The Backwards Compatibility Scam

Back in the distant, pre-historic year of 2013 when the brand-spanking new consoles were released (excluding the anomalous Wii U), no one was surprised when it was announced that neither would feature backwards compatibility. Sure, there were a few sighs and grumbles, but we all saw it coming.

I assumed that backwards compatibility was eschewed for two reasons. Firstly, to force people who bought the consoles to buy the launch titles, rather than buying a couple of games and simply relying on old titles to fulfil their fun quota. Secondly, so that they could re-release old titles on their respective online stores for a fraction of the cost, extending their sale life and undercutting the pre-owned market.

This is what happened during the last generation, even though there was a half-hearted attempt at backwards compatibility, and it was a good thing. I was more than happy to buy Crash Bandicoot for a fiver, or even Ico & Shadows of the Colossus for a very reasonable price. It gives developers a chance to cherry-pick the very finest of that generation and make a bit more money off of them, giving people what they want and possibly introducing the games to whole new audience.

However, since the release of the PS4 and Xbox One, something very sinister has happened. It started with Tomb Raider. I’ll be the first to admit that the reboot was a complete triumph, but to re-release the game at full price, with only cosmetic changes and fairly limited DLC on the cards, is a little bit cheeky.

And then The Last of Us got its next-gen game of the year edition. Again, I can understand. It was a superb game, and it deserved its universal acclaim. Full price might be a little bold, but if people want it then who am I to belly-ache?

However, the latest rumour abounding on social networks is that Sleeping Dogs, a mediocre sandbox game, is going to have a ‘definitive’ re-release on Xbox One and PS4, at full price. This is where I draw the line.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a scam. The publishers know (or at least think) that when most people unwrapped their shiny new consoles, they disposed or forgot about their old ones. The PS3s were traded in to dent the price of the PS4. The Xbox 360s were shoved under beds to steadily build up dust.

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By withholding backwards compatibility, the publishers armed themselves with the ability to arbitrarily release old games, knowing that those who want to play Sleeping Dogs again will have to fork out forty pounds to do so.

Where as in the past, games re-released online would be cut price because of their availability to the audience, nowadays games are re-released physically at full price due to their unavailability to the audience.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the intent was to introduce the games to an audience who might not have had the chance to play them before, as was the case with the Wii U releases of Batman: Arkham City and Assassin’s Creed 3, but The Last of Us was released just over a year ago. This is not an attempt to give the game to a new audience, it’s an attempt to squeeze more money out of the old one.

As Drew discussed in his article ‘Next Gen Gaming – What Did You Expect?!’, so far the new consoles haven’t hit their stride. The meagre release of games has been short of satisfying. These re-releases are to tempt those of us who wanted to smash their brains in with the controller after playing Watchdogs, but were too bored to do it.

Those of us with access to PCs or last-gen consoles will simply ignore these re-releases (die-hard fans not included), but what worries me is what affect this will have on the industry. If people ignored these re-releases, developers would soon realise that there wasn’t money in it, and instead they’d devote all their efforts into making your next favourite game.

However, I know these re-releases will be mopped up, and what message will that send? ‘There’s no point spending all the time and money making new games, just remaster your old ones’. The games industry is heading in an ugly direction. Offering pre-orders before releasing information about the game. Releasing five or six editions of each game. It stinks.

Video games are about art and entertainment. Although money is an essential factor, its upsetting to think that publishers see gamers as docile magpies, easily entranced by anything shiny without the intellectual capacity to know whether we’re picking up a sliver of silver or a ripped up bit of tin foil.

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Basically, what I’m saying is that by buying these half-hearted re-releases, you’re encouraging the publishers to be lazy. I’m not criticising, because I’m as guilty as anyone, but we need to draw the line now. When we see it on the shelves, it’s our duty to let Sleeping Dogs lie.

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About Joseph Butler-Hartley
A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. However, I'm more than happy playing a wide range of genres on both consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I'm also a History student.