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Talking Point: What if the PS4 Is Not Backward Compatible?

Posted by Sammy Barker

Legacy support

It’s ironic that Sony has had such a tumultuous time with backward compatibility of late. In the transition from the PSone to the PlayStation 2, the platform holder essentially set the expectation for the feature moving forwards – but it hasn’t always managed to uphold that standard in recent years. Initial models of the PlayStation 3 included support for previous generation titles, before the technology was whipped out in order to cut costs. With the PlayStation 4 looming, what happens if the company’s latest machine isn’t compatible with its current library?

It’s a very real possibility for which we should all be prepared. As has grown increasingly obvious throughout the system’s lifespan, the PS3 is a complex beast. The much vaunted CELL processer – which dominated the early discussions surrounding the machine – has become something of a poisoned chalice for the console, drawing the best out of the manufacturer’s enormous stable of first-party developers, but causing complications and confusion among third-party teams. And its implementation may come back to haunt the company again.

Rumours suggest that Sony is switching to a PC-based architecture for its next system. While the details are understandably vague – and generally dull unless you’re a computer scientist – they almost unanimously agree that the CELL processor will be put out to pasture once the upcoming console arrives. That creates a rather unique (but not entirely unfamiliar) headache for the platform holder, as it’s forced to find creative ways to support legacy content.

In an interview with PSU.com late last year, When Vikings Attack developer Clever Beans emphasised the difficulty that the manufacturer is set to face moving forward. “As to whether the PS4 will be backward compatible, I would think that is something that would be very difficult to achieve,” director Martin Turton revealed when talking about the long-term future of his team’s PlayStation Network exclusive. It’s perhaps worth stressing that legacy PSone and (possibly) PS2 support shouldn’t be a problem – it’s the current generation that’s the real concern.

So, assuming that the platform holder is hindered by the PS3’s unruly architecture, what is the solution? Well, according to Turton – who stresses that he has no insider information on the PS4 – cloud-based streaming could be the answer. It’s a sensible response considering Sony’s recent high profile acquisition of Gaikai, but would the online focused option really make sense in the long term?

For many, backward compatibility is all about pulling out an old piece of software and having it work on a modern machine. It’s not clear how Gaikai and, subsequently, the PS4, could make that process seamless. For starters, the solution would rely on the end user having a strong Internet connection and a large bandwidth cap, which is not as prevalent in some parts of the world as it should be. But furthermore, Sony would need to concoct a clever method of detecting which titles people own, in order to assign them appropriate access to the cloud server. That doesn’t sound like a particularly cheap problem to solve. Furthermore, Sony would need to cover the cost of maintaining the servers that stream the content, cutting into its profit margins. If it does use cloud technology to tick the PS4’s backward compatibility box, you’d be incredibly naive to think that it would be free. A PlayStation Plus subscription would be required at the very least.

With the evident headaches and hassles depicted within, it’s worth pondering the importance of backward compatibility in the first place. For many, the consistency between systems can be a large factor in their decision to upgrade, but the importance is perhaps emphasised in a system’s early days. As a console’s library matures, the desire for legacy software begins to evaporate – but there’s always the appeal of knowing that you can return to old favourites at a later date.

Of course, the transition between the PS3 and PS4 will be unlike any other. While physical backward compatibility will once again take precedent, there’s also the digital space to consider this time around. Many of you will have accrued enormous PSN collections over the past six years, and it will be interesting to see what becomes of those. There’s no doubt that accounts will carry forward – and Trophies, friend relationships, and more with them – but if the manufacturer’s next platform is simply unable to emulate the CELL architecture, then does that mean that your digital purchases will be lost in the online ether too?

As the imminent announcement of the PS4 looms, it’s going to be interesting to see how the console deals with backward compatibility – if, indeed, it even does at all. Only you will be able to decide how important the functionality is to you, but based on what we know, we recommend keeping your expectations low.

Do you think that the PS4 will include backward compatibility? Will it affect your anticipation for the console if it doesn’t? Let us know in the comments section below.

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User Comments (36)

fchinaski

#1

fchinaski said:

For the first time, I'm not in the least worried about backward compatibility, but that's just because I plan to keep my PS3. My main concern is about how they are going to deal with trophies. It would be very nice to have all the PS3 trophies and new PS4 ones in one place. I hope they don't plan to mess with our PSN accounts, creating some kind of PS4 exclusive account or something.

ShogunRokAdmin

#2

ShogunRok said:

Admittedly I'd find it hard to pick up the PS4 at launch if it didn't feature backwards compatibility, unless the launch line up was spectacular. We've seen over and over again how it takes a little time for the greatest games to roll out on a new console, and without PS3 support I can't see me getting much use out of the system in the beginning.

Regardless I'm looking forward to seeing how Sony handle this, although I think it would be foolish for anyone to get their hopes up.

