Backward compatibility is an interesting topic and concept that allows for older games to remain relevant. Sometimes, it gets them to remain relevant long after their console’s life cycle. Everyone is doing it to a certain extent as well. Microsoft, while still somewhat limited as they’re still growing their backward compatible library going back to the original Xbox, has the widest compatibility. The only games that they cut off were games designed explicitly for the Kinect. Nintendo, through digital emulation on the Switch, has an app with a growing number of NES and SNES games. I wouldn’t be surprised if they added in N64, Gamecube, and at least some Gameboy (original, Color, and Advance) game emulation eventually as well. And then there’s PlayStation.
The PS5 backward compatibility makes no sense, at least not to me. Limiting backward compatibility to just the PS4 makes no sense for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t even know the full extent yet. So far, the most that we’ve had confirmed so far is that they got most of the top 100 selling PS4 games working on the PS5. While there have been rumors of testers being able to get non-whitelisted games working on the PS5, even that we don’t know the full extent of. Second, while selling monumentally well, isn’t even their best-selling console of all time. With the PS4 also no longer being in production to ramp up PS5 production, it probably won’t beat the PS2 as their best-seller. Third, there’s talk about the difficulty of trying to emulate the PS3 because of the cell processor architecture, but let’s be realistic here. Hackers who design emulators have figured out a way to get a PS3 emulator running with upscaled 4K graphics. Lastly, sure, they could try to say “If you want PS2 and PS3 games, get a subscription to PS Now.” However, the offerings there are still slim. Don’t get me wrong, the games they’ve chosen are great choices, but there are a lot of places where they can grow the catalog.
One of the biggest issues is just the fact of the disconnect from current PlayStation leadership and the reality of why backward compatibility in some way is important. The question of why older games would be revisited has been bounced around and it’s simple. Gameplay and stories. For as limited as the graphics were the further you go back, some of the highest points of gameplay and stories were earlier than just the PS4. Again, there were great leaps at some points, like a definitively good Spider-Man game, the most recent God of War game, and Uncharted 4, just to name some high points. But there are a lot of games from the PS3 or further back that are important and that older games and newer gamers on a “retro” kick would be willing to revisit.
Now one of the most common arguments against backward compatibility is basically this. “If you want to play a PlayStation [insert generation here] game, get that console.” While that seems like a good argument, it’s a short-sighted and unrealistic one. Curse of digital artifacts, including games, is that technology and operating systems advance. Older technology as breaks down. Sooner or later there won’t be a working PS1, PS2, or PS3 available.
You could bring up emulation boxes like the PlayStation Classic, but that can be limited. For example, the PlayStation Classic was limited to 25 games because of the amount of flash memory Sony decided to use. Then there’s the question of the type of ISO/rom, for which at least half ended up being the wrong versions, which led to dropped frames, flickering, and screen tearing in some games among other glitches.
Backward compatibility allows for publishers to maintain the relevance and life of a game. Sure, they could always be remastered or remade with the new technology. Re-releasing with some quality of life changes even though the core game is still intact is fine too. Sometimes that works out. But also having a vision of what was can help with increasing appreciation for the changes and refinements put into a remake. So, risking the loss of the originals wouldn’t be a great idea.