We haven’t had backwards compatibility in our game consoles for very long – around just two generations. The desirability of the feature is so widespread, though, that people are willing to follow questionable instructions on the Internet to “unlock” the capability on their Xbox One consoles. The belief that this feature is intentionally hidden away not only shows just how much we want it to be true, but just how much Microsoft has damaged its reputation with its audience.
The last bastion of backwards compatibility on a new console is the Wii U’s ability to play Wii games. Chances are that you don’t have a Wii U, or you’ve felt nothing but regret since the purchase and can’t bear to look at it, or indeed you don’t have very many Wii games worth revisiting. The PS3 launched with PS2 and original PlayStation backwards compatibility, but it was quickly abandoned in order to cut costs. Now, the most efficient way to lead a backwards compatible life is to have one of those launch PS3 consoles, a Wii (backwards compatible with the GameCube), and an Xbox 360 (backwards compatible with a large swathe of Xbox games).
Your shiny new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One won’t allow you to reach back into the warm fuzzy memories of your gaming golden years, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. A prank that originated on 4chan has been tricking gamers longing for backwards compatibility into bricking their Xbox Ones in the hope of activating the feature.
The prank exploits a known vulnerability within the Xbox One framework. Each Xbox One can be activated as a dev kit via the box’s developer console. However, you need authorisation from Microsoft to do so. The graphic that has been floating around, pictured below, provides a simple set of instructions that will invoke the developer console, and claims to activate backwards compatibility once a certain ID is entered. That string of commands, though, will trap the Xbox One in an infinite loop of rebooting.
The prank is essentially the Xbox One version of the “delete system32” Windows prank that has graced the Internet since time immemorial. Most people who would run into that prank, though, are savvy enough to avoid the advice, while the people who aren’t savvy enough likely won’t even know how to find and remove the directory.
This Xbox One prank is a little more believable for a few reasons. A large part of the current-gen audience are younger people that grew up with consoles that are backwards compatible, and don’t remember a time when they weren’t.
After the whole Xbox 180 fiasco and draconian indie game policies (all of which have since been reversed), Microsoft damaged the trust level it has with its audience. A company that initially required the Xbox One to always be online and connected to an always-on camera that could see in the dark would certainly have the gall to hide away backwards compatibility, and not make it accessible. This sentiment is echoed by certain DLC practices wherein gamers have to pay extra to unlock content that is already stored on the disc they purchased for full price at retail. It’s not true, of course, but a portion of the public thinking it’s plausible enough to try the above prank speaks to its view regarding Microsoft’s practices.
Reports around the web claim that following the instructions will trap your Xbox One in an inescapable infinite reboot loop, while other reports claim you can actually get into the console and restore to factory default settings in order to fix the issue. Even if it is fixable, we’d advise that it’s best not to find out.
For more on the Xbox One, see: Why the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One's homogeneity bodes ill for the future of the game console.