Sony executives Shawn Layden and Jim Ryan sat down with TIME to tout the PS4’s nearly 60 Million units sold, and to talk about the future of the platform. That is all they had to do. Instead, when the interviewer raised what seemed to be a throwaway question about bringing older titles to current gen consoles, Ryan gave a headline-grabbing response, and not in a good way.
Let’s get to what he said first:
“When we’ve dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much,” says Ryan. “That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”
Okay. There’s a lot to dissect here. First things first, he’s not completely wrong. Backwards compatibility is more of a vanity feature than anything. Is it preferred? Absolutely, I loved being able to play Halo 2 on my 360. I also probably played it about 10 times on my 360, because I had Halo 3 and about 50 0ther newer games to play.
Backwards compatibility, at first, isn’t necessary. Having it at launch doesn’t make sense. When I got my PS4, I didn’t hook it up and wish I could’ve plugged in COD 4, I wanted to play Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and Far Cry 4. Because those were new games, they were something different, and that’s why I got the console. For a company to rely too heavily on games they already released years ago is a mistake. It gives off a weak look, like they’re not confident enough in their current and future lineup of games to sell and perform well.
Ryan is also correct in asserting that backwards compatibility isn’t used much. PlayStation’s statistics do not lie to them. If they see that PS3 titles aren’t selling on PlayStation Now and PS2 titles aren’t selling on the PlayStation Store, then they will see no point in doubling down on hardware to perform the same function.
Sony President Shuhei Yoshida has said in the past that backwards compatibility is hard. I have no argument for this either. If the hardware is difficult or costly to make/implement, and it’s not going to add any real value to the console, there’s no point in spending money to add it. Especially when they can up the resolution, add some trophies, and sell the popular games to fans yet again. So Jim Ryan got a lot right in practice. Unfortunately for him, and Sony, he bumbled his way into criticism with those last few words.
To say “why would anybody play this” is just, well, dumb. Of course people would play Gran Turismo for the PS2, or Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox, or Ocarina of Time for the 64. People play old games for two major reasons:
- Nostalgia. They played the games as children or younger adults, and they want to revisit them from time to time to get that dose of nostalgic bliss.
- The game is actually good. People still play SSB Melee, and if you go on Twitch you can still find Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 speed runs right now. There are thousands more games in previous generations than the current one. I’m sure one or two of them are good, Jim.
Of course, these two things can work in tandem. When I finally plug my 64 back in and start up Ocarina, it’s going to be because it’s an incredible game, but I also remember watching my brother play it when I was three. It was one of my first video games. That’s part of why I love it.
Nostalgia is a powerful tool. It’s why Star Wars is still selling. It’s why they remade Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park. It’s why there’s 30,000 Final Fantasy games. People want continuity. Change is hard. It can work, but it can fail. A new IP from Ubisoft might not sell. A new Assassin’s Creed (a series without a good installment in years) will. Nostalgia works. Recycling works.
Saying “no backwards compatibility” is the ultimate trigger. Gamers want to know that if they get a new system they’ll be able to play all their old games. Even if they won’t play them. They simply want the ability to play these games. Backwards compatibility is a pop line. I guarantee that if at the Sony Press Conference this year at E3, Yoshida came out and said they’ve figured out how to integrate backwards compatibility in PS4’s and that an update was currently being released to activate this on all systems, the crowd would go nuts. That would outshine any new game they reveal. Would the crowd go home and start up their old games? Meh.
Here’s the thing– to say something like this so close to E3 is stupid. All he had to do was say “we’re happy with PlayStation Now and the players’ ability to buy PS2 games off the PlayStation Store. We’re looking into adding new games soon.” That’s it. No one looks at it, no one cares. No articles written about that comment and not the console selling 60 Million units. Console developers don’t have to focus on backwards compatibility. I had an Xbox 360 and a PS3, if I want to play a last gen game I’ll pop it in one of those. Even for someone who doesn’t have access to prior systems– port over the classics with a game streaming service and leave the two people left in the world who want to play Project: Snowblind to figure that out for themselves. Just don’t tell those people they can’t play it, and certainly don’t say “why would anyone play this?”
Of course people want to play old games. Ryan said people wouldn’t want to play old Gran Turismo games because they looked “ancient.” Just because the graphics of a game aren’t good doesn’t mean the game isn’t good. obviously. This comment speaks to a lack of connection between game executives and gamers. Pretty graphics and complicated game mechanics don’t make games good. Making games into movies doesn’t make games good. Sure, games can play like movies. Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us are prime examples. But here’s the catch: those games are actually fun to play. The gameplay is enjoyable and immersive. As gamers, we play first and watch second. We’d rather use our controllers or keyboards than watch cutscenes.
So, yes, Jim Ryan was right about backwards compatibility being underused and over hyped, but saying he’s completely uninterested in the concept, and that games people grew up loving aren’t good, is utter foolishness heading into the biggest game convention of the year. With XB1 offering backwards compatibility and Nintendo expected to reveal their plans for a virtual console, on top of their recently announced Classic Games Selection service, Jim Ryan’s comments are just handing them ammo they can use to take some easy shots.