Backwards compatibility is one of the big missing features absent from both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One out of the box. The next-generation hardware arriving later this month is simply too different in terms of architecture to attempt including backwards compatibility as a core feature. And while Sony is promising to offer the ability to play older games next year through Gaikai, Microsoft isn’t for now, and probably won’t for this generation of hardware.
The way to offer backwards compatibility on a machine with a completely different architecture to the old games you are trying to support is via streaming. That’s what Sony is going to attempt to achieve, and it’s a big part of the reason the company acquired Gaikai last year. At some point in 2014, Sony is aiming to have older PlayStation titles streaming to a PS4.
Microsoft isn’t exactly new to the business of the cloud, and there’s even been a suggestion that the company is developing its own version of Gaikai based on Azure. But Albert Penello, senior director of Xbox product management and planning, has poured cold water on that theory – not because Microsoft can’t implement cloud streaming games, but because they shouldn’t.
In a recent interview, Penello explained that the implementation isn’t the issue, instead it’s the gamer’s unreliable Internet connection. Microsoft could spend a fortune setting up and running a Gaikai-like streaming service, but unless every gamer’s connection is fantastic, you won’t be playing streamed games at their best, and you will get a lot of complaints.
So instead, Microsoft seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach to backwards compatibility. For cloud streaming games to work we need better networks providing much more reliable Internet connections. Until then, Microsoft will just watch how Sony does with its promised roll out of Gaikai next year. If it turns out to be very popular and reliable, Microsoft will surely look more closely at the feature again. But for now, it seems like there are just too many problems for Microsoft to see it as a viable service.
For more on the cloud and Xbox One, see our examination of whether potentially frequent Xbox One cloud server reboots could affect gamers. You might also want to check out our piece on the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and why you should expect problems from day one.