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The Digital Game Store: The New Backwards Compatibility

Remaster, HD remix, Redigitized, whatever you want to call it, the re-release of games coming to the Digital Download age raises concern whether or not buying the digital download versions of previous generations games is the new backwards compatibility.

Alfredo Portillo Jr, Blogger

June 17, 2013

10 Min Read

The Digital Game Store: The New Backwards Compatibility – Alfredo Portillo Jr.

With the dawning of a new age in video game consoles, there has been the dramatic question of being able to play used games on the next gen consoles. Well this E3 2013 we got our answer from both Microsoft and Sony resulting in Sony’s answer springing them out to the early favorite in the latest console war.  While Microsoft stands stunned asking themselves the question if they made the wrong move restricting used games in the way they have, there is the question that remains that no one seems to be asking in what are we to do with our previous console games?  Both Microsoft and Sony have stated in earlier press conferences that neither system is backward compatible but players will be able to access game libraries for their previous console’s games through their digital stores.  Both have also mentioned that those with Xbox Live Gold accounts and PlayStation Plus accounts will have their existing purchases transfer over to the next gen consoles, so if you have purchased say Halo 4 through the Microsoft Store or Uncharted 3 from the PlayStation Store digitally, your purchase will be happily waiting for you on your Xbox One or PS4.  But because both systems are not backwards compatible, it has raised the question in my mind whether or not I should begin to make my current game purchases through these digital stores?

I have not really jumped into the digital download age full force with video games as I, and most gamers do, enjoy going to the brick and mortar stores to get my hands on my desired game.  There’s something to be said about physically holding the game in your hand, excited to get home and start playing, yet these days the packaging of games has become weaker and weaker with some games not even coming with a full manual.  No more than a basic breakdown of controls and menus, leaving the presentation of the prologue to the game itself.  This isn’t a terrible thing, but it has made the packaging of games seem grim where it pretty much seems like all we are paying for is the disc and cover to protect it.  But the digital download is something that has struck me only recently as I’ve begun to build my digital movie library through my Apple TV rather than purchasing movies by disc.  Really the only reason I buy movies on disc now is if they have a digital copy included and I give the physical disc to my parents since they aren’t as savvy with technology and still prefer to use your standard day to day DVD player.  The same story has happened for me with music, downloading songs from a particular digital store like iTunes rather than buying a CD at the local electronics store.  Games now present the same situation in that it may seem more beneficial to buy them digitally rather than physically in stores.  Game stores will still be around no doubt, but for how long is just the question. 

Backwards Compatibility was a joy to have at the release of the PlayStation 2 to be able to play our PlayStation One games, and even though it took a bit of a hit jumping to the PS3, PlayStation 2 titles as well as some PlayStation One titles can still be enjoyed as well on the PS3.  Microsoft has not indulged us that greatly with only selective games being compatible on the Xbox 360 from the original Xbox, but Microsoft really didn’t sink their teeth into the market until the release of the Xbox 360 with Xbox Live being such a success winning over players in their console of choice nearly 2 to 1 in the first two years going head to head with Sony, so their library from the original Xbox wasn’t sorely missed.  Now though there are many games that players enjoy on both systems, taking up vast amounts of shelf space, but it rather upsets me that I will still have to have my Xbox 360 and my PS3 consoles instead of being able to enjoy them on my brand new next gen console.  Microsoft and Sony would both say to me that I can, but I would have to purchase them through their digital store, if available, but I don’t particularly fancy buying the same game twice.  I may do it for my favorites, but I would really like to keep the library I have now.  While I would love to show both Microsoft and Sony my video game collection to prove my ownership of all the games I have, I very much doubt they’d extend me the courtesy of giving me a digital copy of all the games I have if available currently digitally.

