- The PlayStation 5 is Sony’s next major video game console, and it’s scheduled to arrive this coming holiday season.
- In a new, hour-long video detailing the console’s internals, lead architect Mark Cerny revealed that – despite previous statements to the contrary – the PlayStation 5 will only play a limited selection of PlayStation 4 games: Just 2.5% of the PS4’s library will work on PS5.
- Sony says it “will continue the testing process and expand backwards compatibility coverage over time.”
- Microsoft’s next-gen console, the Xbox Series X, offers backwards compatibility going all the way back to the original Xbox.
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The PlayStation 4 is Sony’s second-best-selling console of all time, only behind the PlayStation 2 in popularity. There are over 100 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild, and over 4000 games have been published on the PS4.
But when the PlayStation 5 arrives this holiday, it won’t be able to play the vast majority of those games. Somewhere in the realm of 2.5% of those 4,000-plus games will work.
Simply put: Many of the games you currently own on PS4 are unlikely to run on the PS5.
“We recently took a look at the top 100 PlayStation 4 titles, as ranked by playtime, and we’re expecting almost all of them to be playable at launch on PlayStation 5,” the console’s lead architect, Mark Cerny, said in a “deep dive” video Sony published on Wednesday.
The company committed to further expanding out compatibility “over time” in a separate blog post, but it will only support about 100 out of over 4,000 games at launch – or about 2.5%.
It’s a surprising walk back from previous assurances to the contrary from Sony.
In an April 2019 exclusive with Wired, where Cerny revealed details about the PlayStation 5 for the first time, the author said, “Because it’s based in part on the PS4’s architecture, [PS5] will also be backward-compatible with games for that console.”
It’s also a surprise because it’s the exact opposite of how Microsoft is handling backwards compatibility: With Microsoft’s next-gen console, the vast majority of your existing game library moves forward with you.
The Xbox Series X console can play next-gen games, and all your Xbox One games. It will also play all the original Xbox and Xbox 360 games that your Xbox One would play, and it will work with all your Xbox One accessories – gamepads and various peripherals, for instance.
If I bought a game on my Xbox 360 that worked on my Xbox One, it will also work on the Xbox Series X. The same can be said for original Xbox games, and all Xbox One titles.
Beyond a nicety, it’s an ecosystem play: Like your smartphone and computer, Microsoft is attempting to make the Xbox into a digital platform rather than just a physical box. The foundation was already set for that play on the Xbox One, as Microsoft built out a robust backwards compatibility program that grew over time.
With the Xbox Series X, that program is moving forward and bringing with it the assurance to consumers that games purchased on Xbox consoles won’t be lost as they move to new Xbox consoles.
It establishes your Xbox library as a continuing digital platform, something no game console maker has done thus far.
And the compatibility actually stretches further – games with large existing communities will continue to grow as the new Xbox replaces older models.
“I don’t want to announce anything about what another game team is doing,” Xbox leader Phil Spencer told me last June, “But I think what we would say at the highest level is if you talk about these games that have such massive communities today, a lot of those developers and studios are going to want to think about how they grow their community – not how they take it to zero and try to rebuild it.”
It’s not hard to imagine the games Spencer is talking about; games like “Fortnite” and “Minecraft” stand out, among many others with large, multiplatform audiences.
It remains to be seen how Sony will handle games like that on the PlayStation 5.
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