Ars Technica's shocking report on Xbox One backward compatibility recently made the runs online to universal surprise. Briefly put, the analysis randomly sampled usage data from about 1 million active Xbox One Gamertags during a five month period. It was discovered that Xbox One users only spent 1.5 percent of usage time actually playing Xbox 360 backward compatible games. Ars Technica's chart as seen below paints a very interesting picture that can help to measure whether the much-hyped Xbox One backward compatibility program was really successful or not. As seen below, it appears that the much requested feature is not used all that much at the end.
The report got me thinking quite a bit as to why such a convenient feature is in such a low demand these days. Before anyone says that a report that was randomized and only included about 1 million users can't be trusted, I want to state that only opposing facts can now dispell this very plausible reality. The first attempt to discredit this report came from the Corporate VP of Xbox, Mike Ybarra himself. He failed to demonstrate the contrary, however, when he only stated,
Scraping some data off servers gives an inaccurate view of what people do.
Far from turning the tables, the weak statement from Ybarra only suggests that Ars Technica may be on the right track. All the Microsoft executive had to do was provide some brief data that could prove the contrary and show that backward compatibility is a feature that is in fact, heavily used. The fact that he did not give such data, suggests that the backward compatibility effort was not as rewarding to Microsoft and their investors as much as they all probably hoped it would. This report raises, in turn, a lot of questions as I admit that backward compatibility is one of the most desired features for all consoles and it goes way back. Many in the PlayStation camp would love to see some comparable backward compatibility on the PS4 in fact. So let's explore why the backward compatibility initiative on Xbox One is largely failing. Three main reasons will follow. Remasters, newer games and the problem of replay value.
Well, by the time that Microsoft's long-awaited Xbox One backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games launched on November 12, 2015, many of the greatest games from that generation were already available for purchase in superior versions. Old Xbox 360 titles and other even older ones in compilations such as The Halo: Master Chief Collection, Rare Replay, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto V, and many others were released on Xbox One with their best-looking and best performing versions yet. Many additional collections and remasters were known to becoming as well in the vein of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bioshock: The Collection or Batman: Return to Arkham. The better graphic resolution, frame rate and occasional added content for these remasters might have enticed those gamers, looking to play games from the past, to get these improved versions instead. After all, it looks like power and performance is all the rage if we are to measure that based on the tremendous hype for the Xbox Scorpio.
It makes one wonder whether backward compatibility would still be requested if the best games from the previous generation were re-released on this current one. That largely happened in fact, as the list of games I just provided are to date available for the Xbox One without needing to buy their old Xbox 360 versions. They also happen to be pretty much the best exclusives and third party games that released for Microsoft's platform last generation. It also doesn't help that Microsoft's consoles tend to have very few exclusives per generation and that the majority of the most popular ones already got ported to the Xbox One. There are some omissions of course, but are gamers waiting for those to get re-released perhaps? What could explain why backward compatibility is getting such a low amount of usage?
In addition, gamers sometimes get tired of certain franchises as seen by decreasing sales for the latest installments from Halo, Gears and Forza when compared to their last generation's various entries' performance. So there comes a point when gamers just seem to be wanting to look forward to the future for new experiences. Some games from the past also get into serious trouble value wise if they feel outdated thanks to the newer entries. That makes looking for older games a much less desirable prospect. Finally, there is also the issue of replay value and all gamers probably have quite a list of games that they enjoyed but would never really replay. How many Xbox 360 games are there that actually have a high degree of replay value and did not yet get an Xbox One remastered release? That is another question to ask.
In conclusion, The Xbox One backward compatibility program is failing based on the Ars Technica report most likely because of the abundance of remasters, newer games and the problem of replay value. All three of these reasons likely eclipse any desire for gamers to truly want to play the exact version of last generation's greatest games. Any true fan of a specific game would love to buy a definitive version of that same game if released. That is because a remastered often will give your favorite game the best look yet, best performance, occasionally all previously released DLC and even additional new features. That all may be worth the new price tag even if a little big more pricey. Furthermore, The majority of the best Xbox 360 games are currently already on Xbox One with some fine looking remasters or collections.
Then, with a never ending stream of game reveals and exciting new IPs, it is also very hard to keep excitement levels high for old games. After all, one needs to justify the purchase of new hardware by making the most of what's new and hot. Finally, there is the problem of replay value. In general, most old games quickly get outdated by the newest ones in gameplay mechanics and such. Those that have put this to the test like myself have learned this the hard way sometimes. That in itself, may be a further reason for why gamers might prefer a remaster over paying less for an old game. At least the new version looks and plays better.
I'm not stating here that backward compatibility is useless and should be removed at all. I don't doubt that some Xbox users are enjoying it. However, it is very clear and likely that as a whole it is a feature that is barely used and with the consequence that Microsoft executives may not be able to justify it in the future. As it stands, the Xbox One backward compatibility is largely a failure and did not help the Xbox close any distances with its strongest competition either.
As always, please share your thoughts below. I believe that the current developments may shape the feature of backward compatibility greatly.