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FRONTBURNR | September 21, 2014

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PS4 is Not Backwards Compatible and That’s a Good Thing

| 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.



  1. Are you serious? We spend thousands of dollars on software and Sony and Microsoft set up ecosystems with Achievements and Trophies that carry over but we cant carry over our digital or physical games? Yet instead we are forced to re-purchase them “On-Demand” and you think that is a good thing?

    I can see why the PS4 might not be able to emulate the PS3, because Sony screwed themselves with the “Cell” processor. Why cant a 8 core, 8 gigs of memory PS4 emulate PS1/PS2 titles physically? I mean my PSP can do that, but not the PS4? I highly doubt the cost would be THAT great.

    Speaking of cost, you think they could have cut costs by sticking with a standard Duel Shock controller? Instead they add a bunch of worthless pricey tech. I could see a need for 4-6 gigs of DDR5, but 8? That is expensive memory and probably wont be used much. If Sony wanted to save the consumers money, they could have cut a bit from that in my opinion.

    As someone who owns all the current consoles, even a Wii U, I’m not planning on having 10 consoles hooked up to my TV just because I want to play a last gen game. I shouldn’t have to. If Microsoft were smart, they’d allow full backwards compatibility with physical disks on the next Xbox, that would totally one up Sony.

    • I believe I did say that Sony will need to find a way to honor the digital purchases from PS3 and PSN in order to not alienate their current fans.

    • There’s still nothing that says backward compatibility isn’t eventually going to be available, just that it’s not going to be available at launch with current versions of content. If you’ve ever used streaming services like Gaikai or OnLive, there’s a ton of potential just waiting to be tapped.

      • Having to pay for games you already bought, just for the right to stream them, not actually own them, is a ripoff. There is a reason OnLive isn’t popular, same with Gaikai.

        • No one’s saying you’ll have to pay for them again.

    • Wow, how biased of a fanboy can you be? Everyone agrees that 8GB of fast memory is a great thing, including every game developer. It future-proofs the console, and ensures that developers have plenty of room to realize their visions without being bottlenecked by lack of RAM. You sound like a jealous fanboy who’s trying to make excuses about the next Xbox having slower RAM, and less RAM overall for game developers to use.

      Backwards compatibility is a good thing, but it’s not a make-or-break deal for the PS4. Stop exaggerating how important it is just because PS4 doesn’t (currently have it). Most likely the Xbox 720 won’t have backwards compatibility either, since it’s using the same x86 architecture as the PS4. Will you criticize Microsoft also for not having built-in backwards compatibility? My guess is no, because you’re a biased fanboy.

      By the way, the Xbox 360 didn’t have true backwards compatibility either. Only some games were compatible. Many big games, including DOOM 3 and Splinter Cell 3, were not compatible. Did you even really care? The answer is probably no. You’re just pretend you care right now because you’re trying to bash Sony.

      Good job, fanboy.

  2. Here’s the biggest kicker: Everyone is so hung up on the headlines that PS4 won’t be backward compatible, but given that Sony purchased Gaikai, how exactly do you not expect previous content to be made available again via Gaikai’s instant streaming capabilities?

    If you read this post on IGN you can clearly see that Sony’s pretty much hinting that things will be available later down the road, just not immediately at launch. PSN’s store is a rich user interface that remembers purchases made on your account and could easily be set to unlock newer compatible versions of content you’ve already purchased as soon as it’s available on the new platform (think like Cross Buy, or how tables purchased for PS3 Zen Pinball 2 were available on PS Vita).

    People need to quit with the immediate doomsday prophecies and wait to see what happens once the console is in our living rooms.

    On top of that, Sony already wins this war because there’s absolutely no doubt that the new Xbox will use Blu Ray, so that means Sony’s getting a small cut of every Xbox sold.

    Microsoft is going to have one hell of an E3 this year just to stay competitive with the monster that is PlayStation. PS2 beat Xbox, 360 beat PS3, from where I’m sitting it looks like this generation is already swayed heavily in Sony’s favor.

  3. KT

    Backwards compatability is overvalued. I’ve owned basically every console since Intelevision and only gone back to play the previous generation a handful of times. Once you get involved with a new console and it’s games the old console becomes less appealing and forgotten pretty quickly.

    • Kamille

      then good for sharing your experience but you’re only one between millions of people so this means nothing. I play old games very often and not to mention that there is a market for digital and HD re-releases of old games… So how do you explain this? Are you going to deny that people care about old games? Because you can’t….

      But yeah, let’s keep going forward and forget about the past. Who even cares about history, right? People already forgotten about classics like Blade Runner (1982), Citizen Kane (1941), Metropolis (1927), right? What about music? Who still cares about Van Helen,Guns n Roses, Bon Jovi… Fuck em.

