCoy

      Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls aren’t online-only. Now, if you aren’t connected to the internet, you get an inferior experience (in my opinion, but a lot of people don’t like playing online), but it’s a multiplayer experience designed to with the internet in mind. Like Girard says, it’s an an essentially ephemeral experience. Many games are more like long-term events than traditional works. Everybody can play a game of baseball, but nobody can replay the first World Series.

      Even non-game art media have things like this, things like most theatre performances and Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present”.

    • horseradish_road

       This is the closest I’ve seen, and I’m willing to bet that non-government collecting institutions such as the Internet Archive will be the most likely to continue to collect and catalog software. LOC is not yet approaching it from the perspective of mass distribution, as their model for born digital stuff is much more geared toward preservation than access beyond their reading rooms.

    • Mike Wolf

       Not to be a massive pedant or anything, but the Demon’s Souls servers are still up and running with a decent population of players. I got myself a PS3 last Friday, having finally got sick and tired of the 360 and traded all that junk in, and Demon’s Souls was one of the first titles I got for it.

      I believe that From decided to keep the servers up due to the unexpectedly great success of Dark Souls, though imho Dark is the inferior game in many respects. It’ll be interesting to see what Dark Souls II brings.

  • KidvanDanzig

    I think this argument loses a bit of its potency with the apparently widespread acceptance that consoles are a dead medium walking at this point. It’s sort of like arguing that CDs are worth preserving as artifacts. They’re unlike film in that there’s nothing essential about the medium that ties it to the art – with the exception of a handful of obscure failed consoles, most gaming history is digitized and preserved outside of its original context. After a point a PC is a skeleton key that unlocks the whole of gaming’s back catalog. Hackers aren’t quite at current gen, but they’ll get there.

    More to the point, the preservation of “artistic canon” is a secondary consideration for console makers. It’s a point that’s flogged to death but this is, at the end of the day, an industry, and you have to ask yourself, if you were a Microsoft executive with even a cursory knowledge of gaming history, if backwards compatibility is really a major dealbreaker for your consumers. I would imagine the truth of that would primarily depend on whether your previous console retained enough substantial market value such that it would widely be traded in or sold to fund purchase of the new console, in which case you would actually be forfeiting your ability to play your old games in exchange for ability to play new ones. That will always be a factor, of course, but the current generation is quite old now, and the market is thoroughly saturated (though the Wii and PS3 retained value for a pretty long time). If you’re well-off enough to buy an XBone and you know it’s not BC, you’re likely to hold off for however long it takes to make up the value of your 360 instead of trading it in.

    So in that light, you start to see backwards compatibility for what it actually is for gamers – a hedge against failure. An example: The OUYA has a pretty good chance of dying an ignoble death within a year, possibly sooner, but if you’re a Nintendo fan who’s bought one, that prospect stings less because as an Android device, it supports decent emulators for NES / SNES / N64 / DS games. So if it indeed pulls a Virtual Boy and goes to the grave with a paltry selection of natively supported games, you’ve still got a highly portable console that can play hundreds of legacy games, in HD. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the XBone will fail out of the gate, but the gaming industry at this point in time is like the finance market, everything’s built around the consoles and, for a time at least, they’re too big to fail. We’ll get a solid year of releases at least, I’d wager.

    So backwards compatibility is nice, sure, and convenient for your customers. More than likely for many of them it’s akin to DVD extras, a feature that attracts a lot of interest but sees surprisingly little use (how many original Xbox games did you play on your 360 after the first year? How many PS2 games did you play on your PS3 when you lacked easy access to a PS2?). But we know that, save for some catastrophic failure, the draw of the new will make the marginal benefit of buying a Xbone impossible to resist for the vast majority of gamers regardless of BC capability.* Lack of it might delay the inevitable, but they’ll come around, sure enough. If there’s one defining feature of gaming culture, it’s that the lofty standards it purports to maintain are consistently contradicted by its spending habits.

    * If that seems farfetched, consider how a new major Zelda game invigorates the Nintendo console market

    • Simon Jones

      Not that I disagree with the rest of your thesis but I’m not actually sure I buy into the idea of there being widespread acceptance the console market is dying as such. I’ve seen the opinion put forward but it’s often by people who seem to be heavily invested in the idea of consoles failing or uncomfortable with the idea that they share a market with a sizable demographic of teenage boys.

      Also, the clickbaitiness of it all.

      • KidvanDanzig

        Yeah, I think it’s proposed in more of a… philosophical sense? Basically the death of consoles as the death of a unique identity / function, the dissolution of “gaming consoles” into all-purpose living room devices, which is to say they’re becoming what PCs have always been. The PS1 was the first console to play music CDs, then in the last generation DVD playback became a widespread feature, and this generation we’ve got DVDs, Blu-Rays, streaming video and audio, integration with networked media collections, and web browsing. It’s presumably approaching a singularity.

        • Simon Jones

          Oh yeah. I agree with that. But there’s also the ‘Rise of Casual/Indie gaming’ and ‘The Rise of PC gaming’ thing and while those ideas sound sexy, I think people are kind of overestimating the former slightly and the latter massively.

          I say this as someone who owns a gaming PC: PC gamers are among the most neurotic people in existence.