The unforeseen factor in all of this is because these next gen consoles will not be backwards compatible, I fear that upon their release it will make our current gen consoles and games value crash down hard.  No video game store will want to take the physical disc back on a trade-in for a console that has just become nearly obsolete.  Much like sports games such Madden or FIFA, the trade-in value of the previous installment of the game drops next to nothing once the newest version of the game comes out.  Speaking for someone here in the United States, the average trade-in value of a game console falls between $70.00 to $140.00 (converting to €52.45 to €104.89) with percentage bonuses through GameStop and outlets such as Best Buy here in the States is about 20% less.  PlayStation 2 trade-ins took a hit when the PS3 finally release with values going from nearly $100.00 (€74.93) down to $35.00 (€26.23), a 65% drop, but at least the PS3 was backwards compatible to some extent.  Players may still be able to enjoy games for Xbox 360 or PS3 for the time being, but it’s only a matter of time before the previous console fades away becoming dust collectors in the back of our closests, made the family room’s resident DVD player, or just thrown away because there just isn’t any value to it anymore.  And the same fate may fall to our game collections.  This may not be the biggest problem to your average player, but for those of us collectors out there, it does put us in a bind as to whether or not we continue to erect this gaming museum around us. 

The cloud gaming era does sound like a great convenience for players if all we have to do is access our game libraries through our Live or PlayStation Plus Accounts.  Neither console developer has mentioned an account limit per console, leaving us to assume that perhaps we can just carry around a USB memory stick with our account information and access our digital game libraries at our friend’s homes just by signing in at their location.  Sony has luckily made it easier for us by not posing any direct restrictions concerning used games so we’ll still be able to carry our physical discs to our friend’s house for our PS4 games.  Also being region free is another great plus as well as installing our own hard drives to expand memory or perhaps install an alternate OS which is probably a great delight to hear for the many Homebrew and CFW (Custom Firmware) users out there.  So perhaps the book isn’t closed on the availability of backwards compatibility for PS4 owners…at least not intentionally.  But Microsoft has really dropped the ban hammer with their restrictions.  Perhaps with the Xbox 360 being much easier to develop for as mentioned by a number of developers in the early part of the current console war, that this is why it’s been much easier to hack as well resulting in Microsoft’s angst now to place these restrictions with the Xbox One.  Concerning digital stores though, the costs of new and older games is not that bad relative to the brick and mortar store prices, you’re just not getting a physical copy and you can’t really lend it to your friends.  Perhaps this might have been the intention of both Microsoft and Sony all along though.  It doesn't bother me to rebuy some of my old favorites like Streets of Rage or Marvel vs Capcom 2, though I did have a problem when I saw Nintendo posting a digital download price of $9.99 through the Nintendo Store for Sega's Golden Axe.  While a classic, it was absurd to me to ask players to pay $9.99 for a game that is over 20 years old.

I myself am an Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus member resulting in a yearly cost of just around $110.00 (€82.36).  With Microsoft and Sony stating that there will be monthly offers for free or discounted full games, it doesn’t sound bad at all for a conservative gamer considering the success of websites such as Gamefly that charge subscribers $15.95 (€11.94) a month to receive a single game every month resulting in a cost of $191.40 (€143.32) before taxes every year.  For example referring to PlayStation Plus, as they already offer at least 1 free game a month from older PS3 titles such as Darksiders, Borderlands, or Uncharted for the given month, even if you never play the game, delete it after you download it, and now has a cost because the time allowed for the free download has expired, you can still download it again for free because it records it as a purchase from the initial time you downloaded the game for as long as you retain your PlayStation Plus Membership. Even if you cancel it then renew it again, your downloads do not reset and those you downloaded in the past will return.  For PlayStation alone, I’ve amassed over 40 titles spanning across PS3, PSN, PS2, and PS Vita games in the two years I’ve been a member, so if you consider the cost of the PlayStation Plus membership, which will be required to play multiplayer with PS4 games, again it’s not a bad deal when you breakdown the cost with the math.  Microsoft again hasn’t been to voluntary with their game library only offering discounted costs to full games on the Live Marketplace, but they too appear to be converting to the Sony method dropping the Microsoft Points as currency and going direct to exact cost amounts and transposing their existing library of games to the Live Marketplace beginning with Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed 2 offered free to Xbox Live Gold Members when the Xbox One launches.  Seeing how the purchases from either Live or PlayStation Plus will pass over to the next gen consoles, it may not be a bad idea to go digital instead of burdening our homes with a collection of games with no trade-in value.  Now this isn’t a ploy or a pitch to have people run out and purchase a Live or PlayStation Plus membership as I’m not getting anything out of mentioning the savings in their cost versus just buying games.  Though speaking as a person that does not mind buy games for full price, it definitely makes me consider dumping the physical disc idea and just going completely digital.

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