Xbox originally thought backwards compatibility was impossible


‘The team never gave up’

Microsoft’s E3 announcement that the Xbox One would be backwards compatible was a big one for fans who have thousands of dollars invested in the last generation of gaming. Two years ago, many struggled with the idea that their library would languish in a bygone era, never to be played again. At the time, Microsoft insisted that the architecture of the Xbox One made backwards compatibility an impossibility.

In a meeting with Microsoft at E3, an Xbox representative said that was truly the company’s thought process around Xbox One’s launch. “At the time, we really thought [backwards compatibility] was [an impossibility],” she said. “But, the team never gave up on wanting to do it, and it’s an unbelievably brilliant team. What happened was they just took a different attack on it, and never gave up on the dream of being able to do it for our fans. Fans continued to vote it up on User Voice and that let the team keep faith that we could make it happen.”

Their altered plan of attack clearly worked, as backwards compatibility is now a reality. A fair contingent have already had the opportunity to test it out for themselves, as several titles are available for Preview members. Because I’ve been wrapped up at E3, I hadn’t gotten to see it in action until a presentation today.

To be blunt, I was sort of astonished to watch the Xbox One transform into an Xbox 360. With a simultaneous press of the menu and view buttons, the Xbox 360’s guide pops up — yes, the exact one that still exists on the legacy console. From there, it’s fully functional to look at friends, launch games, view Achievements — all that stuff that everyone’s already familiar with.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of backwards compatibility is its cross-platform ability. The presenter stressed that, because this is essentially an Xbox 360 running off of an Xbox One, anyone can play and chat with friends who are on 360. That’s a nice way to bridge the gap for those whose friends haven’t taken the “next-gen” plunge yet.

But, just because it’s acting as an Xbox 360 doesn’t mean that it forfeits the perks of still being an Xbox One. The system’s sharing and broadcasting features remain live, so snapping screenshots, capturing video, and Twitch broadcasting are all available options. Have your cake, eat it too.

While all this seems great, one has to wonder how on-board third-party publishers will be with the feature. After all, they aren’t making money if you’re playing a game you already own. In an age of remaster after remaster, you have to think that it’s a more alluring prospect to opt out of backwards compatibility and re-release a game at a higher visual fidelity and — more importantly to publishers — a price tag.

However, Xbox doesn’t necessarily think this will be the case. Or, at least it hopes it won’t be. One representative went so far as to suggest that companies will use backwards compatibility to grow their brands. “Our group doesn’t talk to the publishers directly, but if you listen to what Bethesda had to say on-stage on Monday where you get Fallout 3 for free if you buy Fallout 4, I think they’ll do things like that to encourage customers to buy the latest games and to get into the IP. They want more people in the IP to grow their audience, not just the same people coming back. I think it’s a good channel for them to be able to do things like that,” he said.

Microsoft’s intentions for backwards compatibility appear earnest and sincere, but all these advancements make it sort of seem like the Xbox 360 is an obsolete machine. When I asked if consumers can just throw away their 360s after backwards compatibility is fully up and running, the presenters laughed and said “We wouldn’t advocate throwing them away! But, like Phil said at the conference, now’s the time for 360 customers to upgrade to Xbox One. We want them to say ‘everything’s there for me. Let’s go.’”