        • Effigy_Power

          I think the stereotype that PC-gamers are neurotic can’t stand like that without some further discussion.
          PC-gamers as a whole have time and again been abandoned by developer studios whenever consoles took off. The height of the PS2′s prominence felt to me like it was a time of drought on the PC. I have no data to back that up, but I think we can all agree that there were a lot of console exclusives out there at that time, and then again right after the 360 launch.
          When money is easier to make on the console, PC-gamers are dropped from the public view.
          Another issue is that collectively, we are blamed for Always-On, DRM, copy protection and so on because piracy, while existent on the consoles, simply isn’t that big a deal there. In the end that’s what modern consoles really are all about, to provide games without any easy option to pirate them. PCs will always open loopholes for people, there’s nothing the industry can do without severely infringing on our privacy rights for the sake of money. As such PC-gamers are thrown into a pot and looked down upon, simply because we all have the potential skill and the potential technical equipment to pirate just about every piece of software in existence. I’ve heard avid console players claim that AAA games are $60 in order to offset the losses from piracy. That’s not only silly, because nobody ever appears to have numbers to back that up, but also doesn’t explain why the much harder-to-pirate console exclusives cost $60 as well.

          PC-gamers get a lot of bad press they don’t deserve, so if some come across as neurotic at times, it comes from years of on/off love from the industry supplying us with a reason to even have a PC. That doesn’t make your point invalid, but I just wanted to add that for context’s sake.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=663669914 Sean Richardson

      “It’s not like film, where you make the movie and then adapt it to whatever medium, be it DVD or Blu-Ray or IMAX projection.”

      I like your point overall, but this isn’t really the case.  In fact, one of the big things that has held back Blu-Rays is that the studios, within the last generation, just invested a lot of money in making transfers which were up to the DVD specs… and then all of a sudden had to start over and make them all to Blu-Ray specs.

  • Dikachu

    Here’s the way I see it:
    1. Consoles pretty much universally have shitty game selections on launch.
    2. Consoles have their make-or-break period in their first year or so of launch.
    3. If a console doesn’t support old games, and doesn’t have a decent selection of new games, and doesn’t even have any new media format (e.g. Blu-ray in 2006), why the FUCK would consumers buy it in decent numbers during the first year?

    Frankly, I hope both the X-bone and PS4 fail so horribly that they take their parent company divisions down with them.  The industry desperately needs another 1983-style crash and rebirth to clear out some of the hubris and fucktard executives.

    • KidvanDanzig

      It’s true that developers will probably be too green to fully exploit new hardware’s full potential for the first year or so (even given exclusive development), but all a console needs is one good game to galvanize the base at the outset. With the 360 Microsoft had Oblivion, before that there was Halo. The Wii had Wii Sports, Super Mario Galaxy, and sheer novelty. The PS3 didn’t seem to have one for awhile, despite having a lot of high-profile exclusives – MGS4 and Uncharted seemed to be cult hits more than anything, or at least not the Gaming Events that really move hardware units.

      We know that both Microsoft and Sony have had their next-gen dev kits out for quite awhile. I follow Obsidian Entertainment quite a bit and their recently canceled project was rumored to be a Microsoft-published launch title for the XBone. We’ll see what comes up, I guess.

      • Dikachu

        Well, in my case, the only reason I bought a PS3 in the first year of its release was because it had a Blu-ray player.  Also, I’d heard the announcement that they planned to drop the PS2 hardware emulator, and I didn’t want 2 consoles in my living room.

        Neither the PS4 nor the X-bone will play the previous generation’s games, nor will they bring anything else to the table that their predecessor consoles didn’t already do.  I really can’t see how one or two good games could overcome the fact that they’re pretty much unnecessary.

        • KidvanDanzig

          I think Sony would’ve done much better had Blu-Ray not been bleeding-edge tech at the time (they still had HD-DVDs!), which made it seem riskier, even as Blu-Ray was pretty clearly the future. More to the point I remember being PS3s being much, much more expensive than its competitors, and that being perhaps the biggest inhibitor to its momentum. Plus it sucked as much electric juice out of your wall as a large refrigerator.

    • Effigy_Power

      Well, full-blown revolutions can have a good effect in any industry. It’s tempting to think that MS and Sony (and to a lesser degree Nintendo) are so dug into their trenches that nothing can dislodge them, but then that’s what people thought about MySpace, Yahoo, Sega and so many countless giants who fell away because they didn’t meet the demands of their customer base.
      Maybe it is time to open a niche for some other companies. Apple, for all its legal awfulness, probably has it in them to make a console and at times they do know how to appease their customers. The Steam Box, whenever it then rolls out, certainly seems like it could be a fun device. And who knows, Google/Android might have stuff in the making. The step from mobile gaming to console seems like a fairly minor one.

      Personally, if I could seamlessly stream everything I do on my PC to my TV, use a controller for it and still do other stuff on my desktop, I’d be happy. And I know other GS-folks would be too. Why clutter my living room with hardware that I can’t upgrade and that is a struggle to integrate into the greater network? I have an upgradeable, open-platform computer sitting somewhere that doesn’t have to show streaming and twitter and browsing and all that as an extra feature, because it’s been doing all these things for years without a hitch. Give me that and a wireless desktop with a good range and I would kiss consoles goodbye forever.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       The only reason I can think of to buy a new is console is if you don’t already have any sort of entertainment setup. Getting one box that can play blurays, netflix, the newest video games (plus all the stuff in the online store), AND you can channel surf just by talking (which is neat even though it’s hardly a reason to buy a console by itself) does make sense.

