Backwards compatibility continues to influence Xbox

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When the Xbox One was announced in 2013, folks with massive libraries on the 360 as well as dating back to the OG Xbox were let down when told that the upcoming console wouldn’t feature backwards compatibility. Fast forward to 2015, Microsoft announced backwards compatibility to the rejoice of their user base.

It’s this turnaround that continues to echo in the thoughts of Jason Ronald, Xbox’s director of program management and the principal director of the platform’s backwards compatibility program. In an interview with Techradar, Ronald recalls the challenges presented in making older games playable on modern hardware, and how successes have played into the ongoing concern for game preservation.

“When we announced it – it’s probably the biggest reaction I’ve ever seen at one of our press conferences,” Ronald said. “It just really gave confidence to the team. Like, we’re on the right path. We’re listening to the fans, we’re listening to the community, and they love what we’re doing. And that’s really been what’s powered the entire backward compatibility program since then.”

In the past, most consumers accepted that consoles weren’t backwards compatibile with older software, moreso if it was their first console. (“Few people mourn the classics when they aren’t a part of their own past.” – Ed) That’s despite the fact that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 initially made older games a part of their portfolio, ensuring fans could come back to the games they knew and loved.

For Ronald and his team, answering these desires continues to be a challenge. When people made games, the focus was to make their work compatible with contemporary hardware. There was no consideration of whether a game was forward compatible with future hardware, yet getting games to do so has become a major part of his team’s contributions to the Xbox platform.

Backwards Compatibility

The most recent drop for the back-comp team was back in November 2021, when 70 plus titles were added to the backwards compatibility program. The drop was accompanied by a statement from compatibility program lead Peggy Lo who said that they had reached “reached the limit” of what was legally and technically possible.

“This latest and final addition of 70+ titles to the backwards compatibility program was only possible through the passion and feedback from the community,” Lo explained. “Your constant requests for specific titles and enhancements encouraged the Backwards Compatibility team to partner with the original creators to preserve thousands of games from over four generations of Xbox.”

Moving forward, Microsoft’s stand on backwards compatibility for games is now a must. People want the gaming landscape to move forward but they also want to keep the games they’ve had for so long and keep them from getting lost. Ronald assures fans that backwards compatibility will continue to be an influence regarding future consoles and beyond.

“When designing the Xbox Series X and S, backward compatibility was a tenant of the program from day one and actually influenced the design of the silicon, the design of the hardware. It was like, ‘Okay, how do we make sure that these games not only work but play better than ever before.’ So absolutely, as we think about future devices, as we think about future platforms, we’re always thinking about what unique things can we do to enhance or optimize these games.”

Sources: Techradar, The Verge