Addressing Backwards Compatibility: A Response to PS4 Exec’s Misguided Statement

Recently in an interview with Time, Sony PlayStation Europe head Jim Ryan was asked about where the PS4 stands in regard to backwards compatibility, a much-requested feature. He stated:...
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Recently in an interview with Time, Sony PlayStation Europe head Jim Ryan was asked about where the PS4 stands in regard to backwards compatibility, a much-requested feature. He stated: “When we’ve dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much[..]that, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”

Imagine talking to someone who you just met, and they ask you what kind of movies you like. You respond, “Oh, I like a lot of silent movies. You know, like Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin”. The person looks at you with a confused expression and says, “What are you watching those old movies for? New movies look so much better! Plus, there’s sound!” It would probably be difficult to respond to such a ridiculous statement.

If Sony feels as if though the market for backwards compatibility is smaller than the demand, which makes it financially unfeasible, that they simply make more money by reselling “optimized” titles,  or that they see more success by shoving their ridiculously priced and, in my experience, broken PS Now streaming service in your face, I get it. Even if I don’t agree with their decisions, I get it. I get it, Sony, but, please, don’t claim that the customer doesn’t know what they want, and don’t devalue the legacy of gaming so arrogantly. Jim Ryan’s views obviously do not represent Sony’s opinions as a whole, but they complement a very annoying misconception regarding the value of video games as existing art, with a past and present.

Merchants of ROM Files

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Considering the recent craze over Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition, it’s downright weird for a Sony official to take such a flippant stance on a matter such as backwards compatibility.

There is a common misconception that Nintendo has made digital backwards compatibility convoluted, because it’s not in demand. It’s actually the opposite. Nintendo’s decision to repeatedly not allow transfer of Virtual Console titles between different devices, forcing a new purchase of the same game for every new console, and the lack of a virtual console on the Nintendo Switch, is quite deliberate. Nintendo likes keeping old console ROMs hostage until they have found the best way to make the most profit out of them per sale, but only if their demands are met.

Given the success of the original Virtual Console on the Wii and then 3DS, plus the rise of ROM file piracy and emulation, Nintendo knows that there is a demand. So, they’d rather find a cleverer way to make their audience buy the same 30-year-old 32 kilobyte ROM file for the millionth time. Nostalgia is big and Nintendo controls the market on gaming nostalgia; they will try to squeeze every single penny out of every single old game that they can, as is their right. This shows that the market for retro gaming, if tapped appropriately, is present and profitable.

Additionally, when you consider that Microsoft’s Xbox One supports a huge digital library of Xbox 360 games, the assumption that no one wants to play older games simply because they’re old is clearly ridiculous. With Xbox One, if you own a copy of an X360 game on disc, you don’t even have to re-purchase it. The digital port of the game is a complimentary offer, respecting that you still own the game you spent money on. It encourages people to be invested in their brand, and to trust future purchases made on the system, and possibly the next one. It took Xbox for their poorly marketed and executed implementation of always-online DRM nonsense to make them actually listen to what consumers wanted, and try their best to make them happy in a way that benefits both parties. Perhaps PlayStation needs the same kind of failure to want to do better, as this seems to be a recurring pattern here.

The notion of telling consumers who know what they want that you know what’s better for them is insulting enough, but the insult further metastasizes into an overall slander of the entire history of video games and the people involved within it. Of course, I understand that this sentiment is backed by a corporation’s want for more money, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but, they’re not admitting that this is a financial decision. Instead, they’re perpetuating the concept that the artistic and entertainment value of a game is dependent on what is currently being sold. By valuing only what they want you to buy right now, gaming corporations are further hammering down the image of video games as disposable toys, and not recognizing them as the beautiful mixed-media pieces of art that they are or have the potential to be.

Taking a Step Back

Now, we know that there is a large and loud community of gamers who obsess over nothing but the graphical prowess of any given game and consider random technological benchmarks as a factually accurate measurement of “good”, ignoring all other aspects that make a game what it is. Ignoring, also, that terms like Blast Processing, or Meta-phasic shielding or whatever, are marketing ploys to make you buy more shit. If you are one of these people, knock yourself out, but you don’t know what you’re missing behind anti-aliased bars.

I would encourage you to give all games a try, regardless of when they came out. I do realize that some games, especially from the early 3D era, have controls that are less intuitive than what we are used to these days, but this is hardly the point when gauging the value of the game’s existence as a whole.

You wouldn’t consider a century old novel not worth reading, if it doesn’t use modern slang, would you? Or if it comes from a time of different traditions and morals compared to today’s? Going back to my first comparison, would you question why anyone would watch a movie from the silent era just because we have sound now? Maybe you would, but that’s fine. The point here is that if your evaluation of a game’s worth is based solely on modern technological criteria, because an executive told you so, it creates a pathway paved with nothing of lasting meaning.

Maxwell N has a lot of opinions that he likes writing about. You might think he's done with an opinion, but oh no, here he comes with another one. Oh, look at that, another one, it's like he's possessed! Somebody call a priest, I think the devil has this child! YOUR MOM PLAYS SONIC RIDERS IN HELL
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