  • tinwhistle1

    I have to say that while I, too, would like to have backward-capability in any system I buy, I think Mr. Keiser’s argument is deeply flawed. My biggest issue with this article is that it starts by stating that a lack of backward capability equates a lack of respect for video games as an artform. I think this very specious reasoning. If this were true, then there would be no effort on the part of game companies to redistribute their games online. Just because I cannot play the game on my Wii U doesn’t mean Nintendo doesn’t care about NES games or that Sony no longer cares about their back catalog. The reverence they have for older games is apparent also in the HD remakes and other callbacks to great brand histories. I myself have bought the original Super Mario Bros. at least five times and will probably pay for it again at some point.

    It is true that game companies are not doing this for purely altruistic reasons; they wish to profit off of my nostalgia and desire to replay these games. But this desire for profit does not equate into a complete disregard for the artistic and creative power of gaming. Miyamoto would not be a rich man today if he created Donkey Kong just for fun and didn’t put a quarter slot in his Machines. 

    Furthermore, I just don’t see a loss of early games like there has been of television programming. Games are not the cartridges or consoles they are played on but bits and pieces of code. If my old Contra cartridge gets thrown away (thanks, Mom), I can still find ways both legal and illegal to play it. The fact that part of me is inconvenienced by a lack of backward compatabilty, does not mean the game is lost to me if my older console breaks down. There are many good reasons to have backward compatability, including courting the good will of your customers as evidenced in these other posts. I just don’t think the danger of losing gaming heritage is one of them.

    • TheBryanJZX90

      Actually I think I remember reading that Miyamoto isn’t that rich. He received only a modest salary, never any kind of big share of the profits his games made.

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

    I don’t think that backward compatibility is that important in the long run. As console hardware comes off patent, third parties will step in. Right now, you can buy a single console that will play NES, SNES, and Genesis carts. Eventually, someone’s going to make a console that can play PS1, PS2, Dreamcast, and Xbox games. 

    A greater concern for the medium, though, is digital games, especially those with an online component. Will people be able to play Journey in 2020? 

    • Effigy_Power

      The issue here is probably not that the XBone has no backwards compatibility, but that Microsoft and Sony think we neither want nor deserve it. And since backwards compatibility cuts deeply into a profit-scheme that is based on planned obsolescence, it’s hard to consider the justified aspects of this decision without getting swept up a bit in the slightly offensive attitude of an industry that seems to care less and less about what we think as customers.

    • gaugebozo

       wait, WHAT? Holy shit I did not realize that existed.

    • KidvanDanzig

      The only hope is that the market will remain robust enough, and adaptation of old games will be cheap enough, that publishers will rerelease their digital games in a physical format. Once we make the leap from Blu-Ray to the next high-capacity storage medium (if there is one) you could conceivably see for current digital games what we see with old Sega games, a $20 collection of dozens or perhaps hundreds of them.

  • Moomin Papa

    Yeah, I’m with the non-back-compat crowd. I already have a machine that plays 360 games. It’s the 360. Back compat takes dev time away from other un-named stuff to support things you can already do. Why bother? 

    Look forward not backward. You have a shiny XBoxOne or PS4, play the new games. Dig out the 360 in the same way you might the N64 for a bit of Golden Eye. And don’t whine about having multiple boxes/wires/controllers, that is most definitely a first world problem. Same with being “invested” in the previous gen. If you can afford to buy the box, you’ll afford to play the games without starving to death or selling your first born male child. 

    And that doesn’t even take into account the technical problems of trying to emulate a 360/PS3 on completely different architecture…

    • Effigy_Power

      I think that especially in the case of the 360, which is already an endangered species due to its pretty much guaranteed fate of RRoD, it might get harder and harder to appreciate those old games though. Sure, there will be 360s built new and also sold second hand for years to come, but eventually that will end. And then certain consoles exclusives will run the risk of becoming like books nobody knows the language of anymore.

      • KidvanDanzig

        It’s also not outside the realm of possibility (though it would be a change of pace for obscolence-happy Microsoft) if we saw a  new budget version of the console in 5-10 years, which is something that Sony tends to do, and Sega ended up doing as well (they sell rickety Genesis hardware in drugstores for $20 now).

    • Dikachu

      Fair enough, but there’s a whole lot of people out there who will look at the X-bone and PS4 and say, “Ya know, my Xbox 360 and/or PS3 still work well and have a bunch of great games… maybe I’ll skip this new generation since it doesn’t offer anything new, and wont let me replace one big honkin’ console with another (requiring me to keep both hooked up, cluttering my living room).”

      • Moomin Papa

        I think it unlikely that people will stay away in droves because they already have a 360/PS3. They still bought those despite having a PS2/Xbox, and before that they had an N64/PS1 and SNES/Genesis and so on back to the ZX Spectrum. 

        The early adopters and gamers want the upgrade, the average consumer will follow in one to two Christmas’s time. 

        Having 2 consoles hooked up and giving you grief because they look awkward is a non argument if you’re into your gaming. Enough people have a PS3 and 360 hooked up and the sky hasn’t fallen on their heads. Yet…

  • gaugebozo

    “If Sony and Microsoft want to be in control of the most important form of artistic expression in modern culture, and I think we can assume that they do…”

    How can we assume that? To me it looks like Sony and (especially) Microsoft just want to make money. Publicly traded companies tend to work on the short-sighted idea that they need to please their investors NOW. Investors don’t care about artistic integrity.