      You know, even Blu-ray has BC for DVD, why? Because it’s possible, that was one of its advantages, So you still have a choice between buying Blade Runner for $10 on DVD or paying like $35 for the blu-ray version but since you don’t care about stuff then that must mean that DVD BC on blu-ray is not necessary,,,,

      • Well, I didn’t know Itunes could play records or VHS tapes could be played through my Mac but I understand what you are saying. It all comes down to whether or not the technology valuation meets with the user demand for it. There is no question BC is a great feature and many users are drawn to it, but for most, the opening price increase if it was included does not warrant the feature. Sony has done their homework on this and is making a prudent decision.

      • Hey Kamille, guess what. You are one of between millions of people as well, so all of this right here, means nothing as well.

        Did you know that these best selling movies/songs that were VHS/Cassetes/Records also became best selling CDs/MP3s/DVDs/Blu-Rays? Oddly, quality content will remain purchasable no mater what platform it is on. Crazy, right?

        I don’t watch DVDs on my Blu-ray player. I want blu-rays on it. I don’t play PS1 or 2 games on my PS3. I play PS3 games. When the PS4 comes out, if I have an itch to play a PS3 game and my console dies, I’ll Gaikai it. I don’t need to have access to my 150 game library on a next gen system. Same with Xbox.It’ls next gen for a reason, not last gen/next gen.

        Not everyone has to be so entitled. It’s a radical thought, but you are the vocal minority.

        Have an awesome next gen!

  4. Isaac Segar

    As long as Sony makes a remake of metal gear solid for each new system it releases ill get over not having backwards compatiblity.

    • Kamille

      talking about being a tool….

  5. Shayde

    Couldn’t disagree more. Every one of my Xbox games worked on the 360 except one. It highly influenced my decision to buy the 360 instead of the PS3 (I had more PS2 games than Xbox) and it highly influences my decision to buy whatever they call the next Xbox.

    Not even allowing PSN purchases to follow through? Mighty petty.

    • Definitely a valid point. I will point out that upon launch of the Xbox 360, only 22% of the total Xbox library was made available for backwards compatibility (208/968), more were patched over time. I definitely believe as stated in the article they will need to solve for digital PS3 and PSN purchases if physical emulation cannot be afforded due to the complex architecture change from the cell processor to a more PC based model.

  6. I’m sorry but the decision not to have backwards compatibility in the ps4 is a deal breaker for me and heres why.
    1) if my ps3 breaks in the future and sony stop making the ps3. Then I’m screwed.
    2) My hdtv has only 3 hdmi sockets to plug into. Which I reserve 2 other slots for my pc and 360 ( or 720 when it releases) and I dont want yo have to keep disconnecting one just to plug my ps3 back up.
    3) my major reason. I dont care if sony purchased gaikai. They can go straight to hell if they think I’m going to repurchase all my games again.

    Because of this decision is the reason I wont be purchasing anymore games for the ps3 or buy the ps4

    • Kamille

      with M$ requiring an always online access, Nintendo’s lack of 3rd party and Sony not providing BC not even with digital tittles? Things are getting ridiculous when trying to chose a console.

      And from Sony I can understand the PS4 not having BC with PS3 games but not even with the PS1 and PS2 classics we bought off the PSN like Persona 3 or Suikoden? I mean, there are emulators on the PC made by fans and for free than can run games while looking better than HD Collections on freaking x86 architecture on machines that have lower specs than the PS4 for god’s sake! It’s obvious that what they really want is to sell us the same games again through Gaikai. And I bet they can even emulate the PS3 but since Sony fanboys are so gullible due to their extreme fanboyism then Sony knows that they can get away with this very easily.

    • bigevilworldwide

      Well then have fun since the next xbox isn’t BC either, guess you’ll just be sticking to PC then…Should probably stop buying 360 games

  7. Kris Buttar

    Consoles don’t last forever, when my PS3 inevitably dies am I supposed to buy one again just because PS3 games aren’t compatible with the PS4? as far as Im concerned there is no justifiable reason for a lack of BC

    • Kamille

      not to mention that as technology becomes better things should become even more convenient and not the the other way around. The reason of CD, DVD, Blu-ray having the same disc diameters was for ease of BC… But at the end, what a fucking lie. They just use any mean to make us keep buying and buying so FUCK CAPITALISM!

  8. I really appreciate everyone sharing their opinions! Definitely some great points. I’ll just ask this: Is it better to be able to price a console at a more affordable launch point so more users can experience the system or to add an expensive piece of functionality and development that will result in higher pricing that will not have the same impact? If you don’t think that matters when deciding how to go to market with a console, we’ll probably talk right past each other :)

  9. the added hardware to make BC possible would be in the 50-100 dollar range…and thats about what youll get for trading in a ps3…so yeah…and assuming everyone has the speed and bandwith limit to stream from gakai is way past hopeful….wont hurt ps4 in the long run but is definitely going to impact early sales especially with great games still coming out for ps3