Xbox Head Phil Spencer generated a large applause line during the Xbox E3 media briefing when he announced that the Xbox One will receive backwards compatibility with the Xbox 360 this year. Did that announcement shift any thinking at Sony with the PlayStation 4? Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida called the announcement interesting, but that’s not going to change the PS4’s current direction.
“The backward compatibility news was interesting,” Yoshida told Polygon. “The technology involved must be very challenging. I’m interested in seeing the list of titles.”
The current list of titles that Xbox One Preview Program members are testing is only around 21 and includes Mass Effect, Geometry Wars, Perfect Dark, and Banjo-Kazooie, among others. Microsoft plans to add to this list in the months leading up to the backwards compatibility official launch this holiday season. The goal is to reach over 100 titles. How far over 100 is still a mystery, but we can expect many first-party titles based on the image above.
While the backwards compatibility caught Sony by surprise, it’s not going to cause them to rush and try to match the feature.
“I don’t think we will change our approach,” Yoshida said. “The PlayStation 4 doesn’t have backward compatibility.”
That approach includes adding and expanding services like PlayStation Now. The game streaming service offers users the ability to rent individual games or pay a monthly fee to stream from a catalog of primarily PS3 titles. It’s the closest thing to backwards compatibility offered, but Yoshida said its primary purpose is “to create a new network service that could be used to bring PlayStation games to multiple devices including non-PlayStation devices, like Sony and Samsung televisions.”
Trying to make the PlayStation 4 backwards compatible with the PlayStation 3 would not be an easy thing to do. The last-gen console used a rather exotic architecture compared to the PS4, which uses a modified modern PC architecture.
“Backward compatibility is hard,” Yoshida added. “I won’t say we’ll never do it, but it’s not an easy thing to do. If it was easy we would have done that.”
The Xbox One pulls off backwards compatibility by using software that emulates a Xbox 360 console every time a last-gen game is launched. I tested it earlier this week and had access to my old game saves through the Xbox LIVE cloud, achievements, and even the Xbox 360 guide menu. It worked very well for the single-player titles I have tested, though the real test might come with larger multiplayer titles like Call of Duty and Halo.
That said, emulating the Xbox 360 console on the Xbox One means that Microsoft won’t have to ask developers to do extra coding to bring their old games to the new console. The only limitations are that Kinect titles won’t work and publishers and developers will have to grant permission before they can be played on the Xbox One. The latter part may be tricky for some titles where ownership of an IP has swapped hands or expired.
[Update: Corrected typo that incorrectly listed Mass Effect 3 instead of just Mass Effect.]