    “This sends a clear message that these companies consider the medium of film and television to be more important than the medium of games.”

    Didn’t you watch that Xbox One reveal? Even the name implies they don’t care that much about games.

    • Dikachu

      Yet another reason to hope the current generation of consoles fails so spectacularly that it takes their company divisions down with them.  We need a good shake-up.  Maybe the next company to emerge from the rubble will understand that customers are more important than shareholders (stifles laughter).

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Man, I hope like hell that these consoles fail miserably, but if the internet has taught me anything it’s that “gamers” are spineless little shits who will buy any old piece of garbage because it’s new. It’s like the reveal of Malibu Stacy’s new hat, over and over.

  • CrabNaga

    With Sony and Microsoft so desperate to try and compare themselves favorably to PC gaming and PC hardware specifically, it seems extra egregious that they’re taking such a vehement stance against backwards compatibility. I can take my disc of SimCopter that I got in the 90′s and pop it in my computer, and after some compatibility rejiggering can re-experience the thrill of dropping injured people out of my helicopter at 5000 feet.

    I don’t presume to know anything about the cost of implementing backwards compatibility, but with these companies tripping over themselves to boast their specs in terms a PC-gaming-literate crowd, actually comparing EVERYTHING about their respective systems to their supposed nemesis reveals some gaping holes in their strategy.

    • KidvanDanzig

      I’ve never managed to get Simcopter to work without random crashes and the inability to save. OS iteration can and does make games unplayable – hence why it was accepted for so long that System Shock 2 was a lost classic. It took some random Russian hacker (?) to figure out how to make it actually run on post-Vista systems.

      • CrabNaga

        Look at you, hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you attempt to configure your OpenGL settings.

        I thought a lot of the problems surrounding System Shock 2 were more focused on who owned the rights to the game, rather than the compatibility issues.

      • spicollidriver

        and… you could always go back and install an older OS if you really wanted to.

  • Freddie_deBoer

    Do you want to know why this attitude is so destructive? Anti-Windows hatred. Why? Because a vast amount of what people hate about the OS stems from the fact that it has to provide endless backwards compatibility. You guys are refusing to acknowledge the downsides to what you’re saying.

    • Dikachu

      Yeah, I know… how dare we expect to be able to use the same software and access the same files we used a few years ago.  Madness!

    • Enkidum

      I don’t think they’re refusing to acknowledge it, so much as just not acknowledging it in this article. You’re right about that being an example of the nature of the problem, though.

    • Effigy_Power

      “Because a vast amount of what people hate about the OS stems from the fact that it has to provide endless backwards compatibility.”

      I don’t think I have ever heard anyone rant about still being able to play Day of the Tentacle on their PC. And I am very much not convinced that a lot of Windows-hatred stems from aspects related to that. The difference is that PCs are open platforms that, within measure, let us change things, whereas consoles are fixed entities. The lack of a BluRay player for the 360 wasn’t an issue for the PC, because you could just buy one and pop it in. Do people hate Windows for accepting so many peripheral devices?
      I really struggle to see where your point comes from.

      • Enkidum

        It’s not the games that cause the problems with Windows, it’s being able to open an Excel file from 1998 and so forth.

        • Effigy_Power

          True, but there are always work-arounds, thanks to the PC being an open and adaptable platform. Multiple OS, emulators, DOS-boxes… there’s always a way to make something happen. It may take a while, but on the console that’s technically impossible.
          Even the buggiest OS can be adapted to work somewhat stable. I had a Vista setup that crashed only once a week or so. ^_^
          I just can’t seem to grasp what the connection between backwards compatibility and OS-issues are.

    • mizerock

      I want a PC that will play all of the floppy-disc based games that I’ve been storing in my back room for 10 years. Does X-Wing still hold up? How about some Earl Weaver Baseball? Let’s find out!

      There is a program that will let me run these, right? I mean, once I buy a floppy disc reader with USB input. And it will automatically set all the HIMEM and SYS CONFIG= settings for me, right? Or do I need to buy a dedicated PC for the task, one with Win95 (Win3.1?) built in?

      The fact that I can’t run these games on my Vista laptap does not surprise or bother me. But it WOULD bother me if I couldn’t run games written for Windows 7 on Windows 8. I assume that stuff from the ME era will still run on 8.1, which is really unnecessary for games, but imagine if CDs that you burned a few years ago couldn’t be read by the lastest operating system?

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      What on earth are you talking about? Like really, this comment if baffling to me. Please elaborate.

      • Freddie_deBoer

        Many of the kludgier, more buggy, more unstable aspects of modern operating systems like Windows stems from the fact that they have to maintain backwards compatibility for programs that came out sometimes decades before. That’s a major tradeoff, yet this article speaks as if no tradeoffs exist at all.

        You green?

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I don’t really read people’s complaints about operating systems, cause i’m not that much of a turbonerd. I thought that generally people like windows 7 & 8 so i don’t get what the problem is. Unless you’re referring to people who exclusively use Linux or whatever.

  • LoveWaffle

    Good backwards-compatibility was the feature I most wanted out of next-gen consoles. Screw blocking used games, screw always-online – backwards compatibility was all I cared about. That neither the PS4 or the 360 are backward compatible is incredibly disappointing. I think I’ll leave myself out of the next gen until Skyrim‘s successor comes out. By then next gen might actually look next gen.

