Skip to main content

Backwards compatibility should be industry priority, insists Xbox boss

Xbox Series X/S backwards compatibility
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has voiced concerns about the state of video game preservation, insisting that big players in the industry must come together to create backwards compatibility solutions to protect its history. 

Reported by GamesIndustry.biz, Spencer touched on the topic of backwards compatibility, stating: "I do worry a little bit about losing our artform and the history of it.

"As an industry, I would love it if we came together to help preserve the history of what our industry is about so we don't lose access to some of the things that got us to where we are today and built this industry. That would be a cool thing.”

Spencer added that Xbox Cloud Gaming, a feature available to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, could also prove essential to preserving older games in an easily accessible place. 

He went on to note, though, that games requiring specific controllers or peripherals, like the original Xbox’s Steel Battalion, would present more of a challenge to maintain. 

Preserving the past

Spencer’s comments aren’t just hot air, especially coming from Xbox’s point of view. Starting with the Xbox One, and continuing with Xbox Series X/S, the company has committed to backwards compatibility, releasing a steady stream of Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles over the past few years. These can be bought from the Microsoft Store or played physically if you own the game disk at no extra cost.

Sony and Nintendo have made similar if lesser efforts in recent years, too. The former’s PlayStation Now makes certain PS2, PS3 games available to play via cloud or direct download, while the latter’s Nintendo Switch Online subscription service allows for the playing of a collection of NES and SNES titles.

Nintendo Switch Online NES and SNES game selection

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Xbox has certainly set the standard, however, with certain backwards compatible titles benefiting from performance improvements and crisper textures. Not to mention that load times are vastly improved when played on the Xbox Series X/S thanks to the consoles’ rapid SSD.

There have been some concerns with how Nintendo, in particular, handles game preservation. The company struck gold with the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Console, a section of the consoles’ storefronts that let players download games from tons of older systems (even non-Nintendo ones) at reasonable prices. 

That’s now been greatly scaled back on the Switch, with a relatively limited amount of NES and SNES games playable exclusively over an internet connection.

Clearly more needs to be done in order to preserve a much wider scope of older titles with an affordable, perhaps more centralized format. Efforts such as ‘Mini’ consoles have proven popular in the last few years, but they are expensive novelty items prone to the wrath of scalpers. Here’s hoping the industry can form a coalition of sorts in the near future, as older consoles and games grow increasingly difficult to come by.