A debate in the gaming community sprung up Tuesday over an Ars Technica report claiming that less than two percent of the time Xbox One owners spent with their console was on backwards compatible games. Was Microsoft sinking money into an unpopular feature? The console maker hit back with numbers of its own.
Ars Technica started tracking Xbox LIVE usage via the unofficial XboxAPI service. This provided access to user stats along with a list of games and apps played on current-gen and last-gen consoles over the course of six months starting last September.
This sample was used by Ars to create a deep dive report where it estimated only 1.5 percent of the time Xbox One owner spent on their console was used to play Xbox 360 backwards compatible titles. This is compared to 54.7 percent of the time console owners played Xbox One games with the remaining amount of time spent in various non-game apps like Netflix and YouTube.
These estimates were based on a sample size of 930k Xbox One users sampled over the six months. Microsoft reported 52 million active Xbox LIVE users in its most recent quarterly earnings report (via Seeking Alpha), so the sample size is only a whopping 1.7 percent.
This ultimately is not all that dissimilar from trying to determine the accuracy of election polling data, which has been problematic, to say the least, in recent election. Still, Ars used this data to claim there is “No love for backward compatibility” and Microsoft felt the need to respond.
Xbox and Windows gaming vice president Mike Ybarra was the first out of the gate Wednesday to respond via Twitter. He was originally taking a swipe at Sony head of global sales Jim Ryan’s comments in Time about backward compatibility. Ryan claimed backwards compatibility was not actually used much, which is why PS4 doesn’t support the feature and Ybarra disagreed.
This led to one Twitter user pushing the Ars usage estimates which Ybarra responded to with the following.
“Scraping some data off servers gives an inaccurate view of what people do.”
Indeed, it is hard to argue with the popularity of backwards compatibility on Xbox One. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, a 5-year old game, recently charted at No. 10 on the monthly NPD sales list for April after it was released (via Venturebeat).
Red Dead Redemption had a similar effect when it became backwards compatible last July as it crept up the list of best-selling Xbox LIVE titles at the time.
This led Xbox CMO Mike Nichols to share more complete information on Twitter about how backwards compatibility is used on the Xbox One.
“Some [questions] today on [backward compatibility] use. Roughly 50% of xbox one owners have played, over 508 million [hours] of gaming enjoyed. #pastpresentfuture”
Does it mean anything?
Disagree. We want gamers to play the best games of the past, current, and future. It's what gamers have asked for. https://t.co/iMtprzgBQI
— Mike Ybarra (@XboxQwik) June 6, 2017
This does not provide a crystal clear picture as it can only be assumed the number of hours played is since backwards compatibility first launched in mid-2015. Additionally, the total amount of time spent on the Xbox One by users during that time frame is unknown. Still, it shows backwards compatibility has been used substantially enough to make it worth Microsoft’s effort.
The effort Microsoft put into making the Xbox One backwards compatible was undoubtedly hard and expensive, to a degree. It required a significant amount of engineering to make the console emulate the Xbox 360 and run games with full online support and the support of Xbox One extras like livestreaming, screen capture, etc.
Backwards compatibility support also requires Microsoft to go around and renegotiate or create new license agreements to sell the game on the Xbox One. This includes any licensed music in those games.
Still, the benefits of backward compatibility support have been far reaching. It’s announcement at E3 2015 engendered a hefty amount of goodwill at a time when the console needed it. The technology developed has also gone on to benefit the upcoming release of Xbox Scorpio to allow games to run on different hardware.
The ability for games to be forward-compatible on future console hardware is an important pillar of Microsoft’s gaming plans and makes statements like “No love for backward compatibility” and claims that Microsoft may be losing money on the feature appear short-sighted.
[Featured Image by Xbox]