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A Promise

Listeners will recall that in Hemispheric Views episode 059, Flip the Bit!, I revealed that I purchased an Xbox Series X. It’s my first new console purchase since I was in early high school, which was an Xbox 360. (I completely skipped the Xbox One generation.)

Since bringing the Series X home, I have been enjoying the chance to revisit the Halo franchise—remastered and in higher resolution—while playing newer games like Forza Horizon 5. Xbox Game Pass is truly impressive and it has been cool to play streamed games on devices like my iPad mini as well.

Another thing that appealed to me was the extensive list of backward-compatible games for the Series X and S, going all the way back to the original Xbox. I was impressed by the message below, which is displayed on the webpage.

Delivering on our promise of backward compatibility (with tiled game titles)

Microsoft is more or less communicating that it’s a duty to keep old games running for fans and long-time customers. They call it a promise.

While this message is lovely, the reality is somewhat different from what you would expect. I checked the list for some of the old games that I already had and was disappointed that the majority of them are not supported. Excluding some of the games that my sister used to play on our old consoles, along with others that I left at home, here are the old games in my house right now that do not work on the new system.

12 game titles arranged on a wooden table

I realise that this is a first-world problem and that while these games are important to or nostalgic for me, they may not be to others. Notably, there are some games from big media franchises in here, in particular The Simpsons: Hit and Run, Enter the Matrix and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Not to mention, Forza Motorsport 3 is a part of the signature racing series on Xbox.

Still, this lack of compatibility for my old games did not discourage my purchase of the new console and I do not regret buying it. At some point you want to experience new graphics and gaming possibilities; old stuff unfortunately gets left behind in the process.

My question is simple though: how seriously does Microsoft take its promise? Are these games (and many others) being left behind because of licensing issues? Is there something that makes these games more difficult to update or maintain on newer systems?

Well, late last year, Microsoft answered these questions in this press release, which included the following statement:

While we continue to stay focused on preserving and enhancing the art form of games, we have reached the limit of our ability to bring new games to the catalog from the past due to licensing, legal and technical constraints. Thank you for being part of this journey with us.

I’m not sure what these constraints are specifically, however it’s saddening that so many other games will not receive the same treatment. While Apple has repeatedly left old software behind, for example, we generally receive a decent explanation about what doesn’t work anymore, such as the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit.

I express this concern about games not just as a consumer who wants to play them, but as someone who regularly pours a lot of effort into producing stuff online, such as blog posts and podcasts. How would I feel if all of these things that I have uploaded suddenly vanished or didn’t work on computers anymore? Game developers spend significant time and energy creating pieces of art that delight people around the world, then those things just aren’t maintained. Their work doesn’t receive the same level of reverence as classic films, art and albums. To those who may be blocking their maintenance or updates due to legal reasons, I ask: why? If you can refresh great assets and resell them to old and new fans alike, wouldn’t that be of interest to you? I’ve paid to see films that I already own once they’ve been remastered and brought back in retro screenings.

It’s great that Microsoft announced its intention to create an extensive library of backward-compatible games but the word ‘promise’ can be a dangerous one. If you can’t keep a promise, even if it isn’t your fault, then you probably shouldn’t make it.

Are there any old games that you enjoy which haven’t made the leap to newer systems? Is there something that you run in an emulator or an old system to keep your nostalgia alive? Let us know your story in the Hemispheric Discord #gaming channel.

This post was originally written in June 2022 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.