You may have heard the term “backward compatibility” when talking about current and next generation consoles. In particular, Microsoft’s addition of backward compatibility to the Xbox One made a splash in gaming circles.
You may be wondering what is the matter. What is Xbox Backward Compatibility?
Meaning of backward compatibility
The concept of backward compatibility is pretty simple. When a company releases a new version of a multimedia device, it can still play the multimedia files created for its predecessor. In some cases, it can also work with some accessories designed for an older machine.
Backward compatibility was fairly common in the past. For example, the Sega Genesis (aka MegaDrive) was actually compatible with the Sega Master System. All you needed was a cartridge adapter. Likewise, the PlayStation 2 was fully backward compatible with PlayStation 1 games.
This meant that there was no reason for the players to refuse to switch to the new console. They knew that their existing game library would work on the new machine.
However, backward compatibility can be difficult and costly when there are radical and fundamental differences in hardware between one generation of consoles and the next. Thanks to experimentation by console makers in the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 era, Xbox backward compatibility has been sidelined.
However, as the next generation of consoles strives to adhere to the architecture of the current generation, it could become a standard feature again from now on.
A summary of generations of Xbox consoles
There are three existing generations of Xbox consoles, the fourth generation will be popular at the time of writing:
- Xbox (now called the “Original Xbox”)
- Xbox 360
- Xbox One (including boosted Xbox One X)
- Xbox Series X (coming next generation)
Each of them has its own backward compatibility features. So let’s take a look at which games will run on which consoles.
Xbox backward compatibility with console
The original Xbox has no backward compatibility at all. This makes sense since this is the first generation of Xbox. It was released to compete with the PlayStation 2, so its games look and resemble most games from that era.
Xbox 360 is backward compatible with original Xbox games. However, it is not compatible with all of them. There is a fairly short list of original Xbox games that are certified to work on the Xbox 360. You will also need an Xbox 360 with a hard drive as compatibility for these games is added through system updates.
The Xbox One didn’t launch with backward compatibility, and no one expected it given how much the Xbox One hardware differs from the Xbox 360 hardware. Then Microsoft’s geniuses made a breakthrough with their Xbox 360 emulator and now there’s a long list of tested and certified Xbox 360 games and original Xbox games that will run on Xbox One.
As for the console that follows the Xbox One, it will almost certainly be backward compatible with Xbox One games, but the goal is to make this new console backward compatible with every previous generation of Xbox, according to the system’s developers. Time will tell if they succeed.
How to play backward compatible Xbox games
If you own an Xbox 360, then all you have to do to play the original Xbox games is insert the disc. That is, making sure you are using the latest version of the system software. You can also find original Xbox games as digital downloads on the Xbox Live store, but of course you’ll have to buy them.
The process is much the same. When you insert an Xbox 360 disc into your Xbox One, the console downloads a digital copy of the game that’s optimized to work with the Xbox 360 emulator on Xbox One. The disc itself is only used to confirm that you have a copy of the game.
If you’ve digitally purchased Xbox 360 games that are on the Backward Compatibility List, you can simply download them to your Xbox One. This does not require the original disc to be in the drive. If you put an Xbox 360 game on your Xbox One that isn’t on the Backward Compatibility List, you’ll receive an error message stating that the game isn’t working yet.
Be sure to update the system software if this title was added in the meantime. Although at the time of writing, Microsoft has suspended the certification project.
Limitations and things to bear in mind
Xbox One is not backward compatible with previous generation consoles on a hardware level. This means that emulation is used to play old games. Basically, it is a software technique that creates a virtual version of an old console, making the software think it is running on the original hardware.
Virtualizing an entire console requires significant processing power, which is why it’s impressive that the Xbox team was able to make it work so well given the limitations of the base Xbox model.
If you’re lucky enough to own one of the enhanced Xbox One X consoles, some Xbox 360 games offer the Xbox One X Enhanced mode. These games feature higher resolutions, faster and more stable frame rates, and generally perform much better than they ever did on the original consoles.
However, due to the use of emulation, it is unlikely that every previous generation game will be added to the list At least when it comes to Xbox One. With a more powerful generation of Xbox on the horizon, we may well see the list of compatible games expand dramatically.