Xbox One Backwards Compatibility: A Great Feature That’s Late to the Party


When Phil Spencer confirmed that backwards compatibility would be coming to the Xbox One at E3 2015, the crowd (and Xbox fans at home) went nuts. Not only that, but certain publishers immediately supported Xbox’s decision to add backwards compatibility as well, such as Fallout 4 including a digital voucher for Fallout 3, and the upcoming Rainbow Six Siege doing the same with the first two installments of Rainbow Six Vegas.

It’s definitely safe to say that it’s not only fans that are excited, but publishers as well. They probably see it as both a way for them to offer a little something extra just for buying their products on Xbox One, and a great way for new consumers (who might be unfamiliar with the series) to get caught up. Either way it’s win/win. Even if you already own the freebies in question, you can always give the codes to a friend or hand them out as cheap birthday presents or something, but the bottom line is that free is free.

We’ve known for months that over 100 games will support backwards compatibility when the feature inevitably launches, with additional titles being added throughout the duration of the console’s life cycle.

Those of us in the Preview Program have been fortunate enough to give it a little taste, albeit with a slim list of games. Actually, anyone that purchased Rare Replay back in August is now familiar with how backwards compatibility will function on the console as a whole.

You insert the original disc, wait for it to install the entire game, and that’s thatYou’ll need to keep the game disc in the drive while you play it–unless you own a digital copy or it’s an arcade release–but aside from the installation process it’s a pretty painless procedure.


So far I’ve only experienced one minor issue, and that’s with the Platinum Hits version of Mass Effect. The reason being is that the Platinum Hits version includes a 2nd disc that contains all of the game’s DLC. Only Mass Effect itself has been approved, so the Xbox One won’t even read or register the 2nd disc’s existence.

While playing an Xbox 360 game you still have access to Xbox One features, like capturing video footage or screenshots, and even streaming the game through the Twitch app, so it’s not very intrusive at all. As a long-time 360 user, it felt very natural.

But I digress. Here we are nearing the end of 2015, we’re well beyond Microsoft’s E3 presentation, and on Monday the Director of Program Management for Xbox, Mike Ybarra, officially unveiled a list of the first 104 games that will support the much anticipated feature for all Xbox One owners on November 12th. That’s Thursday, for those of you keeping score at home.

I don’t want to sit here and copy/paste a giant list, so I recommend visiting his post over on the official Xbox News Wire and seeing if any of your favorites made the cut. Major inclusions that stick out to me are Assassin’s Creed II, which is easily one of the best (maybe the best) in the entire series, Borderlands (which pairs nicely with its sequel and pre-sequel in The Handsome Collection), South Park: The Stick of Truth, the aforementioned Fallout 3, Fable II, all four Gears of War titles, Mass Effect, Mirror’s Edge, and Super Meat Boy.

More titles will be confirmed beginning in Decemeber, with Ybarra confirming the addition of fan favorites Call of Duty: Black Ops, the trilogy of Bioshock games, Skate 3, Halo: Reach, and Halo Wars.

If your favorite games didn’t make the list this time around, Ybarra suggests that you head on over to the Xbox UserVoice website and cast your vote. Remember, it’s up to the game’s publisher, not Xbox, but this’ll let them know which games the fans want to see. Four of the top ten games are already approved, and those aren’t terrible odds, but big guns like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (the #1 most requested game), Red Dead Redemption (#2), and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (#3) still remain absent. I shouldn’t say “still” because it sounds like the feature has been available forever now, but you know what I mean.


Now this is where we have to ask ourselves if publishers will avoid approving their library for backwards compatibility. Offering their games could signal a small jolt in digital sales, sure, but it could also impede sales of a future remaster. You don’t see Dishonored or Darksiders 2 on the list, for instance, nor do you see Alan Wake (although it is in the header image–first row, fifth game back). On the other end of the coin, we knew that Gears of War Ultimate Edition (the Xbox One remaster of the original Xbox 360 game) would include all 4 Xbox 360 games, but they’re published by Microsoft directly.