3Above

#3

3Above said:

At this point we need to realoze its to expensive and difficult to continue backwards compatiblilty. I thin we will see both Sony and Microsoft either provide streaming solutions for it or skip it all together. The early model PS3 demonstrates that its too expensive to have last gen hardware on board in the new console.

Hokori

#4

Hokori said:

Disc based games probably not, but I can't see them not doing it for digital buys! I mean if Nintendo can do it with weaker tech, I can't see why Sony couldn't with better

get2sammybAdmin

#5

get2sammyb said:

@fchinaski With regards to Trophies, I expect they'll carry forward no problem. (They work on the Vita, after all). I think the big thing will be whether they decide to "level the playing field" somehow. It doesn't exactly seem fair for someone starting their gaming life on PS4 to have an immediate disadvantage. Then again, it also doesn't seem right resetting existing players' tally. An interesting challenge for sure.

Splat

#6

Splat said:

I'm thinking seriously about about just getting a 500 GB PS3 to replace my 160 GB PS3 and just sticking with it for awhile.

I'm really in no rush for the PS4.

As for backward compatibility I wouldn't say it's a must but it sure would be nice to have. Now when it comes to trophies I'm going to be pretty upset if they don't carry over.

Paranoimia

#7

Paranoimia said:

Not at all bothered. If I want to keep playing PS3 games, I'll keep my PS3.

Historically, I've never kept a console more than a month after the new version arrives anyway - the only exception being that I still have my PSP, despite having a Vita.

I don't see why lack of b/c would hurt the PS4. It never hurt the 360. The feature is never 100% reliable anyway, so the resources would be better put to use making the PS4 the best it can be, for the best price.

Squiggle55

#8

Squiggle55 said:

I'll keep my ps3 like I do all my systems, but I'd still like to at least be able to bring my digital downloads with me to the ps4 in a perfect world.

but I'll get over it if it all stays behind. the big selling point for me to be an early adopter is going to be features. If they actually implement universal remote play with the Vita then that will be the dealmaker. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the seemlessness of remote play through a private direct connection simply depend on the power of the ps3/ps4, so they could potentially make the ps4 powerful enough to make remote play actually exist right?

Jaz007

#9

Jaz007 said:

@Splat If you can back up your data for your PS3 and you just want more memory than just grab 500GB hard drive for about 50$ and replace your 160GB hard drive in your current PS3 with it. It will be a lot cheaper than buying a new PS3. It's what I did with my 40GB PS3 when it ran out space.

Splat

#10

Splat said:

@Jaz007 - I have thought about that but I need a new controller and way to watch DVD's and Netflix in my room anyways. Plus it comes with AC 3 which I have been wanting to get as well. I'm thinking about taking all those birds out with one stone.

:)

hydeks

#11

hydeks said:

if PS4 is not backwards compatible, I would wait for the price to go down alot before buying it, main reason why I waited with the PS3 to go down in price alot, cause it wasn't backwards with PS2 and that upset me. As my view stands right now, Wii U is becoming more interesting to me than the PS4 right now, for some odd reason.

DarthDiggler

#13

DarthDiggler said:

@fchinaski The VITA and PS3 trophies are all showcased under Trophies on the XMB, they may add some more UI elements to sort and separate, Sony would be stupid to make any obstacles coming from PS3 to PS4 and considering there were none for PS VITA I doubt there will be for PS4.

Ruefrak

#14

Ruefrak said:

My gut feeling is that it is not going to be backward compatible. At least it won't be compatible with blu-ray discs for the PS3, but as other's have suggested, I think that downloaded titles from PSN will all work. I'm not sure how this will happen, but I think it explains their strong push over the past year for people to buy downloadable games. It also explains why PS+ is such an incredible deal. They know the new system won't be backward compatible but they also know that unless you have some sort of game lock-in, there's nothing to stop people from jumping ship to a competing platform. But if they can carry over all those PSN games they've purchased, that gives them incentive to stick with Sony.

hamispink

#15

hamispink said:

Because of the different architecture, I'm sure that the PS4 won't support actual hardware backwards compatibility. Though as the article suggests, lets not forget that Sony recently bought Gaikai, an online game streaming service company. I'm guessing that we will be able to stream our past purchases to the PS4.

Also, to those above guessing that only downloads will be supported and not discs, this doesn't make sense. The only difference between a downloaded game and a retail bluray game is the medium from which it is loaded. The PS4 will support bluray discs, so It would make sense that if they DID have backwards compatibility, it would support retail as well as downloads.

Slapshot

#16

Slapshot said:

Screw backwards compatibility. Save the hardware cost and give me a new system so I can play games that are much better than this generation at a cheaper price point.. This idea that all consoles need to have backwards compatibility is just asinine in my opinion.

