Recently, an analyst for Wedbush Securities made headlines by stating that his research suggests that Sony will release the PlayStation 5 sometime in 2019.
While most of his predictions were fairly standard (the PlayStation 5 will be more powerful, will focus on 4K, etc.) there was one bit that stood out amongst the same old, same old. According to this analyst, the PlayStation 5 will only be a half-step improvement over the PlayStation 4 Pro. As such, Sony will likely design it to be backward compatible because consumers will realize that it’s not that big of an advancement over what came before.
It’s an interesting theory that contributes to a larger debate revolving around the question, “Should all consoles be backward compatible?”
From a consumer standpoint, backward compatibility feels like a universally good thing. You buy a new a console and are immediately able to play all the games you already own. There’s no need to buy new games right away and you can ensure that your old library doesn’t go to waste.
That was certainly the logic Sony employed when they announced that the PlayStation 2 was going to be compatible with most PlayStation games. In their mind, there was no sense in forcing their still new user base to abandon the games they had already bought. Microsoft is currently using a similar argument to justify the expansion of their current backward compatibility program which has become one of the Xbox One’s biggest selling points.
So why isn’t every console backward compatible? Well, it apparently has something to do with how many people actually use the program and how hard it is to properly implement.
Sony has previously said that the reason they didn’t implement backward compatibility into the PlayStation 3 is because they found that most consumers didn’t want to buy a console because of that feature. They preferred to buy a PlayStation 3 for PlayStation 3 games, otherwise, they wouldn’t buy a new console at all. A recent study found the same might be true of the Xbox’s backward compatibility system.
The most telling statement about backward compatibility came in 2013 when PlayStation 4 designer Mark Cerny explained that the PlayStation 4 wasn’t backward compatible because that technology requires a significant leap in CPU and GPU frequency which the PlayStation 4 couldn’t offer in comparison to the PlayStation 3.
Cerny noted that while people tend to think that it’s a simple matter of a more powerful console being able to play a less powerful console’s games, it’s rarely that simple.
Given that Cerny’s point was that technology isn’t advancing quite as fast as it once was, it seems unlikely that enough has changed on the technology front to suggest that the PlayStation 5 “needs” to be backward compatible. After all, if someone is arguing that the PlayStation 5 will only be a half-step above current technology, and Sony is saying that backward compatibility requires a more substantial technology upgrade, it seems unlikely that such a console will be backward compatible out of the box.
Besides, whether anyone likes it or not, console manufacturing is about the money. If Sony believes that there isn’t really any money in the program because so few people use it, why would they be interested in it when it comes time to design the PS5?