The Xbox One backwards compatibility initiative announced at E3 in 2015 now supports just over 300 games. The BioShock trilogy is the latest set of high-profile titles to join the program, and Xbox boss Phil Spencer says the program is doing well.
Spencer took to Twitter to thank the Xbox community for supporting the program and remarked that “nearly 50% of all [Xbox One] owners playing [backwards compatibility] is nice to see.”
The Nintendo Wii U was the only system of the three major home consoles to support any kind of backwards compatibility out of the box. When Microsoft’s Xbox One struggled to keep up with the PlayStation 4, though, Microsoft started addressing fan concerns one after another. The biggest of these, and likely a monumental task, was bringing backwards compatibility to the system post-launch. Due to the way console game licenses worked during the previous generation of consoles, making backwards compatibility work wasn’t simply a matter of technical grunt work and man-hours. Game licenses – especially for games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and any game with lots of licensed music – didn’t account for being played on a system other than the one they were made for.
So Microsoft did the work of uniting the software and hardware but had to rely on publishers to allow them to put their games on the backwards compatibility program. Instead of seeing hundreds of games appear at once, we’ve watched games trickle out at an average of about 3 games per week.
Typically, backwards compatibility dies down on a system once there are enough games out there to keep people happy, but if Spencer’s numbers are accurate and not based on half-truths like including people who checked it out once on release day and never came back, then I think the trickle of games is responsible for the program’s continued popularity. When everything is backwards compatible, you end up with a huge list of games waiting to be played, and it’s impossible to get to them all.
Over the last year or so, I’ve spent significant time with Spelunky, Red Dead Redemption, Lumines, and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+, checking out each individually as they were added to the list, rather than simply putting them all on my metaphorical pile of digital games to be checked out at a later date.
In other words, we don’t get backwards compatibility as a giant monolith, but all these small reminders of games we loved playing, sending us back into them one at a time. While the Xbox One and PlayStation 4’s rolling upgrade cycle might do away with the need for backwards compatibility entirely, it seems like Microsoft has found a good way to make what was once a nice-to-have feature into something used regularly by a significant portion of its customers.