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The PS4 Needs Backwards Compatibility

Before we get started, let me be clear that I like my Playstation 4.  The controller is a marked improvement over the previous three iterations of the Dualshock design, it’s compact and quiet compared to the Xbox One, and while I wasn’t too excited about the share function at first, I’ll probably be getting more use out of it soon (shameless YouTube plug).  HOWEVER, there is one issue that may not be at the forefront of the gaming discussion, but continues to annoy me every time I start my console up:  the damn thing won’t play games from older systems!

Sony’s Playstation had a nice little mic-drop moment on Microsoft’s Xbox back at E3 2013.  With the Xbox One, Microsoft had just given the impression that they were going to spy on you and ensure that you couldn’t buy or sell used games.  Playstation basically came out and said “we’re not going to do that with the PS4.”  It was a common sense move that garnered them a lot more praise than it really should have (this is more an indictment of the times rather than Playstation themselves) and they were heralded as the consumer-friendly console while Xbox tried in vain to explain why their intrusive methods were actually a good thing.  In the end, Xbox had to capitulate and admit that an always-online requirement and games locked to a particular console were simply not “features” that the consumer wanted.

Since then, however, Phil Spencer has taken over Xbox and led them to make more consumer-friendly changes to their system than Playstation has.  The one that stands out the most to me is adding a backwards compatibility feature.  If you don’t know how this works, Xbox has been making changes to digital version of Xbox 360 games (presumably with the help of the publishers) that would allow them to work on the Xbox One.  These aren’t HD remakes; they’re the exact same games with just the right coding changes to make them playable on the new console.  If you already own the digital version, it’s automatically added to your library and you can download it whenever you want.  If you only own the disc, you put it in the machine and it downloads the digital version to your hard drive, allowing you to play it as long as the disc is in the machine.  Sure, it started out very limited and is still missing a lot of games, but the fact that it exists in such a way that allows me to play the Mass Effect trilogy again without any extra cost is exactly the kind of service that needs to be utilized.

To contrast, Playstation is still converting PS2 games to make them playable on the PS4, but you have to pay for them all over again, even if you already bought them for the PS2 or PS3.  Playstation Now is an cool idea that lets you stream PS3 games on your PS4 or Vita, but it’s still a rental service, which means you have to pay for games you’ve already paid for.

What Playstation needs to remember is that a lot of people have held onto their old discs.  This could be because they like showing them off or, like me, they wanted to hold on to some great games to either play again or keep playing because they haven’t finished.  On top of that, let’s remember that Playstation basically invented backwards compatibility and the fact that they’ve almost completely abandoned the concept is depressing if not outright insulting.

I’m just going to say it:  right now, they have no excuse with the PS2 games.  They’ve been very slow with releasing them (which isn’t surprising considering it’s such a large generational leap), but the ones that are out should be available to anyone who inserts a disc or bought a digital version on the PS3.  If they can make the games work on the PS4, they need to take a page out of Microsoft’s book and not force us to pay for games all over again.

I do understand that converting PS3 games is more of a challenge.  For those who don’t know, the PS3 was built with a different processor architecture than the PS2 and PS4 where it used multiple processors rather than just one with multiple cores.  This is why the PS3 couldn’t play the PS2 games without actual PS2 hardware in the console itself (this was the 60GB version that was initially released and impossible to find).  I have no sympathy, however, since this is a problem Playstation brought upon themselves, which means it’s on them to take the hit for their customers.  As of now, all they have is that PS Now service which, like I said, you have to pay for even if you already bought the game.  

If PS Now gave you access to all games you either already have in your digital library or present in disc form, that would be the most consumer-friendly approach.  I know a streaming service costs money, but Playstation gave themselves this problem and it’s on them to fix it.  I’m not saying I know the perfect solution to the PS3 situation.  I’m not nearly smart enough for that. All I’m saying is that this the best solution I can come up with given what’s already in place.  They had their moment in the spotlight as the “good guys”, but they’re being quickly overshadowed.

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