Backwards compatibility is a big deal for a lot of gamers. After all, who wants to upgrade to a new console and lose their entire games collection? Sure, they could sell the old system, but a lot of gamers still enjoy playing those games, no matter how old they are. By being forced to keep their old system if they want to keep playing (ie the Xbox 360 or the PS3) and also purchase the new system (Xbox One or PS4) if they want to join in the next-generation, people are effectively losing the opportunity to sell their console and make that next-gen-jump a little less expensive.
The Xbox One is not backwards compatible and the PS4 will not be either – at least at launch. Sony does have its Gaikai gaming streaming service in the works, which is sort of the same thing, but how that will function in reality is not yet known.
Back to the Xbox One though – Albert Penello recently did an interview with Gamespot and in it said that backwards compatibility is definitely a possibility in the future, thanks largely in part to the Azure cloud computing the Xbox One has access to. When asked whether Azure could enable Microsoft to stream games to the Xbox One (like Sony intends to do with Gaikai), Penello had the following to say:
But there are so many things that the servers can do. Using our Azure cloud servers, sometimes it’s things like voice processing. It could be more complicated things like rendering full games like a Gaikai and delivering it to the box. We just have to figure out how, over time, how much does that cost to deliver, how good is the experience.
Nice to know that we could have that option, but just like the Gaikai service for the PS4, exactly how well it work in real-life situations is still a bit of an unknown though.