Microsoft Mulling Xbox 360 Emulation on Xbox One

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is thinking about making it possible for people to play Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. This news, as reported by Kotaku Australia, comes from Xbox One partner development lead Frank Savage at Microsoft’s Build developer conference.

Giving the Xbox One the ability to play Xbox 360 games wouldn’t be as easy as it might sound, however, because the two consoles are made with very different technology inside. Savage says that, “There are [still plans for an emulator] but we’re not done thinking them through yet, unfortunately. It turns out to be hard to emulate the PowerPC stuff on the X86 stuff. So there’s nothing to announce, but I would love to see it myself.”

Judging by history, backwards compatibility in game consoles has been the exception rather than the rule. Each of the big contenders in the last console generation — the Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 — let people play games that were made for the companies’ previous consoles. But if you start looking beyond that, you won’t find many consoles that supported games for the hardware that came before.

Even later models of the PlayStation 3 lost the ability to play PlayStation 2 games. In this new console generation, only the Wii U offers backwards compatibility. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 do not.

Not everyone at Microsoft has shown such a charitable attitude toward backwards compatibility in the past. In an interview with the The Wall Street Journal last year, former Xbox chief Don Mattrick said that only 5 percent of customers play older games on a new system anyway, so it’s not worth the investment for Microsoft. He said that, “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards.”

Nor is it clear what exactly backwards compatibility would look like on the Xbox One. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d be able to play the disc-based Xbox 360 games you currently own on an Xbox One. It might mean that Microsoft would open a new digital store where you could buy classic Xbox 360 titles.

In September, Microsoft senior director Albert Penello suggested that backwards compatibility might become possible through the company’s Azure cloud servers. “It could be more complicated things like rendering full games like a Gaikai and delivering it to the box,” Penello said, making reference to Sony’s as-yet-unproven game streaming technology. “We just have to figure out how, over time, how much does that cost to deliver, how good is the experience.”

Microsoft did end up testing the game streaming experience, and found that they still have some bugs to work out. In an interview with Polygon in November, Penello said, “It’s really cool and really problematic, all at the same time, insofar as it’s really super cool if you happen to have the world’s most awesome internet connection.” He went on to say that, “It was a grand experiment, I know we did a lot of work behind it, and we said this is one of the things where the network just has to get better before we can do it.”

Even if Microsoft does find a way to offer backwards compatibility for the Xbox One, it sounds like it will take a while. In the meantime, hang onto your Xbox 360 if you still want to be able to play your games.

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