– Gordon Starr
With the recent release of the Xbox One and Playstation 4 there has been a lot of chatter about the issue of backwards compatibility. Microsoft, to the great applause of its fans, announced that the Xbox One would enable backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games. Obviously this was a stab at Sony during E3, a stunt designed to generate excitement about their product and increase their revenue. This, I believe, is the underlying problem with the next gen consoles—the persistent drive to make money rather than deliver quality gaming experiences.
Let’s get nostalgic for a moment and think back to some of our favourite console games. For me, I think of late nights at a friend’s house playing the Nintendo 64. Hours logged into Goldeneye, or Gauntlet Legends, Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and Mario Party. I think of coming home after school and getting into some Halo 1 and 2, playing split screen co-op and online at the same time. Basically the best console gaming experiences boiled down to a social activity that had elements of chance, skill, and cooperation.
I don’t mean to say that modern games don’t have these elements, many of them do, but somehow the console games of today lack a genuinely social and, I argue, fun element. Take the Halo example: the first two generations of that game had split screen co-op and multiplayer available. After that the Xbox generation jumped to Xbox 360 and started encouraging gamers to buy their own consoles, and their own discs. No longer could you show up at a friend’s place and play a few (or a hundred) rounds, trash talking and having a blast. Now you had to own the next gen console yourself to play online with friends, or dare I say it—trade off—on one console. This jump from having people in the same room sharing a gaming experience to shunting people into individual rooms and connecting online ultimately decreased the value of the games themselves. The games were undeniably getting better but they were becoming less fun to play.
Fast-forward into the newest, shiniest, and “most fun ever” console generation. Instead of producing console games that encourage socializing in real life, companies are making games that encourage you to be online to play. This means one console for one person, this means sitting alone, laughing into microphones, and not sharing your pizza. Not only that, games are shifting towards new models like “pay-to-win” and “pay-to-update” or even one of these and a monthly subscription. So when I hear Microsoft announce backwards compatibility I’m excited, sure, but it will be no substitute for a good philosophy of games. I know that this is yet another trick to sell me the newest and shiniest gadget only to be replaced in three to five years. Let’s be honest with ourselves people, you still have that N64 ready to go with four controllers in the basement, but the original Xbox was given away years ago.
To conclude, I would love to see a refocusing of efforts to make the console experience more social in nature as I always saw this element as their strength. New graphics, more loot, and shinier boxes will never be able to replace good old fun and good game philosophy. So keep an eye out for gimmicks like “backwards compatibility” and focus on your trash-talking instead—your friends need it.
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