Today, Microsoft XBox President Phil Spencer, clad in a windbreaker, made one of the most uphalling announcements in recent E3 history:
Today, I’m pleased to announce, XBox One Backward Compatibility! Your XBox 360 games, the games you’ve invested your time and money in, and the games you want to continue to play will be able to play natively on your XBox One!
The crowd of XBox owners roared, but it was a grotesque and cruel moment.
What followed this fraudulent announcement was part-time muppet Mike Ybarra who clarified that there would be about “100 titles available by this holiday” and an unknown number after that. Wait, what? Why only 100 titles? Doesn’t backwards compatibility mean all our 360 games will work?
No, because this is most definitely not “backwards compatibility.” As Ybarra continued, the crowd was noticeability less enthusiastic. He tried to excite the crowd with Mass Effect footage but, alas, it was just a demo of an older game after all. No new graphics, no new audio. He insisted that the game played just like it did on XBox 360, but better! OMG, what was he going to announce next??
He asked XBox to take a screenshot. Oh, and you can use your DVR functionality. And it could still use the network.
This Is NOT Backwards Compatibility
It’s possible Microsoft did try for true backwards compatibility, the kind where you put your old game disc in and the game plays. You know, like how the Wii U does it with Wii games. Or the 3DS does for DS games. Or how the DS did for Gameboy Color games. Or how the Gameboy Color did for Gameboy games! And early PS3’s did with PS2 games. Or PS2 with PSX. That’s what Microsoft did here at all.
What you do is pop in your old 360 Halo 3 game disc, let’s say, and the system will detect that it’s an older game. It will then ask you to download a digital copy of it to your hard drive. After a couple hours, you’ll be able to play it, but wait! Don’t remove that disc! Ya see, you’ll be required to keep it in to play to prove that it’s your copy. This is necessary otherwise we’d see Meetups of XBox users sharing discs around to get free downloads.
And there’s the rub! You’re not playing your 360 game at all! What you’re playing is a digital port of it provided by Microsoft. What’s not clear is if the disc is fingerprinted so that you can no longer share it with a friend or sell it. However, clearly, you never play the contents of that disc ever again. All Microsoft’s doing is using that disc is a proof of purchase if you will.
Aside from Microsoft completely lying to their fanbase, there’s a big problem that remains with this new system. You still can’t play all of the games in your 360 library. You’re at the mercy of what’s on Microsoft’s port list, which is laughably tiny at the moment. Plus, all of these games will be made available for sale to everybody, so all your copy is earning you is a free version of a cheap game. And of course you need to be online to play them. (Not as huge an issue as it once was, but they did say “backwards compatibility” did they not?)
So, why did Microsoft do this now? Why not at launch?
The answer is simple: XBox One is in trouble. According to VGChartz, the XBox One is about to get lapped by PS4 hardware that’s almost reached double the sales of Microsoft’s platform. The XBox One is also dead in Japan, selling just 153 last week. 153,000? No, no, no…one hundred and fifty three. You can almost memorize the individual names of all the people that bought it. In fact, despite all the assertions that the Wii U is dead, the XBox One still only has barely surpassed it — all while Wii U has a lot of buzz right now with recent hits like Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros., Splatoon and even the upcoming Super Mario Maker.
They never wanted to do this as evident by the fact that Sony didn’t do it either. Microsoft, like Sony, wants their loyal fanbase to buy in on the new platform, plunking down dollars for not only new hardware but new games as well. They wanted to publish re-mastered versions of games to double up their money and reap royalties from 3rd-party publishers just as Sony is doing, but they had to change course in a major way to try to resuscitate the fledgling system. Sony could implement this in a week if they wanted to…if they needed to.
So, Microsoft addressed the problem of how to convert its former XBox 360 owners over to the new platform by promising that they can play their old games on it. But, it’s too late now. One can only imagine how different things would be if they had this system in place on Day One. Think of the advantage they could tout over Sony? However, we’re almost 2 years into the system’s lifetime and Microsoft has already lost a lot of their install base to the PS4, all while we still have to wait several months to see more titles ported over.
Phil Spencer should be ashamed. Standing right there on stage he addressed developers and told them it would take “no work on your part” to port their games over. So why are only a dozen games supported and why will it take until Christmas to boost the list higher?
What a lie.