Remember that publishers don’t make money from you buying used games either, so for this to benefit them financially they’ll mostly be approving games where they can still make money off of you through purchased DLC on Xbox Live. With as frequently as DLC goes on sale for the Assassin’s Creed series, Far Cry, and Watch Dogs, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ubisoft approves their entire 360 catalog at some point.

If Rockstar has been hard at work investing money and resources on a Red Dead Redemption remaster, a likely occurrence given the success of Grand Theft Auto V, why would they approve the original? Even if a remaster is not in the cards for now, they may want to keep that option open.

Now that backwards compatibility is nearly tangible, is it something that, in all actuality, you really see yourself using? And I don’t just mean “after looking over the list of confirmed games”, I mean in general. Do you see yourself installing games that are 4-5 years old and playing them over new releases or something else in your current-gen backlog?

I was excited by the E3 announcement, but knowing that only a small handful of my expansive library is included, I’m more inclined to just keep using my Xbox 360. The ability to take screenshots, record footage, and stream are great inclusions, but I don’t have an external hard drive and those 500gb are precious. The bigger games like Fallout 3, Mass Effect, and Black Ops are only between 6-7gb, so it’s comparable to a larger indie release. And although I’m currently in the middle of Assassin’s Creed II, I’m not all that eager to share screenshots.

Is backwards compatibility a selling point for Xbox One or is it just an included “checkbox” feature that’ll end up as nothing more than a marketing buzzword on console boxes and Taco Bell commercials? It’s definitely more appealing than Playstation’s pay-to-use PS Now service, where I can’t even play games I own without renting them at a cost.


In a marketing sense I think it’s a great thing for parents to see when eyeing up a new console for their kids. Sure, their kids probably don’t own a majority of the approved games, but knowing that they’ll get some use out of it without having to invest in a slew of new titles could be what pulls the trigger.

Hell, when my mom used to buy me games for Christmas she barely knew what consoles I owned. She went off of the honesty of the sales clerk, and chances are there are parents out there who will buy in to the Xbox One thinking all of their kid’s games work on the console. Playstation 2, Wii, 3DS, everything, because some people just don’t know any better.

Now that I’ve seen the list of approved games, I’ll probably cave and install Fallout 3 to give backwards compatibility another test run. I played with it a bit in the Preview Program, but the only approved game that I owned on the tiny list was Mass Effect. The girlfriend and I want to play through Fallout 3 before jumping in to 4, so the timing just happens to be right. If it weren’t, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t even bother. Probably ever.

The idea of backwards compatibility is awesome, especially at a console’s launch. I used the hell out of my PS2 to play my PSX games, and used the Wii U for Wii games early on, because there were plenty of recent games from the last generation that I still wanted to play. But, as their libraries expanded, my overall interest in revisiting older games faded completely. I’d say I was done using the feature within 5 or 6 months, and unless I can fully untether my Xbox 360 and play all of my games on Xbox One, I just don’t see me jumping back and forth just to capture screenshots or record video footage. None of my friends are interested in screenshots of Assassin’s Creed II, and should that wild hair appear that’s what Google Images is for. Maybe the entire library will open up over time, who knows.

This is a feature that a lot of folks wanted, and that’s awesome for them. I really hope they enjoy backwards compatibility and that it’s everything they ever wanted it to be. Two years in to the Xbox One’s life cycle though, there are plenty of newer games that I’m more interested in playing and not enough reason to play Xbox 360 games across two different consoles.


  1. I’ve not bought a current gen console yet (still on the PS3) but this announcement did make me sit up and listen and possibly swings me more towards an XBox One when it’s time to upgrade.

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely a great marketing feature. There’s plenty of free-to-play games and monthly freebies that I’m not sure just how much new consumers will actually use the BC, but at least it’s there.

