Xbox One Backwards Compatibility: Party balloons, or alarm bells?

XboxOne_4Microsoft’s announced that the Xbox One will get backwards compatibility with a selection of Xbox 360 titles. Is it time to break out the party balloons? Not quite.
My, what an odd line for me to write. After all, I love me some retro games, and by dint of being the “previous” generation, Xbox 360 titles could be considered “retro” by some.
You’ll forgive me, I’m sure, if I openly weep at the idea that Xbox 360 games are “retro”. I still have enough trouble of thinking of original Playstation games as “retro”. I’m clearly not ready for this kind of thinking just yet.
Still, while the initial list of titles isn’t huge — I’ve written about it over at Lifehacker here — it’s a promising step if you want to play older titles… at least in theory.
Microsoft’s promising “more than 100 titles” that will get the BC treatment when it launches for everyday Xbox One users by the end of the year, but there’s some warning klaxons that I think it’s fair to sound.

Klaxon One: 100 titles isn’t that many

100 is a nice round number, and without a doubt it expands the Xbox One games library considerably. It’s also a beautiful punch straight in Sony’s snout, because while it charges for its still-to-be-formally-announced-watch-everyone-in-Sony-Australia-squirm-if-you-even-mention-it Playstation Now service, backwards compatibility on Xbox One will be free for geniune game owners. But 100 titles over the vast library of actual Xbox 360 titles is a drop in the bucket.
Or in other words, I suspect the odds of the best Xbox 360 title, bar none, Earth Defense Force: 2017 being backwards compatible isn’t high. Dammit.

Klaxon Two: Compatible to what degree?

Compatible can mean “works”, or it can mean “functions”, and they’re different things. We’ve been down this path before with Microsoft and backwards compatibility when it made the slightly less graceful jump from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360. Backwards compatibility was promised, and it was delivered, but in a piecemeal fashion, with some titles working flawlessly and others being hopelessly addled messes.
If you’re keen on a particular older 360 title that does end up on the compatibility list, there’s no absolute guarantee that absolutely every single frame of gameplay will come across intact. It’s reasonable to expect that if Microsoft says it runs, it’ll at least install, but at the same time I doubt they’ll be putting in the thousands of hours of QA necessary to test every last possibility within every title.

Klaxon Three: Publishers might nix the good stuff

The news that backwards compatibility is coming has seen a lot of reaction online to the effect of “damn! I just got rid of my 360 titles!”. As such, you can expect some 360 titles to experience a bit of a second-hand resurgence now that they’ll be playable.
As always with second-hand titles, publishers see none of that money. While it’s feasible they might make a little spare cash out of any DLC for certain titles, it’s equally likely that they’d squash BC for any title that competed with their shiny new IP, or for that matter an HD “remake” of an existing title. You can bet that older Maddens, FIFAs and so on won’t be compatible, although the case there for interest is arguably a bit lower anyway. But if there’s a new, Xbox One version of an existing 360 title coming out, or even in possible development, I could easily see publishers explicitly telling Microsoft to leave those titles in the past so they can flog the new version of their older games.
It’s early days yet, of course, and Microsoft could surprise me. I’m rather hoping that they do, but I’m equally aware that the E3 stage is one that’s much more about hype than it is solid reality.
Oh, and naturally, I’ll be buying Rare Replay the very first nanosecond it becomes available, even though I already own Snake Rattle N Roll and Blast Corps already. Also Digger T Rocks, now that I think of it.

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