    • Effigy_Power

      And of course the first year of a new console is rarely great regardless of whether it’s a great machine. The PS2 launch was pretty much not amazing and didn’t even scratch what that thing could do.
      Buying a console on day one is very much like pre-ordering a Bethesda game. You’re gonna have it before most other people, but enjoy the bugs and kinks and flaws. Maybe after a year, when certain egregious human rights violations and game-crashes are fixed, there are more than 5 games that are not military-FPS and the market determines the final price of the thing, maybe then it’ll be worth to reevaluate.

      • LoveWaffle

        Well, I’m also expecting that all this shit will resolve itself by then. Used game fees and what have you will either be dropped, accepted as a minor inconvenience, or a multitude of ways around it will have come out. Or the Xbox One completely fails, limiting my choice of console to one.

        But until then, I’ll just spend the next few years either getting to know my 360 better, or, heck, maybe I’ll buy a retro console. Never had my own N64 as a kid.

        • spicollidriver

          great idea. I never had an Xbox 1 and just bought one off ebay a few days ago.

  • Downtown Canton

    So if Microsoft is going to continue selling the 360 alongside the Xbone, as the Xbox chief says, then will titles be made for both systems? Playstation did this, at least for a while, when the PS3 launched.

    • Effigy_Power

      I think that’s a widely discusses issue.
      While the PS2 was around for an eternity after the PS3 launched and we can assume that the wide spread of 360s will make the game-makers want to get a piece of that, MS did chuck out the original XBox very quickly.
      Still, with the millions of 360s still plugged in, I doubt anyone can afford to just stop producing fodder for it.

      • KidvanDanzig

        As I argued upthread, it’s pretty common for cross-developed games on different generations will be seen as held down by the limitations of last-gen hardware (sort of example: The features cut and character limits reduced from the PC version of Dragon Age Origins for the console release). Indeed this is one of the reasons why the first year of releases is usually considered lean for a console.

    • LoveWaffle

      I don’t know. On one hand, it’s a bad idea for developers to only make a game for one console that isn’t market-tested (especially one with as poor reaction as this one). On the other, if the multitude of Xbox One games are also available for the 360, there’s little reason for anyone to adopt the new console.

  • dwmatteson

    You basically hit upon the answer; they can and will create a software emulator for the older consoles, and it will run the old games, but they want to re-sell you the old games.

    If they just include that emulator for free in the PS4/X1 then they’re giving away tons of potential revenue.

    • LoveWaffle

      OR they’ll just end up releasing a bunch of current-gen titles as HD remakes.

  • stakkalee

    I think there are 2 points to remember when discussing Microsoft: First, planned obsolescense is basically their business model, and second, Microsoft’s Entertainment division isn’t the most profitable part of the business.  To the first point, Microsoft is always releasing new products, be it software or hardware, that is generally incompatible with older technology; they do this to increase profits, not to improve the consumer experience.  Windows isn’t bloated because MS hires incompetent programmers, it’s bloated because newer hardware can tolerate a higher amount of “bloat”.  To the second point, Microsoft’s Entertainment division had $2.5 billion in quarterly revenue this year, but that was dwarfed by the revenue from the Windows and Business divisions, which had revenue of $5.7b and $6.3b respectively.  Microsoft is a PC software company that has a sideline dabbling in video games.  Their only priority is to their shareholders, and if they felt like they could make the same amount of money by selling us nothing but digital “ball-in-a-cup” games they would.  While I agree with Joe that video games are our shared heritage I don’t want to leave it up to a private corporation to decide what gets preserved and how.  I’d rather rely on volunteer effort even though that effort will always lag behind the technological curve of the medium.

    • NakedSnake

      What always impresses me about Microsoft is that the XBox division seems to be at war with PC gaming in general. Microsoft literally owns the #1 gaming/home entertainment platform and they’re like “no we don’t care about that, let’s focus on the XBone”.

      • http://mathmanmustdie.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

        Well, the two departments are sort of at odds. MS gets about three bucks in licensing fees for every $60 retail title sold for the 360. MS doesn’t get any money at all from games sold for Windows, unless it happens to be the game’s publisher. It may be the case that the PC gaming market has shrunk to the point that MS considers it less worthwhile to support.

        • NakedSnake

          I wonder how much Steam gets with every PC game sold…

        • KidvanDanzig

          @baneofpigs:disqus Enough to support their new age Silicon Valley management style, at the least.

  • Kevin King

    Wii U is backwards compatible, not only for games but for controllers as well. Wish it would go back to GameCube games, though, but at least they did Wii owners a solid for their loyalty. I guess I’ll just keep my Wii to play GameCube games, which seems like a strange statement to make.

  • R Peterson

    First, I want to say that I would love it if the next generation systems had backwards compatibility.  I think it’s pretty ridiculous that even downloadable titles can’t be run on the next system.  But, since Microsoft and Sony are both moving forward (and not looking backward), I have to try to see their point of view.  Or at least to play devil’s advocate.

    In regards to preservation of the medium, the old games aren’t going anywhere.  You’ll still be able to run them on your old game system.  This is no different than the many titles that are still on VHS and haven’t had a DVD or Blu ray release.  If you want to play/watch older games/movies, then you need the proper equipment.  That’s no different than it has been for the majority of console cycles.  As far as I know, it wasn’t until digital downloads that you could play SMB3 on anything other than the original NES or an emulator.  Furthermore, a lot of third party games are available on the PC and the ability to play those games won’t be going anywhere.  

