Sony reveals disappointing backwards compatibility for PS5


Sony is getting ready to launch the PlayStation 5 later this year, as millions of gamers worldwide already now. And last week the Japanese company revealed a flurry of information about its upcoming console, including details about how backwards compatibility will work on the new member of the PlayStation family.

This occurred during “The Road to PS5” livestream, in which Mark Cerny (who’s the PlayStation’s lead architect) revealed a wealth of new information about the machine, including what to expect when it comes to backwards compatibility with older generation PlayStation games.

The man also explained the difficulties of running PS4 games on a console that’s much faster than the PS4, as the PS5 works at much higher frequencies than Sony’s current-gen console.

“The [frequency] boost is truly massive this time around and some game code just can’t handle it. Testing has to be done on a title by title basis. Results are excellent though. We recently took a look at the top 100 PlayStation 4 titles as ranked by playtime and we’re expecting almost all of them to be playable at launch on PlayStation 5“, said Cerny (via GameSpot).

Sony later added to this in a blog post, saying that it will continue testing and that it will “expand backwards compatibility coverage over time”.

However, this might take a significant amount of time taking into account more than 4,000 games have been released for the PS4 so far.

As an example, Microsoft announced its backwards compatibility program for Xbox One in June 2015 and began testing Xbox 360 games at the time, releasing patches so that these could run on the Xbox One. As of this date, though, only about a quarter of the roughly 2,500 games released for Xbox 360 are backwards compatible on the Xbox One.

Also, it’s clear that some may find Sony’s backwards compatibility plans for the PS5 slightly disappointing. Rumors doing the rounds before Sony’s announcement had painted a rosier picture of what backwards compatibility would be like on PS5, saying the new console would support not only PS4, but also PS3, PS2 and original PlayStation games at launch, but we now know this is not the case.

And it’s likely people had hoped the PS5 would at least run all PS4 games at launch but now it seems only the 100 most popular PS4 games will be playable.

And the reason for this appears to be how Sony is delivering backwards compatibility with its console this time around.

You see, while the PS4 wasn’t backwards compatible with PS3 games, Sony did deliver backwards compatibility with the PS3 at launch. It did this by including the PS2’s chip in the PS3, which is something which partly explains the PS3’s high launch price back in 2006.

Hardware backwards compatibility with PS2 was later removed from a later PS3 model in order to reduce costs, as Sony’s chief architect Mark Cerny explained during his Road to PS5 presentation, saying that the upcoming PS5 will achieve backwards compatibility in a better, more cost effective way.

“A better way is to incorporate any differences in the previous console’s logic into the new console’s custom chip. Meaning that, even as the technology evolves, the logic and feature set that the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro titles rely on is still available in backwards compatibility mode”, said Cerny. “One advantage of this strategy is that, once backwards compatibility is in the console, it’s in. It’s not as if a cost down will remove backwards compatibility like it did on PlayStation 3”, added the Sony man.

This means that should Sony release a cheaper, slimed down version of the PS5 later (like it did with the PS3 and PS4), this new edition of the console would still be backwards compatible with PS4.

However, while this way of achieving backwards compatibility is more cost effective, it requires that each game be individually tested, meaning it will be a while before most of the 4,000 PS4 games will be able to run on the PS5. And there’s no word of whether PS3, PS2 and original PlayStation games will someday be able to run on the new console.

Meanwhile, Microsoft seems to be quite a bit ahead of Sony when it comes to backwards compatibility.

Responding to Sony’s backwards compatibility plans for PS5, the Richmond company said that the entire catalog of Xbox One games will be playable on its upcoming Xbox Series X console at launch, as well as all currently backwards compatible games, as was recently reported on Metro. This includes Xbox 360 and original Xbox games, meaning Microsoft currently appears to be firmly ahead of Sony when it comes to older game compatibility on its next-gen console.

A consequence of this might be that PS4 owners sitting on the fence about upgrading to PS5 later this year might choose to hold on for a while and keep playing on PS4, especially taking into account that there are no PS5-only games announced yet, and that companies like Square Enix plan to support Sony’s current-gen console for a while yet.

I don’t see many of the 100 million plus PS4 owners switching teams and jumping on the Microsoft bandwagon though, even if the Xbox Series X is looking more attractive by the day. Microsoft’s console will not only run all Xbox One games at launch (vs only 100 PS4 games for the PS5), but has better specs overall, including bigger internal storage (1 TB vs PS5’s slightly smaller 825 MB of storage).

It will be interesting, then, to see how things will play out in the console war this year, and also how much of an impact the coronavirus crisis will have on console sales this year. There’s even a slim possibility that the PS5 and Xbox Series X could be delayed if there’s no end in sight to the global health crisis by the summer, but here’s hoping that this does not come to pass and both next-gen consoles roll out to retail stores this fall, and with the best backwards compatibility options too.

The Road to PS5 (Sony)