The introduction of the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4, whatever they may be called, will be more than just a shift to new technology. Improved graphics, artificial intelligence, an emphasis on social networking, digital distribution, and streaming services are the pillars of the next round of big-budget game making. The mystery surrounding these unnamed commercial computers is what they won’t do. What aspects of console design will go the way of the dodo with the next round of machines? According to Electronic Arts, backwards compatibility – the ability to play games from the previous generation of console – is one common feature that will likely disappear.
“An important thing to remember is that next-gen consoles will most likely not be backwards compatible,” Electronic Arts CFO Blake Jorgensen said during a Tuesday question and answer session at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference. For Electronic Arts, the lack of backwards compatibility should help the company cut down costs, particularly on server maintenance. With backwards compatibility taken out of the new Microsoft and Sony consoles, it won’t have to maintain catalogue games’ online multiplayer for as long a time. EA has already increased the frequency of server closures.
The lack of backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 discs makes sense for both companies from a variety of business perspectives. In the case of Sony, since Orbis/PlayStation 4 is abandoning the PlayStation 3’s Cell process, backwards compatibility is likely impossible at a hardware level. More than that, though, Sony and Microsoft can resell many recent titles as digital downloads by not supporting physical copies.
According to EA, the decision will impact adoption of the new hardware in both positive and negative ways.
“[If] you [play] multiplayer on a game, you’ll most likely not be able to play with someone on a different generation,” said Jorgensen. “And so if you’re a FIFA player and the soccer season’s starting in August, and all your friends are playing FIFA, you’re going to want to be on the same box that they’re on. So if they all go out and buy a gen-four box [Ed: what EA is referring to is Xbox 720/PlayStation 4] if it comes out at Christmas, then you’ll most likely do it. If they all hold on and continue to play on third-generation, you’ll probably not see that box purchase until after the soccer season’s over. And I think that works for us positively in both ways. It helps us continue to sell gen-three products, and it will help us sell gen-four product as that cycle finally gets into place.”