Why Aren’t More Consoles Backward Compatible?

Posted: Nov 10 2017, 9:07pm CST | by , in Gaming


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Why Aren’t More Consoles Backward Compatible?

5 Reasons Modern Consoles Aren’t Backward Compatible

Modern gamers love nostalgia. Older generations lust after the consoles they grew up with (like the SNES), and younger generations want to catch up on all the games they missed. The problem is, modern consoles aren’t typically backward compatible, which means the playability of older games is instantly cut off, forcing gamers to jump to a new generation. On top of that, new projects that emulate games (like Nintendo’s short-supplied retro series) are few and far between.

Occasionally, you might come across a “remastered” version of one of your old favorites that’s been updated for a newer console, but that doesn’t give you the same nostalgic feeling that an older game–with its design, graphics, and engine intact–can.

There’s clearly demand for backward compatibility, especially since it wouldn’t interfere with the new console’s ability to play new games, so why aren’t more consoles backward compatible?

Motivations for Limited Compatibility

These are some of the most important reasons your latest video game console won’t play games from the previous generation:

1. Processing and heating. There are two main ways to play older games on a newer console: through hardware components or through software emulation. To create a new console that can play old games, you need to have the old console’s chips and processors available, which isn’t always problematic—Nintendo’s Wii system, for example, was very similar to the GameCube, and could therefore easily play GameCube games with a couple of tweaks. However, newer consoles are very sophisticated, and don’t have the room to add old console’s chips and processors. Even if they did, the additional components could introduce heating issues to the machines, and put an increased cost burden on each unit.

2. Project selection. Designing additions or changes in a new console to accommodate older games, or creating an emulator that can play old games through software takes time and money. Game and console developers have a finite number of resources, and need to allocate those resources responsibly through project portfolio management to ensure that the company stays profitable, and keeps working on the projects that are most likely to succeed. With so much attention on new consoles and new games, there simply aren’t enough free resources to justify prioritizing a retro-gaming feature.

3. Time management limits. Console developers are also under a perpetual time crunch. As much as gamers long for nostalgic gaming experiences, there’s an even bigger demand for what’s coming next—the bigger, better consoles and newer, prettier games of the future. Companies are competing with each other and trying to keep audiences happy by rolling out new material as quickly as possible—oftentimes that means leaving good ideas on the cutting room floor.

4. Secondary markets for used consoles. Used consoles and used games have generated a secondary market. These secondary markets aren’t necessarily good for game developers, but they aren’t necessarily bad, either. They tend to put older consoles in the hands of the people who truly want them at a lower price than it would cost to implement those hardware components in a new machine. That is to say, the secondary market naturally ensures that gamers interested in new consoles can sell their old ones for quick cash, and that gamers interested in older consoles have a steady supply of hardware to buy.

5. Scarcity value. That being said, there is a finite supply of consoles and games from previous generations. Over time, this leads to an increase in scarcity value. Gamers may overvalue games once they’ve been out of the limelight for long enough, representing more profitable opportunities for companies to capitalize on that nostalgia in the future—especially when components are cheaper.

Emulators and Profitability

If you’re a nostalgic gamer who wants to have more retro experiences, your best bet is to look for and buy the “retro” consoles designed specifically to replicate an older generation’s gaming experience (aside from buying the actual old consoles and games). If the companies that produce these consoles find them to be profitable, they’ll likely prioritize similar projects in the future, leading to more—and more affordable—retro gaming experiences for the masses.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/68" rel="author">Larry Alton</a>
Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.




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