3Above

#17

3Above said:

Please correct me if im wrong, but wouldnt emulation be required to play a downloadble ps3 game on ps4? It may turn out that our downloable games from PSn are what will be streamed. But as long as we have access to them i guess it wont matter how we get them exactly.

shingi_70

#18

shingi_70 said:

For digital content BC is a must. I would hope my XBLA/PSN investments would transfer over to the new system without problems.

3Above

#19

3Above said:

@Slapshot I starting to agree wiht you. its something we no longer need but have just come to expect. Why people would want to play old games on the new system is a little beyond me. Its like the people who work tirelessly to hack the Vita and highend smartphones just to play old NES games on it for the 18th time. Why waste brand new tech on old games?

moomoo

#20

moomoo said:

For what it's worth, Sony is releasing two high-quality new IPs this year with The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls, and if backwards compatiblity isn't offered (which is looking likely due to technological differences) then people without a PS3 are likely to buy a PS3 instead, since there are new games coming out for it anyway even though a new system is around.

Splat

#21

Splat said:

@3Above - Some of the most fun I have had my PS3 has been playing PS2 classics I missed out on. I mean sure they got the HD facelift but they are still older games and they are still great. I know that isn't exactly the same thing but I don't see how wanting to play older games is such a bad thing?

3Above

#23

3Above said:

@Splat Its not completely. But when we get too vocal about playing last gen games on next gen systems it ends up taking away from the new system. The xbox 360 didnt have backwards compatiblity for quite a while and it did fine. The first PS3s did have it and it actually may have casued detriment. I personally could live without it. I understand why people want it though but it might be time that we put less emphasis on it.

Alpha

#24

Alpha said:

@Jaz007 thats what i did too. i had a 500GB HDD lying around not using it. its got to be a good enough HDD or itll make the games lag when they are downloaded. happened to me. brand new or not hdd.

Zombie_Barioth

#25

Zombie_Barioth said:

Backwards compatibility isn't the be all end all but its something that should be included when possible. It definitely makes your console look more appealing when you can say people can play all their old favorites and their new ones on the same machine. Its an attractive feature and helps cut clutter if your the type that keeps their old console.

I'm not so worried about PS1 & PS2 games since PCs can emulate those, so Sony shouldn't have much trouble with that. I prefer physical games but that doesn't exactly help with PSN only games.

Savino

#26

Savino said:

I dont care!!! PS3 is a important piece of gaming history and I will not sell mine!!
It will be in my old consoles room, side by side with his generation brother, Wii and other great machines!!!

As long as I can access the PSN for a couple of years after ps4 launch I will be good with sony!

rjejr

#27

rjejr said:

I'm hopeing for PS2 disc compatibility as I haven't spent any money upgrading all my old PS2 games to HD yet. PS 1 would be nice as well as I have a bunch of those - mostly FF and other JRPGs - that my 2 sons are starting to get into.

Infurna

#29

Infurna said:

Come Playstation 4, I think we should start from scratch. It's a new console, so may as well do so

Scartbat

#30

Scartbat said:

I will be keeping my PS3 so if the PS4 does not have the function to play PS3 games that's fine.
Yes it's nice in the past to play your old games with up scaled visuals but like most the thrill of getting the older hardware out years later brings back good memory's. PS4 should move on and bring on a new era not live in the past.

SanderEvers

#31

SanderEvers said:

Yeah, they will add it to the first 250 consoles that they'll sell.

And remove it with a firmware update a year later.

Anyway, I'm not getting a PS4 if any of the following is the case:

1. It requires me to play online, all the time.
2. It binds gamediscs to accounts (like how they patented it)
3. It won't use discs.
4. It won't have BC.

NathanUC

#32

NathanUC said:

I wouldn't count on it. They've already mentioned they aren't going with a cell processor this time around. Mimicking that type of hardware would be fairly difficult and adding another chip to the console will likely cost too much.

If you want to play PS2 games, buy a PS2. If you want to play PS3 games, buy a PS3. If you want to play PS4 games, buy a PS4.

Scrible

#33

Scrible said:

Really who cares, I don't think it should be and don't care if it actually is or not, that's why its called the next gen, move on and get over it

Ginkgo

#34

Ginkgo said:

@Splat "I'm thinking seriously about about just getting a 500 GB PS3 to replace my 160 GB PS3 and just sticking with it for awhile." - Just repalce the hard drive. It is much cheaper and easy. My PS3 currently has 1TB.

Ginkgo

#35

Ginkgo said:

As for backwards compatibility, that would be fantastic, but it is not a deal breaker for me. If it doesn't have it, I will cope.

What I want out of the PS4 is breathtaking graphics first and foremost, but also way better camera, controls, internet connectivity, Movies, Tv and apps etc. There is so much it could do.

Backwards compatibility is good but way down the list. Honestly, I rarely go back to my old games. I would probably sell them with the PS3 when the time came.

Hetsumani

#36

Hetsumani said:

Backward compatibility is a feature I'm often excited about, but almost never use.

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