Sony and Microsoft have been relentless over this generation of gaming consoles. The PS4 took a wide lead at the beginning of the race in 2013 when Microsoft announced a range of very unpopular features of the Xbox One such as lots of media capabilities, always connected and digital games which couldn't be resold or given to friends. Over the course of two years Microsoft has managed to become very competitive with the PS4 and has been laser focused on games and gamers.
At E3 earlier this week Microsoft dropped a huge surprise which was the Xbox One will be able to run Xbox 360 games. Developers would only need to allow this functionality and the rest would work seamlessly. Details have been trickling out concerning exactly how this feat was achieved and what games will be supported, but the fact this can be done at all remains an amazing accomplishment of the Xbox engineering team. Even Sony executives were shocked to hear of the backwards compatibility because they were well aware of how technically difficult it must have been to build this feature.
The root of the problem lies in the type of processors used to run last generation games (360 and PS3). These consoles were built with SPUs which are uniquely designed chipsets to run games fast and only games and apps designed especially for those chips. Running those games on current generation consoles would require a special program which can sit between the chipset and the old games to translate between the two, called an emulator.
While Microsoft has been developing emulation software for years in the form of Hyper-V which virtualizes operating systems on Windows. Since the Xbox One runs Windows at its core Microsoft built upon its virtualization expertise and created an emulator for the Xbox One to run 360 games. The primary goal of doing this comes down to performance because gaming demands high response and low lag, and it would initially seem Microsoft has done an amazing job of creating a 360 emulator to recreate 360 games without suffering performance losses.
In an interview with Eurogamer Sony executive Shuhei Yoshida said, "It was surprising," and "I didn't think it was possible. There must be lots of engineering effort. They talked about 100 games, but what kind of games will be included? Is it smaller games or big games? We don't know." When asked if the PS4 will gain backwards compatibility Yoshida said:
"It's going to be super challenging to do so. I never say never, but we have no plans."
What does this mean for gamers who are still on the fence about buying either an Xbox One or a PS4? Essentially the Xbox One has been delivering amazing features consistently month after month to Xbox users. Additionally Microsoft has been investing in big features which can only be achieved via massive technically prowess which Microsoft can provide. Any Xbox 360 owners who upgraded to a PS4 may be significantly more interested in getting an Xbox One now that they will be able to play their old games without needing to switch back and forth between their old and new consoles. Also the great new features on the Xbox One such as Game DVR, screenshots, game streaming, and more are possible with the Xbox 360 games.
To be completely fair Sony does have the PlayStation Now service which enables PS4 users to stream old titles to their new consoles however the service is not free and requires either a subscription or gamers must re-buy their old games. Ironically the two consoles have switched places when it comes to the different services and capabilities they provide. The Xbox One enables gamers to play their old games they already own, and the PS4 requires an internet connection and a fee for gamers to access the old games they already own. This stands as a great example of how competition can lead to great choice and value for the customer.