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Do We Still Need Backwards Compatibility?

Back in 2006 when we first got our hands on the shiny new Playstation 3 Sony released two models, one premium model and one basic. The basic model missed out on WiFi, it had a smaller hard drive, and it didn’t have a multi card reader like the premium did. But other than that the two models were actually very similar. They both had 4 USB ports compared to the 2 you get on all models now and, crucially, in the US both of the launch versions had PS2 backward compatibility. This means that at the time Sony thought backward compatibly was important enough to even fit on the base model.

The reason why they eventually removed the feature is a simple one. The units were costing too much to make and Sony was losing significant amounts of money on each one they sold. They needed to reduce the production cost and one of the easiest ways to do it was to remove the Emotion Engine chip set which powered the PS2 backward compatibility.

There were a couple of PS3 models in some territories after this which relied on software emulation to allow some PS2 games to work. But the number of PS2 games that worked on these versions were limited, and this feature was only included for a short time in a small number of models. By the time the PS3 Slim came along, Sony had given up with the idea all together. So by now the chances are that if you own a PS3, then like most of the rest of us, your version does not play PS2 games.

This seemed to be a problem for a lot of people for a long time, and one of the main criticisms of the PS3 was always the lack of this feature. But now for some reason this seems to have quieted down. The reason for this could be due to a few things. Maybe people are just not as interested in playing their old PS2 games as they used to be. Maybe there are now enough good games out for the PS3 to keep most people happy. Or, maybe most people have just come to realise that no amount of pestering is going to make Sony change their mind and give us a full version of the feature back.

By now I think all but the most optimistic PS3 owners have accepted that full PS2 backward compatibility will never be seen again, that is until the end of this generation at least. But luckily this is not the end of the story. 

The God of War collection, released just before God of War 3, contained two PS2 games on one disc with updated graphics and was exclusively available for the PS3. So now you could finally play a couple of the best PS2 games on you PS3, but for a price! So was playing God of War 1 and 2 at full 1280 x 720 resolution worth paying for the same games again? A lot of gamers must have thought so because the God of War collection sold better than expected, and was in the top 20 selling games on all platforms in the US in its first month.

 Although they have never been confirmed it, updated HD versions of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus have been rumoured for a long time, and are thought to be coming in Q1 of 2011. This November, The Sly Collection HD, containing the three Sly Cooper PS2 games will be coming to PS3. Shuhei Yoshida, the boss of SCE Worldwide Studios hinted in an interview that more of these compilations are likely to be coming to the PS3 at some point:

“Santa Monica Studios had the brilliant idea to upgrade and improve God Of War for PS3 with the God Of War Collection that we released last year,” he said. “There were a lot of positive reactions from consumers in doing that, and now we get a lot of suggestions for types of packs they’d like to see. So we are looking to continue to do these HD conversions.”

So then, the idea of more PS2 games appearing for the PS3 seems likely. And hopefully in the next year or so we will see quite a few. But rather than giving all PS3 owners a free firmware update with full and improved PS2 software emulation. It instead seems likely that Sony will be happier to give us a few select games in there own way: with updated graphics and a few added extra features, like Move and Trophy support. This way they can release the games individually on PSN, or as small collections on Blue ray disc on a periodic basis.

There will always be some PS3 gamers who will never be happy until they get full backward compatibility, but for most of us a few select games like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus will be just fine.

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