Backward compatibility is back in the news, with hardware manufacturers under scrutiny once more. It's an issue that divides the industry, and enrages consumers. But does it actually matter?
Backward compatibility, say its detractors, is a colossal waste of time. But those who favor BC contend it is an expected feature of modern consoles, rewarding consumers loyal to a hardware brand, offering some comfort at point of purchase and extending the life of old-gen games.
Detractors argue that the cost of engineering hardware in boxes that will enable BC is wasteful, as is the time spent by 'emulation ninjas' bringing old games into a new hardware fold.
They say that the number of people actually playing old games on new systems is tiny. When pushed, they may concede that if BC is to be implemented it should be done as cheaply as possible, and it should focus on only the very biggest games, possibly offering some form of enhancement, either paid-for or free.
Intel's gaming strategic planner Tasos Kaiafas says, "I think backward compatibility is nothing more than something else for the fan boys to pick on and complain about. Unless console hardware manufacturers can do something to the old games to enhance them in some meaningful way on the next-gen consoles, it's not worth doing." He argues that the PC, the ultimate backwardly compatible machine, has always been about evolution rather than stark generational cycles.
Apart from the tiny numbers of consumers who make use of BC - they are vocal way beyond their actual mass - even industry fans of BC say it's a cosmetic fix rather than a practical benefit.