MS 'to drop' Xbox compatibility from Xbox 2

New console, new games

Microsoft's Xbox 2 console will not be backwardly compatible with the current version, sources close to the company claim.

Backwards compatibility has, arguably, been crucial to Sony's success in the console arena, so it was always assumed that Xbox 2 would play Xbox 1 titles. That assumption was challenged when it emerged that the second-generation Xbox would be based on PowerPC rather than x86 technology, but Microsoft's acquisition of x86-on-PowerPC emulation software Virtual PC was thought to provide the software giant with a way to embrace an entirely new - and theoretically less hackable - hardware architecture while retaining that oh-so-important Xbox 1 software base.

Well, it's not as important as all that it seems. According to a GamesIndustry.biz report citing sources close to the Xbox 2 development project, the new console will not support old Xbox games.

Said sources reveal that Microsoft's own research indicates that in the end only ten per cent of PlayStation 2 buyers factored backward compatibility into their purchasing decision. That's a percentage MS apparently feels it can risk alienating, so Xbox 1 support has been crossed off the spec sheet.

It's certainly brave of Microsoft to take such a risk, if indeed that's what it has chosen to do. Traditionally successor consoles have always been incompatible with their predecessors, but Sony's decision to allow PS2s to play PS1 games is now viewed as the key to its success.

And observers coming to consoles from the PC market, where compatibility with older code is largely taken for granted, even though it doesn't always work, have naturally assumed that the same dynamic applies here and have reinforced the broader belief in the foundation of Sony's success.

Yet the PS1 was highly successful, and it had no predecessor user-base to build on, just good games, a cool look and Sony's undeniably weighty brandname. All these factors are as likely to have favoured PS2 as much as if not more than backwards compatibility.

The question is, has Sony's move with PS2 changed the console market's dynamics? MS presumably believes it hasn't, but it's telling that Nintendo's upcoming Nintendo DS handheld will support old GameBoy Advance titles. Its next-generation console, 'Revolution', may likewise support GameCube games. And Sony has said PS3 will play PS2 and PS1 titles. Right or wrong, backwards compatibility is a bandwagon everyone else is jumping on. ®

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