PS4 is Not Backwards Compatible and That’s a Good Thing
Josh | On 21, Feb 2013
Last night’s PS4 reveal was perfect.
We did not see the console itself. Good. Means Sony is actually thinking. They built momentum without fully lifting up their proverbial skirt on every facet of their intentions. What was last night? As Ali said, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Microsoft, Valve, Apple, can only swing at a moving target that has already hit and run.
If you think the next-generation will be about the technical power of graphics and hardware, you are thinking like a console generation that is ready to be passed by. This is about a platform reflecting a social world, a connected world. Sony is providing the power to not just build better looking games but the power to share and participate in content dynamically.
The arguments circling around not showing the console, not seeing a debatable massive technical leap in graphics, are off target. However, there is one potential misstep Sony has made that consumers are grabbing hold of quite tightly and perhaps rightfully so: the lack of backwards compatibility.
I’ve bought more than my fair share of PS3 and PSN titles that reflect a dedication to the Sony brand. Why would Sony throw that back in my face as if my loyalty doesn’t matter? Well, in truth they are not. They have learned their lessons from the street fight of the seventh generation and are smarter for it.
The Playstation 2 dominated Microsoft’s Xbox by over six times worldwide sell-through. The Xbox 360 was another story, taking the once dominant market share away from Sony to nearly an even split in worldwide sales and a healthy North American lead. There are multiple dynamics at play in how this happened but none more important than this:
- Sony over-engineered the initial PS3 which led to an inflated launch price point and a heavy profit drain for the company
- The PS3 allowed the 360 to take a massive head start launching nearly a year after Microsoft’s console
It is not only a necessity for Sony to launch within the window of Microsoft’s next console but it is even more imperative to have a mass price point that is relevant to a broader consumer base to gain critical mass as quickly as possible.
Make no mistake, software emulation from a different architecture to a new system is very expensive. Their costs go up, so do yours. Only three, yes, three PS3 SKUs were backwards compatible with PS2 discs and only a year and half into the cycle were they in production. The vast majority of PS3s sold have not had this feature and it is no coincidence that the removal of backwards compatibility (along with declining part costs) led to lower price points on the console itself. This spurred the PS3′s sluggish start to catching up with Microsoft’s Xbox 360.
Fun fact: The Xbox 360 has very limited backwards compatibility and has been very successful. Only specific games were patched with this functionality and most were Microsoft-owned titles.
How much is trading in your PS3 worth to you? Do you think the meager trade-in value you will receive from your local merchant will not be offset with a higher price tag on the PS4 if emulation was baked into the platform?
The PS4 must launch at sub $500. This console will be more technically proficient, provide an enhanced social experience and be more friendly to developers for less than their PS3 launch price point seven years ago (without adjusting for inflation.)
Sony will not be able to keep up with the demand. They will not have to spend millions of dollars helping retailers markdown their inventory through a new pricing structure. The PS4 will be tremendously successful because they’ve been baptized through the fire of serious financial consequences.
Through this new cost-effective strategy, they will keep pace with their competitors. Developers will once again be drawn to develop unique and compelling experiences exclusively for the system from the outset. Consumers will reap the rewards from a profitable Sony that has proven themselves dedicated to invest right back into the gaming community.
How much is backwards compatibility worth to you again?
What Sony will need to do in order to not alienate their loyal consumer base is find a way to come through on their commitment to stream previous generation titles through their acquisition of Gaikai. A post-launch update that honors previous PSN and digital PS3 purchases, similar to any app-based product purchase, will go a long way to please fans.
One curve-ball remains: Microsoft. If Sony’s chief competitor, who built their previous system not from a unique cell-processor but from a common PC architecture, can in fact provide backwards compatibility without a tremendous cost increase, it would provide a nice windfall for Microsoft.
In the meantime, buy another HDMI cord or switch and don’t trade in your PS3. You and Sony will be better off for it.