Sony is dominating Microsoft when it comes to the video game
console wars. It’s no contest: Sony’s PlayStation 4 is
outselling Microsoft’s Xbox One by 2-to-1 in North
America. Things are more dire in Europe.
As Sony put it in a
recent interview with Time Magazine: “In Europe, it’s really
been fortress PlayStation by at least 3-to-1 in unit
There are a variety of reasons for Sony’s success with the
PlayStation 4, prime among them the $400 price point of the PS4
at launch — a $100 price drop compared to Microsoft’s $500 Xbox
One. Both consoles are dramatically less expensive now, yet Sony
maintains its sales lead month after month in no small
part due to the tremendous momentum it built early on.
But Microsoft’s been making smart moves to re-capture consumer
interest since the lukewarm launch of Xbox One in 2013. One of
the company’s smartest moves to date, in fact, is something that
Sony outright disregards: the concept of backwards compatibility.
The term itself is a snoozer, but what it means for you is
simple: The games you already own from previous consoles work on
the new one.
Announced in June 2015, Microsoft’s Xbox One is able to play a
huge portion of the Xbox 360 game library (so-called “backwards
compatibility”). If you already own the game digitally, you
simply download it to your Xbox One. If you own the disc, you put
it in your drive, download a digital copy of the game, and you’re
good to go. Maybe you just want to play a game from the previous
console that you don’t own? You can buy it through the Xbox One
and play it there.
It’s a service that few gamers will ever use. Just under 2%
of time spent by Xbox One owners using the console is spent
playing Xbox 360 games,
according to a recent study by Ars Technica.
This is actually the reason that Head of Global Sales and
Marketing at Sony International Entertainment Jim Ryan cited
asked by Time Magazine about a similar concept on PlayStation
4. With Sony’s rich history of games, from the first PlayStation
through to the PlayStation 3, why not introduce backwards
compatibility on the PS4?
“It is one of those features that is much requested, but not
actually used much,” Ryan said. He’s not wrong!
And yet, it’s a crucial sell point for the Xbox One that Sony is
choosing to ignore.
Florence Fu/Tech Insider
If owners aren’t actually using the feature, why bother
supporting it? The answer is simple: It makes people feel
If you’re one of the tens of millions of people who bought an
Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3, you no doubt spent even more money
buying into their game libraries. Maybe you bought a few games,
or maybe you bought dozens. Either way, those games become
distinctly less useful when you buy a new game console. For one,
it’s likely that you outright unplugged your older game console —
TVs only have so many inputs, and people only have so much space
in their home entertainment setups.
You could trade them in, but what if they were digital games?
With the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the vast majority of games
were available both in retail stores on disc and as downloadable
purchases. Do you just say goodbye to those games? The idea of a
persistent digital library has become more and more normalized
these days — when you move from an old phone to a new phone (or
an old tablet to a new tablet), there’s an expectation that your
digital software library will come with you (from games to apps
to music and beyond).
Microsoft is embracing this philosophy with its push toward
backwards compatibility. Sony, bizarrely, doesn’t seem to even
grok why backwards compatibility is important to players. While
Ryan is technically correct that few players actually use
backwards compatibility, the impact such a service has is one of
those un-quantifiable metrics that makes a tremendous difference
Say you’re a teenager asking your parents for a PlayStation
4 for a birthday present. Say your parents already bought you a
PlayStation 3 years earlier, and a smattering of $60 games. “Does
the PlayStation 4 play all those old games you own?” is a
reasonable question your parents could ask, and it cuts to the
heart of why something like backwards compatibility matters so
You may not care about those old games. You may never play them
again, in fact. But you paid for them, and the value of
being able to play them again is meaningful even if
you have no intention of actually playing them.
That Sony seemingly misses this concept now is strange at best —
this is a company that put backwards compatibility into every
PlayStation home console with the exception of its
most recent console, the PlayStation 4.
Things get even weirder when you see the rest of Ryan’s answer to
the question about backwards compatibility.
“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?,” he
told Time Magazine.
To be completely clear, this is the head of PlayStation’s global
marketing and sales expressing that he doesn’t understand why
anyone would want to play classic PlayStation games — games that
people grew up with, that hundreds of people worked to create,
that hold a special place in the hearts of millions. Beyond being
an outrageous thing to say from a
public-relations perspective, it demonstrates a lack of
understanding that reflects poorly on the entire PlayStation
team at Sony.
Carlo Allegri / Reuters
Support for backwards compatibility won’t turn around Microsoft’s
sales problem with the Xbox One, but it does set a strong
foundation for the future of Xbox as a digital platform.
More importantly, Sony’s lack of understanding the
importance of such a service puts Microsoft in a position to
reclaim the hearts and minds — and wallets — of game console
buyers in the long term.