    As for the DVD/Blu Ray compatibility argument, I think the majority of people still use DVDs as opposed to the newer format.  I for one mostly own DVDs, since that’s what I’ve been buying ever since I had the money. I’ve only recently bought a PS3 and my Blu ray library is still a tiny fraction of what my DVD collection is, and I’d say I’m a somewhat up-to-date tech person.  So for most people, and especially the wide audience that the Xbox is targeted towards, I think that DVD playback is a lot more important than the ability to play the previous generation’s games.  

    Anyways, those are my two cents.  

    • Effigy_Power

      But for the risk of 360s becoming an endangered, long RRoD’ed species, I would agree.

      • http://mathmanmustdie.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

        The RRoD is a non-issue for the redesigned X360 models, and enough of them are floating around to keep thrift stores of the future well-stocked.

        • Effigy_Power

          I did not know they had finally gotten a cap on that. I retract my point somewhat. Still, leaving gaming’s archiving to used hardware seems a fallacy.

        • vinnybushes

           I used to work in a best buy gaming department (terrible job). The redesigned units still RRod, just less often. I had plenty of people replacing newer units because it still happened.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I think the biggest problem that this article identifies isn’t the actual loss of old games; the problem is that console makers are treating old games as disposable. They’re seen as pulp rather than art by the people who help create and promote them.

      • TheBryanJZX90

        There are always going to be tensions between creativity and business concerns in any media. Executives in every single movie studio, book publisher, and record label make their decisions with an eye on the balance sheets, and those decisions in turn allow artists to express their creativity. I don’t think it shows any kind of disrespect for a Sony or Microsoft head to decide not to invest resources into a feature that ultimately won’t be worth the investment. It’s not a subjective judgment on the value of the games, it’s an objective judgment on the ROI.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      SMB3 was on SNES as part of the Super Mario All-Stars release. Turns out “HD collection” was a thing way before “HD”.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    Vaguely related to the topic of cultivating older titles, apparently Disney recently filed four trademarks concerning Maniac Mansion. I’m not super hopeful or anything, but there’s a remote possibility we’re looking at a rerelease or maybe even a new MM game (no guarantee on the quality of either, of course…). Looking at the nature of the filings, maybe we’re looking at some…school supplies and t-shirts?

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      So still no Blu Ray release of the TV show?!

      Good.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I remember being vaguely disappointed by the show, despite it debuting when I only had a vague knowledge of the ‘source’ game.

        But in retrospect, it was a surreal Canadian sitcom starring Joe Flaherty, which makes me wonder if I should try giving it another chance…

        • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

          I remember the show pretty well. It was re-run in Canada for many years. It has a reputation for being unfunny, and that’s a fair assessment. Its problem wasn’t that it was full of dry, surreal humour that went over the audience’s head; it went very heavy on the drama. And the drama was very limited. They kept hitting the same character beats every episode: the boy hates being big, and the fly misses being human.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I’m pretty sure that retro swag is all that’s keeping the CD store at my local mall in business.  

  • NakedSnake

    This article is awesome. Thanks for writing it. I constantly worry (well, maybe worry is a strong word) about the idea that old classic games are disappearing completely. That’s why I tend to support platforms like GOG. I’ll buy games on that that I already own (via Windows 98 CD or whatever) or that I may never play, mostly just to try to demonstrate that there is a market for these games. That said, some companies, notably Nintendo, have done a pretty good job of tapping this impulse by making old classic games available on new platforms. Now if we could just convince them to let us own them for life (rather than re-buying on new consoles).

  • illegal_characters

    I think this kind of problem arises from the fact that the although the final product is undoubtedly an art form, the creators of such product are largely technicians – that surely are essential, but that generally lack the vision and intent of artists.

    It’s kind of the same reason why Renaissance art was largely religious. If you take the larger part of creative control from the artists’ hands, artistic concerns will generally be the last ones considered.

    And that’s not a bullshit “art for art’s sake” argument, I just think game artists should find ways to go around this problem, much like it’s often done today with books and movies. And sure, collective products will always be harder to control, but it’s not impossible.

  • Steve McCoy

    If people are really concerned with archiving the original experience of games, emulators are not the answer. Zsnes and friends are filled with game-specific hacks so that certain games can run at all. Aside from using lots of undocumented hardware tricks, many games in the cartridge days came with custom hardware.

    And “running” is the best you can hope for a lot of the time, because the emulated versions have different or worse sound, graphics, etc. The self-proclaimed most-accurate emulator, bsnes, uses way more resources than a 90s PC would’ve had, and it’s still not perfect for all games today.

    And to get even more pedantic, even if these problems are solved, it’s still going to be different than playing the game with the original console’s controller on a CRT, as it was designed.

    • Steve McCoy

      Or to make my point more clear: The hardware can be an important part of the medium for a game. To co-opt the Louvre analogy, for some games running on a new platform can be like trying to replace the paintings’ canvases, rather than the frames.

    • uselessyss

      Yeah, old consoles and the cartridges/discs their games came on will always need to be around, for the most part.

      Emulation is not the same as the actual hardware running the actual game. It’s like watching something that was originally only available in the Betamax format on YouTube. Some of the quality is going to be lost, and while that may be good enough for most people, it is not good enough for serious archival purposes.