  2. As I’ve said before whenever it’s come up, I love backward compatibility whenever available. It means when I buy the latest console, I can go back to my old library, and I can save space by selling or donating the previous console. It’s one of the reasons why the Atari 7800 was so good. It’s one of the reasons why the Wii U is so good. It’s one of the best things about gaming on a PC. You can revisit your old favorites, and run them in higher settings than you could on the last box. If you’re somebody who only plays new releases, and only ever has 5 games in the house, okay, fine, you probably won’t care. But I think for a growing number of people it’s becoming a bigger, and bigger deal. More, and more folks are feeling nostalgic for games these days, and retro collecting is getting big. Aftermarket prices on games seem to raise every year. Even on crummy games just because they’re rare. Look up the latest prices on the second Flintstones NES game, or the ill fated Action 52. Sometimes you don’t even need to go back that far, look at Super Smash Bros. Melee, a game that came out 14 years ago. It sells used, with no jewel case or directions for near its original MSRP.

    With that in mind, it’s no wonder why going forward many people are going to want to take their games with them to their consoles’ successors. Especially when they see the aftermarket prices when they’re feeling nostalgic. “Thank God I never sold that game away!”

    And furthering that are the wildly successful digital re releases of old games. For instance Mega Man 7 is the only domestic Mega Man Classic series game I never found back in 1995 when it came out. It goes for almost $200 today. It’s nice that I could legally purchase it for $7.99 on the Nintendo eshop. Though I thankfully found a Rockman 7 Super Famicom version so I can play it on my Super Nintendo too. Sometimes the digital rereleases aren’t quite 1:1 experiences. Color or sound might be slightly off, or edits may have been done to improve or censor something. So playing the original disc then becomes preferable.

    The point is, with retro gaming growing both with nostalgic grown ups, and a sizable number of kids, teens, and young adults who want to experience what came before, backward compatibility is only going to become more important in the future. Not less.

    1. I hear you, and I definitely think it’s a great feature to have. From a personal standpoint, which is all my article is, I just don’t use the feature after couple of months. I don’t sell off the old consoles, and while I do get nostalgic from time to time I just rarely find myself going back. I’m currently taking advantage of the 3DS’ backwards compatibility by playing the DS version of Dragon Quest V, but otherwise the last time I’ve made multi-generational leaps was when I revisited Tales of the Abyss and Final Fantasy XII on PS2 4 years ago. It’s definitely nice to know that if I wanted to play ANY of my Wii games I can just pop it in my Wii U. In fact, I haven’t had my Wii hooked up since I bought the Wii U shortly after launch. The main thing gating my excitement about backwards compatibility on Xbox One, however, is that only a fraction of my library is there right now. I’m just not interested in using two different consoles to play 4-5 year old games.

      And I feel you on the absurdly priced bad games. Remember Ju-On on Wii when it was going for $90 USED online? Glad I picked it up for $12 at GameStop.

      1. Well with the Xbox One you’re also going from a Power PC processor to an Intel X86 processor, which means that the games have to either run under emulation or else they have to be completely ported over. Basically you’re going from what Apple used to use to something Microsoft has always used. So that makes adding backward compatibility dicey, as if the emulation isn’t solid, it’s going to run like crap. A port might take more time, but then the game runs natively on the machine with no problem. The way I understand it, the machine just reads the disc, and downloads the port or the ROM once it sees the disc is “game x for the 360” I would imagine that’s what the hold up is with some of these games as like the 360’s BWC program with the original Xbox, it’s really a workaround involving emulation or rewriting a game to get it on there. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to see them not do a certain title right away if they are planning a remake.

        But I do think it is also a boon for people who didn’t have a 360 at all last time out, as now it gives an Xbox One buyer a reason to hit used or clearance bins of 360 games in addition to new releases.

        And Ju-On may not be $90 anymore used, but it’s still almost the price of a new AAA game.

      2. I think the holdup is that Xbox One uses an Xbox 360 emulator for BC, which is why they need the approval of the game’s publisher before adding it to the list.

        I agree, if someone didn’t own a 360 last gen and wanted to play something like South Park, they could pick up a used copy for cheap and play it on Xbox One. That’s probably a very, very small percentage of consumers though. I’m just guessing, of course.

        Over time as more games are added to the list (especially once they figure out how to emulate multi-disc games, like Lost Odyssey, Final Fantasy XIII, Star Ocean) I’m sure I’ll be more inclined to use it.

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