Both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are expected to launch with backward compatibility, allowing gamers to play video games from previous console iterations on the new hardware, but emerging details imply that this crucial function might come with a pretty annoying catch.
Veteran gamers shouldn't need to worry about losing their prized library of PlayStation 4 or Xbox One games because both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are expected to run current-generation games. On Tuesday, however, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot suggested that future backward compatibility might extend to even older consoles.
"What will be new also in this industry is that those consoles will be running almost all the back-catalog of the previous consoles,” he said. “So it will be something new in the industry. It will help the old generation to continue to be big consoles on the market for the years to come."
This might sound exciting at face value, but anyone who still owns hard copies of original Xbox or PS2 games will probably need to pay for a subscription service just to play titles they already own. Therein lies the pretty significant catch for what's overwise an exciting feature.
The Xbox One already lets gamers run Xbox 360 discs, digital copies of Xbox 360 titles, and a select number of older games. The PS4 did not offer this feature because the console’s internal architecture was fundamentally different from the PS3 and didn’t support the older format. That won’t be an issue with the PS5, which may or may not give Sony an edge in the upcoming console war.
PlayStation lead system architect Mark Cerny revealed in April 2019 that the PS5 internals will be based on the PS4 architecture, and Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan confirmed that it'll be possible to even transfer PS4 save files to the PS5. Meanwhile, Microsoft teased in June 2019 that “four generations of content" will be playable on the Series X. It's unclear if digital copies of games already owned on a PS4 or Xbox One can be transferred over into the new consoles, but it seems unlikely.
Even gamers who have extensive disc libraries, however, might need to pay a fee just to play a game they already own, which was the case in previous generations.
PS5 likely won’t be able to run discs from the PS3 or anything older, based on what Cerny stated, so the only option might be PS5 digital re-releases of games from previous PlayStations. The hardware is just too different. The Xbox One had more robust backward compatibility, but there have been no signs that original Xbox games or Xbox 360 games will be playable on the Series X.
Here's where subscription services come into the mix, which winds up being the only way to play older games.
PlayStation Now ($5 a month) and Xbox Game Pass ($10 a month) are the companies’ leading subscription services that'll let gamers play older games for a fee. This might be slightly more affordable than buying a whole new game, but it’s still pretty annoying that a $60 purchase consumers made in the PlayStation 2 era has been essentially rendered worthless.
It comes as no surprise that Microsoft and Sony look to profit from gamers' nostalgia. Both next-gen consoles will technically be backward compatible, but they won’t be the throwback machines that long-time gamers have been yearning for. You won't be able to dig out original PlayStation discs to play your favorite games from the '90s. At best, you'll still have to buy a new digital version or find it on PlayStation Now.
If you’re still hanging onto your copy of Def Jam: Fight for NY with hopes you might be able play it on next-gen consoles, you’re better off dusting off your PS2 or OG Xbox unless you have spare money to throw around.
PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are expected to release in late 2020.