We seem to exist in a "Buy Now ... Pay Later" culture. Indeed, some say that this is what keeps the economy trundling along. But what about "Buy Now ... We'll Add Full Backward Compatibility Later"? When Microsoft released the Xbox 360 they were quite open that it wouldn't support every Xbox title, but they promised that in time compatibility would be added. Gamers who sold their Xbox console so they could buy an Xbox 360 took the gamble that Microsoft would hold true to their word. However, signs are that Microsoft could now be back-pedalling on that promise.
Peter Moore, corporate vice president of the Interactive Entertainment Business in the Entertainment and Devices Division of Microsoft has upset Xbox 360 owners by hinting that backward compatibility is no longer a priority:
"Nobody is concerned anymore about backwards compatibility. We under promised and over delivered on that. It's a very complicated thing... very complex work. I'm just stunned that we have hundreds of games that are backwards compatible"
Assuming that this is an indication that backward compatibility is now being pushed to the back-burner (so that they can work on making the 360 more unhackable, perhaps?) then it's disappointing … but not all that surprising.
With any updated bit of kit, the first people companies try to convince to dig into their pockets are those who dug deep previously to buy earlier versions. Backward compatibility was a big worry among existing Xbox owners and while Microsoft were honest about the fact that the 360 wasn't going to support every game, promises were made that every attempt would be made to rectify this over time. However, "over time" has another effect, the effect of making companies shift priorities. Promises are reigned in to cut costs. Also, backward compatibility, while nice for the end user, isn't all that sexy as far as companies go. They're spending time making old stuff work with their shiny new console, and since this is "free work" – in that the consumer isn't going to pay out any more for it – it also means the user isn't buying the new games because they are playing old games; creating a no-win situation (apart from maintaining customer goodwill and all that).
So, while abandoning the effort for total (or near total) backward compatibility between the Xbox 360 and old Xbox games might make sense as far as the bottom line goes, it could well damage sales, and possibly result in some existing Xbox users migrating to another console. While the bottom line is money, reputation is still priceless.
Next time you come across "Buy Now ... We'll Add Full Backward Compatibility Later", remember to consider what it might mean to you if "later" becomes "never".
[Updated: June 3, 2006 @ 2:39 pm]
Microsoft try to calm fears by posting that an update is due soon that should make another dozen or so games compatible with the Xbox 360.