      The backwards compatibility provided in an Xbox One or PS4, because it would have to rely on software emulation, would always be imperfect (not to mention very expensive to implement), and thus not very helpful if we’re talking about preserving games.

      There are really two issues here – there’s allowing people to enjoy old games, and there’s keeping those games in an archive to ensure that the history of the form is preserved.

      One does not necessarily lead to the other. Looking at film – the Library of Congress has an archive of works they consider important to the history of film, but they don’t then release Blu-rays of those films so people can enjoy them. Efforts to preserve film were not spearheaded by the major film studios – independent organizations like the American Film Institute took the initiative.

      Microsoft and Sony may choose not to allow owners of their new console play games made for older consoles for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean that those games will not be preserved. They probably do archive all of the code that went into their first-party titles, but that is usually never seen by the public. Does that mean they don’t care about their legacy? I don’t know.

      In any case, backwards compatibility is tough to implement, and probably not worth it for most people. I think it’s kind of weird to assert that MS and Sony are gives film and TV a higher standing than games just because of DVD functionality. A DVD is a thing that holds some video files and audio files – they’re not very complicated. Games are extremely complicated, and emulating them can be a massive undertaking. I think a lot of people underestimate the amount of time and money it takes – I was pretty surprised that the Xbox 360 had backwards compatibility with (a subset of) Xbox games.

      Well, this was a rant.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    I used to want a PS3, but now that I have a decent PC I don’t know if it’s worth the cost for the handful of exclusives I’m interested in (especially when Last Guardian looks dead in the water).

    HOWEVER folks looking to pick one up now that we know PS4 won’t play PS3 games could do worse than the insane NewEgg deal going on right now.

    At the very least, take a look at the ad. It’s sexist, but in a way that genuinely makes no sense. It’s kind of brain-melting.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Holy balls, is Sony’s PR department run by a crack-smoking monkey? Or is it run by Toronto mayor Rob Ford? (Same difference, really…)

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Sony really “hitched” that ad campaign, amiright?

        Is THAT what “hitch” means?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          My guess is that Sony doesn’t understand the difference between a woman and a wagon.

          Here’s a helpful guide, Sony: Wagons have wheels. Women have arms and legs…and, y’know, the ability not to buy your products.

    • Effigy_Power

      Maybe this is some elaborate joke by two very massive companies we are not in on.
      Is it feasible that the boss of MS-gaming and the boss of Sony -gaming got together over a bottle of warm toddler-blood and bet each other that they would sell a billion consoles regardless of how drastically they’d fuck them up?

      • PaganPoet

        I personally prefer my toddler blood chilled.

    • NakedSnake

      Haha, whut? Why is there hair coming out of the disk tray? Is this a reference to the 2005 Will Smith movie, Hitch? Comment Cat, where are you? This needs to be featured immediately.

  • ferrarimanf355

    The problem is, the PS4 and X1 run on X86 architecture when their predecessors used PowerPC architecture. That may not sound like much, but it is the reason why there’s no backwards compatibility. Emulating PPC software on X86 processors is slower than a snail, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change soon. 

    • Effigy_Power

      Again, the realities of why backwards compatibility isn’t without issues are overshadows by the snooty attitude that wanting to play last-gen games is for losers anyways, if you excuse the hyperbole.
      Had they explained this technical issue (which they certainly did) and left it at that (which they didn’t), it would be one thing. Mind you, it will be slightly harder to explain why certain titles will get both 360 and XBone releases, yet apparently are utterly incompatible. The technical reasons for that are sound, but Joe Public will still wonder.

  • http://mathmanmustdie.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

    In that 2009 retrospective, the Pythons mention that the whole first season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus almost fell victim to the BBC’s tape wiping policy. Imagine the horrible crime against nerddom that was very nearly committed in the name of frugality.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I think my heart stopped for an instant there.

    • Effigy_Power

      That’s true, I remember seeing that. Film material was expensive and the long-term storage was also. The real losses however are the shows and pilots and films that we don’t know. There appear to be countless stories of movies that just simply don’t exist anymore.
      Modern storage capabilities have alleviated that a bit, but attitudes don’t seem to have changed, which is why the first few episodes of the first season of MST3K (which is a bit of a hot mess anyways, but still) are available only through torrents, because the network airing the first episodes didn’t really appreciate what they had.
      Infinitely advanced and increased storage doesn’t appear to discourage idiots from destroying culture in order to save a buck. I mean, if some dumbass tourist can carve his name into 4000 year old Egyptian hieroglyphs as a laugh (which happened just recently), we probably shouldn’t assume that old TV-shows and games will be treated with any greater reverence for preservation. All it takes is “some dumbass”.

      • NakedSnake

        Yea, getting yelled at by your boss for a mistake you made while trying to save the company money never really has the same intensity as getting yelled at because you cost the company money. And there’s usually a “your heart was in the right place” moment at the end.

        Which is to say, I don’t think anyone at these companies is going to start losing sleep over this stuff.

      • George_Liquor

        @Effigy_Power:disqus Yeah, add to that the cost and hassle of securing licenses to redistribute the movies they riffed on, and it’s a bloody miracle any MST episode has ever been seen outside of a crappy off-air VHS dub.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        i was always under the impression that the KTMA episodes of MST3K had been preserved, but that Joel was too embarassed by them to ever seek to publicly release them again.

