No backward compatibility? Problems and solutions regarding the migration of games to the next generation

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We are in the midst of the infamous “generational transition” of video game consoles. At this moment, developers and publishers have a difficult dilemma to solve: should they invest in current consoles, which already have a significant installed player base, or should they aim for the future, making games for the new consoles?

Worse still is the torment of the players, who always end up suffering some inconvenience during the transition. To spice things up, Sony and Microsoft confirmed that their next gen offerings would not support the so-called backward compatibility (the ability to play titles from previous consoles on the current ones). For those who had already built a solid library of physical and even digital titles, distributed by Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, it was a tremendous disappointment to discover that these games would not be supported by their (possible) new consoles.

In a cold analysis, the reasons given by both companies for the omission of this functionality are to some extent convincing. Both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 use completely different hardware architecture from its predecessors. Running previous-gen games natively would be virtually impossible. An emulation solution, unfeasible. There is the possibility of attaching some components of their own predecessors in the new consoles, like the PS3 did in its release model, which housed the PS2′s Emotion Engine inside its own cabinet. The problem with this solution is that it greatly increases costs, size and power consumption of the device. I don’t need to remind you of the reactions to the absurd launch price of the PS3 in 2006 ($599.00 for the 60GB model).

Thanks to digital distribution and the influx of smaller games, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have managed to build an extremely large game catalog when compared to their retail-only predecessors, and losing access to all of that during the transition seems like a big waste. This perspective is further compounded if we put in question the fact that platforms which compete directly with Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles, namely the gaming PC and the Nintendo WiiU, do not suffer from the same problem of lack of backward compatibility.