What is Xbox One backwards compatibility?

Information verified correct on December 3rd, 2016

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The feature we never thought would arrive on a next-generation console has been a game changer for Microsoft and the Xbox One.

During its keynote presentation at E3 2015 – the biggest games conference of the year held in Los Angeles every June – Microsoft surprised the gaming world by announcing backwards compatibility for the Xbox One. Backwards compatibility is a feature that allows games from a previous generation of console to be playable on the new console. It’s highly desired by fans as it greatly increases the library of available games and allows older purchases to retain their value for longer.

Backwards compatibility is not a feature that comes already available on Xbox One consoles manufactured prior to December 2015. If you have a console that was created earlier than this date or have had any problems getting the feature to work, you may need to update your console via Xbox Live.

The Nintendo Wii U also allows Backwards Compatibility with Wii games, however at the time of this writing the PlayStation 4 does not allow you to play PlayStation 3 games. The PS4 has recently begun allowing Backwards Compatibility with PlayStation 2 games in a limited capacity.

How Does Backwards Compatibility for Xbox One Work?

It was originally believed that the gap in technology between the Xbox One and the Xbox 360 was too large for backwards compatibility to work, or at least work in a way that would be cost effective to introduce and maintain. However, Microsoft has got around this problem by emulating the entire Xbox 360 on the Xbox One hardware.

When you play a backwards compatible Xbox 360 game on the Xbox One, it creates an instance of the Xbox 360 operating system on the Xbox One. This is called emulation. As far as the game is concerned, when it opens up and plays it is doing so on an Xbox 360, so it remain effectively unchanged. In a neat trick, however, the Xbox One sees this process as just a game running, so all the features that are unique on the new console, such as Game DVR and streaming will continue to work.

At the time of this writing, Microsoft has not been able to successfully emulate Xbox 360 games that spanned multiple discs, such as Blue Dragon, L.A. Noire and Lost Odyssey but hopefully a fix for this will be included in later updates. Kinect-only games are also not capable of being run in backwards compatibility mode unless there is a Kinect-less control option, such as with Child of Eden.

Are all Xbox 360 games backwards compatible on Xbox One?

Unfortunately not. Microsoft and third-party developers are believed to be focusing on the better selling games and their availability on the service is being staggered over time. In the initial launch, 104 games were made available to the service, and Microsoft has promised more will be added to that list every month moving forward. So far games have been shown to be a mix of disc-based blockbuster games, and smaller downloadable titles.

For a full list of Xbox One backwards compatible games, click here.

Are old Xbox games worth playing?

There is an old adage in video gaming – gameplay over graphics. The phrase refers to the fact that while technology may improve and produced higher quality visuals and sound, ultimately it’s gameplay that defines how enjoyable a game is to play. You only have to look at the mega success of Minecraft, a title with pixelated retro visuals to know that just because a game looks old, doesn’t mean it’s not fun to play.

While it’s definitely true that the user interface, connectivity options and controller capabilities have improved over time and directly impacted gameplay, the leaps aren’t so great that you can’t have a stack of fun with older Xbox games. There is also a large financial benefit, as older games are a lot cheaper to buy while still providing many hours of entertainment.

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