Backward compatibility would make moving to the PS5 much easier

PlayStation wants to move its established community from PS4 to PS5 quickly. Here’s PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, as quoted by gamesindustry.biz:

These are gamers who are networked and sticky and engaged and passionate about PlayStation to an extent that we’ve not seen in previous generations. As we move towards the next-generation in 2020, one of our tasks – probably our main task – is to take that community and transition it from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5, and at a scale and pace that we’ve never delivered on before.

He goes on to talk about how impressive the PS5 is, and how easy it is to develop for, and how great its games will be, as well as how PlayStation itself is improving its internal organization. But I was really hoping he’d talk a bit about how the transition will be made appealing to the existing community. To me, the obvious thing is to make the PS5 not be a hard break from the existing PS4 ecosystem.

When the PS4 came out, I was very disappointed to learn it wouldn’t have any backward compatibility. I’m sure this saved money during development, and of course it meant that old games could be sold to us again as “classics” or via PlayStation Now or whatever, but it still seemed like a mistake. It meant that the PS4 wasn’t just an upgrade to the PS3, the way the PS3 had (originally) been to the PS2 and the way the PS2 had been to the PS1. For the first time, a new PlayStation console came with an entire separate ecosystem. Its value wasn’t enhanced by your existing investment in games and the community. It wouldn’t replace your existing console. It was more analogous to buying a Nintendo or Xbox console to supplement your existing console. And in that case, suddenly it’s a lot less obvious that you shouldn’t just buy one of those instead.

It was a while before I bought a PS4, and longer before I was confident I’d been correct to do so (and my PS3 is still hooked up next to it). If the PS5 wants me to be more confident that I should move over to it quickly, it should at least play every PS4 game, disc and download alike. Similar compatibility for games for older PlayStation consoles would be even better, and while I personally don’t do much online play, cross-play with gamers on at least PS4 seems like it would help too. There are rumors (supported by a patent) that the PS5 will in fact be backward-compatible (though perhaps not for the unusually-architected PS3) but it’s unclear yet whether this is true and whether it would mean we could reuse our old discs and downloads. Guess we’ll still just have to wait and see.