Jim Ryan has been appointed the new President and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, and PlayStation fans are worried. The divisive executive has been with the Japanese giant since the beginning, playing a key role in the company’s dominance of the European continent. But he’s also said a couple of silly things to the media, like blaming the PlayStation 4’s lack of console cross-play on the fact that it needs to think of the children. Frankly, he should have got bonus points for using a Simpsons reference in that shoddy piece of PR spin.
The biggest reason for Ryan ire, though, is an off-the-cuff remark he made about backwards compatibility. The executive has been quoted as asking why anyone would play older games, but there was context to what he was talking about. Here’s the full quote: “I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had [the] PSone, PS2, PS3, and PS4 games, and the PSone and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, why would anybody play this?” It’s a clumsy comment to say the least, but there’s no doubt that certain genres of game age less gracefully than others. Would you honestly pick FIFA International Soccer over FIFA 19?
Of course, some feel that Ryan’s promotion means that backwards compatibility will now be impossible for the PlayStation 5, but we reckon that’s an overreaction of the highest magnitude. In fact, we’ve noticed for a few months that there’s scepticism surrounding the oft-requested feature, and we’ve found it bemusing. Now obviously it hasn’t gone to the same lengths that Microsoft has in terms of bringing legacy software to the PS4, but we think it’s idiotic to assume it’ll have the same priorities next-gen. In fact, there’s more reason to believe the PS5 will be backwards compatible than won’t, so let’s look at the facts.
The Architecture Will Allow It
Look, we’re not hardware engineers and we’re not going to pretend that we are – there’s Digital Foundry for that. Nevertheless, we do know that much was made of Sony’s decision to adopt an x86 architecture for the PS4. One of the reasons boffin Mark Cerny selected the x86 architecture is that it’s much easier for developers to work with, and that’s proved true – by all accounts, the company’s current console is a breeze to program for compared to the infinitely more awkward CELL architecture infamously leveraged by the PS3. The other reason? It’s future proof. This means that when the PS5 does arrive, it’s likely to be built upon the exact same architecture, meaning that it shouldn’t have any real issues running software originally written for the PS4.
The PlayStation Store Is a Cash Cow
Sony is making obscene sums of money from the PlayStation Store these days, and it’d be incompetent for it to forfeit the enormous library of software it’s cultivated this generation when transitioning to the PS5. While it’s true that it abandoned the PS3’s storefront, leaving all of those purchases in the past, it had no option due to the aforementioned CELL architecture issues. Moreover, the PS Store was not as established on the last-gen console as it is now – it wasn’t until the very last 18 months of the generation that titles launched day-and-date digitally on the system. People have much bigger digital libraries these days, and that comes with heightened expectations. Of course, there’s also incentive for the Japanese giant to make all of this software compatible with the PS5, as it’ll be able to monetise the games through store promotions far into the future, and that’s ultimately going to have more value to its bottom line than the occasional remake or remaster.
Service Games Are Big Business Now
The way people consume games is changing, and if we can see it, then so can the biggest gaming manufacturer in the world. The reality is that titles like Fortnite and Destiny transcend the traditional release model, where they’re almost platforms in and of themselves – evolving, updating, and changing constantly. While there may very well be PS5 “updates” for these games in the future, Sony is not going to force you to start from scratch. Many people invest heavily into these titles, purchasing Battle Passes and unlocking loot, and it’d be unacceptable for the manufacturer to make you reset your progress in these massively popular service-driven games. Backwards compatibility is one way it’ll allow these titles to persist into the new generation and beyond.
Sony’s Legacy with Backwards Compatibility Is Good
Oh how fickle we are! Sony has been painted as almost anti-backwards compatibility over the past five years, but its history with the feature is actually exceptional. Of the six major PlayStation platforms, there’s only two that have no form of backwards compatibility at all – and one of them is the PSone! If we look back, the PS2 could play all PSone titles; the PS3 initially could play all PSone and PS2 titles, and was later revised to purely play all PSone titles; the PSP could play select digital PSone titles; the PS Vita could play select digital PSone and PSP titles. It’s only really the PS4 that’s ditched this feature, but we’re confident that Sony would happily sell you digital PS3 games via the PS Store if the CELL architecture wasn’t such a headache. Obviously there’s still PlayStation Now which is an option, but that’s a different part of the discussion, so let’s leave that for now. The bottom line is that, historically, it’s actually been very supportive of backwards compatibility – perhaps more so than many of its competitors.
Jim Ryan Can’t Stop It
Even if we assume that Jim Ryan is an evil man who hates all old games, he can’t stop backwards compatibility at this point. We know that PS5 is deep into development, and the project is probably close to completion at this stage. By the time the former PlayStation Europe executive takes his new post at the top of the tree on 1st April, he won’t have the time or opportunity to make any meaningful changes to it. So even if you do prefer Gran Turismo 2 to Gran Turismo Sport, just don’t worry about it – backwards compatibility with the PS4 at the very least will be available on the PS5, we promise.
Are you worried about backwards compatibility on the PS5, or do you think it will play PS4 games just fine? Will you switch to another console brand if the PS5 doesn't have backwards compatibility, even though that won't play your old PlayStation games either? Panic about Uncle Jim in the comments section below.