        • Effigy_Power

          I’d buy that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1251750686 Rashad Jamal Brown

    This was not a thorough enough analysis to debunk how expensive backwards compatibility is. 

    Comparing it to DVDs was ridiculous. As the author said himself, a lot of licensing fees are attributed to the use of DVD technology, claiming $2 per console would be spent. 

    Where is the evidence that implementing a Playstation 3-compatible processor architecture would be anywhere NEAR the licensing fees for DVD technology? Does the person have any clue that Blu-Ray is a much more similar implementation of DVD than the PS4 processor is to the PS3?

    If the cost of the implementation of the PS4 were to skyrocket, so would the price for the consumers!Instead of writing an article stating how the lack of backwards compatibility was a tragedy, someone would be complaining about the price. This was an engineering decision; a negative consequence of some kind was not going to be avoided.

    • zpoccc

      shut up, stop being reasonable! as a video game consumer it’s your duty to be enraged and disappointed by every decision console makers make.

      take your pragmatic, well reasoned thoughts elsewhere. YOU’RE NOT WELCOME HERE.

  • http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz132/toemali/stuff/bosun.jpg Colliewest

    Off topic, or an illustration of how to do things differently – Double Fine just launched another Kickstarter http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/doublefine/double-fines-massive-chalice

    Will it suffer from that difficult second album syndrome? Will kickstarter fatigue turn to backlash? I really hope not.

    I personally feel like I’ve already got my $15 worth out of Broken Age before it’s even out, just cos I’m really interested in behind the scenes stuff.

    There’s obviously a certain novelty to that project that can’t be replicated. Also the price increase has stopped me diving in immediately, but I just think that it’s really exciting that mid budget games with an audience of a couple of hundred thousand people can get made this way, and I’d like to see it continue.

    • KidvanDanzig

      I would say that they’d see a fundraising slump but InXile did pretty decent numbers for Wasteland 2 before setting the current game funding record with Torment, and this without a released product that was any good at all. InXile made awful Bard’s Tale updates and a profoundly pedestrian fantasy action game for Bethsoft before going whole-hog on the KS craze.

      I mean, there are other considerations as well – I’d call the Torment pitch one of the best I’ve ever seen on a KS, the stars aligned for it in a number of ways. If Double Fine wants to do DFA numbers I’d expect they would have to sharpen their pitching skills, DFA was pretty vague and was propelled more by the studio’s cult and the novelty of what they were doing. I’m not sure that will happen twice.

  • irrenmann

    The PS3 and 360 games will be playable on the new hardware, you’ll just have to purchase them again for download, and after a certain amount of time (so as to ensure their presence doesn’t cannibalize software sales for the new console).

    This is not only commonsensical, it’s exactly what already happened with PS3 getting PS2 games, etc. It’s financial, and so extrapolating its meaning into the realm of “art” is unnecessary.

    However, the Microsoft comment about being “really backwards” deserves to be called out, because they’ll make liars of themselves soon enough. But the thing is, it’s Microsoft; everyone hates them already and expects nothing from them in the way of ethics, so they don’t care.

    • zpoccc

      i actually don’t think the next gen’s power leap is significant enough to be able to adequately emulate the previous gen…? ps3 games will be playable via ps4 via cloud streaming though. 

  • low_g_hugs

    Game publishers/system manufacturers have been self-demeaning the medium since the beginning of the commercial industry, and backwards compatibility has never been more than a luxury. It’s not going to stop, and to see Sony and Microsoft “suddenly” drop BC is no more outrageous than enthusiasts suddenly caring because they’ve been used to it for a decade — a nice stretch of time, to be sure, but also enough time for “classics” to completely lose relevance in the eyes of the gatekeepers. And with executive turnover, market shifts, and just regular bad decisions, why expect them to do anything right, anyway?

    The comparisons to movies/DVD may make a nice framing device, but whenever movies are used in a “why can’t games do this?” context, it always rings hollow. The video game industry runs in fundamentally different ways, for a nigh-endless number of reasons, not the least of which being how long it’s been around and how fast it grew. I can’t really disagree with your core arguments here, but the presumptions about both industries coupled with the preachy tone don’t work all that well. We have collectors and historians and just plain nostalgia-addled nerds who add all the meaning to old games we could possibly want, and the companies’ definition of embracing history is to make $90 “collectors’ editions” for everything that cost more than half a grand to make. Welcome to the future.

  • Boko_Fittleworth

    This logic is inherent in the “bigger, better, shinier, streamier” rhetoric surrounding the new console releases, which seems to say that the next generation is such a step forward that the games of the past are so outdated as to be beneath consideration, much less desirability.

  • snapple070

    Yeah old games aren’t worth anything. That’s why I’ve been playing Tecmo Super Bowl and NBA Action 95 on my PSP recently.

    Stupid old games. 

  • Jon Benson

    The real shame is there’s no legal way to access the majority of old games. Somewhat ironically, it’s the piratical community who’s doing most of the work in preserving the old works. Emulation and rom-download sites are the great museums of our culture.

  • http://whatistheexcel.com/ Excel-2013

    You have to draw the line somewhere, though. Backward compatibility wasn’t a big deal until the Game Boy Advance, and even then, Nintendo kept only one generation’s worth of legacy compatibility for all its consoles since. We have emulation to fill the gap for the older consoles, and in the future, it’s probably going to be pirated ISOs that do the rest.