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Xbox One Backwards Compatibility – Can you play Xbox 360 games on Xbox One?

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Can I play Xbox 360 games on my Xbox One?

It's one of the most common questions we get from Xbox One owners or those thinking of investing in the Microsoft's latest console.  It’s a valid question – after all, plenty of original Xbox games worked on the Xbox 360, as long as you had an official Xbox 360 Hard Drive.

Let's not beat about the bush. The the short answer is no – there's no current way of playing Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. And at first Microsoft was very clear about its position.

"
If you're backwards compatible, you're really backwards," said Don Mattrick, former Xbox head, at the time of the console's launch. But then Microsoft has already backtracked on a number of unpopular decisions including allowing used games to be played on other consoles without cost and, most suprisingly, selling the Xbox One without Kinect bundled in the box. Does this mean Microsoft will backtrack and add backwards compatibility to the Xbox One? Well its position has changed.

When asked whether there were any plans for an Xbox 360 emulator for Xbox One at a Microsoft press event in April 2014, partner development lead Frank Savage said, "There are, but we’re not done thinking them through yet, unfortunately. It turns out to be hard to emulate the PowerPC stuff on the X86 stuff. So there’s nothing to announce, but I would love to see it myself." (via Kotaku Australia)

Is this a guarantee such an emulator will eventually come out? Absolutely not. However, as mentioned, we have seen Microsoft make several moves to try and make the Xbox One seem more attractive next to the PS4, which is currently winning the 'console war'.

Having backwards compatiblity would be a big win for more casual gamers who don't want to keep multiple consoles in the lounge - the PS4 is not backwards compatible either.

Why Isn't the Xbox One Backwards Compatible?

We get plenty of comments about companies that don’t provide backwards compatibility being tight money-grabbers that force you to buy the same game twice or instead keep two consoles in the home. The truth with the Xbox One's lack of backwards compatibility, however, is more complex. 

The Xbox One is fundamentally different to the Xbox 360. It uses a x86-64 processor architecture processor, just like most current PCs and laptops, as opposed to the Xbox 360’s PowerPC (PPC) chip. Why did Microsoft choose to shift to this architecture? The reasons are simple – it wanted to keep costs low and make game developers' lives easier. 

It’s arguable that the PowerPC architecture is better than the x86 one – it’s newer for a start, PPC was created by Motorola, IBM and Apple to compete with Intel in the 90s. However since then the PPC architecture has lost favour, primarily because it was a lot cheaper to manufacture x86 processors. This is down to scale – practically every PC and laptop uses one. There's more to it though. AMD and Intel aggressively invested in the technology and advanced x86 at a faster rate than the PPC backers could cope with. In the end even Apple dumped PPC in 2006 and switched to Intel x86 processors for their iMac and Macbook ranges.

More power at a lower cost means a cheaper console to produce. Some of those savings are even passed onto the consumer. Win-win, sort of.

The second aspect is, perhaps, more interesting. Having the same x86 architecture as the PC means that games can be ported much more easily from the Xbox One to PC, and vice-versa. This means less complexity, shorter development times and fewer dodgy ports – the bane of many a gamer. In addition the PS4 also uses a very similar x86 AMD Jaguar processor, which will further help developers when creating cross-platform games like Far Cry 4 or Assassin's Creed Unity.

So the Xbox One isn't backwards compatibility, but arguably, the benefits of a unified architecture across PC and console (barring the Wii U, which still uses PPC processors) will outweigh the costs of being able to play Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One – in the long run at least.

It’s not a resolution for all those gamers that want to play their old Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One, though.

Is backwards compatibility on the Xbox One possible? 

Sony is planning to provide a streaming service to give the PS4 backwards compatibility. Microsoft, though, has officially stated it has no plans to provide a backwards compatible steaming service for the Xbox One. This is because it believes it is too problematic to implement effectively – specifically the disparity of people's broadband speeds will lead to wildly differing, and often sub-optimal, experiences. We have to wait and see if Sony can crack it, but if it does it will certainly be a feather in the PS4’s cap.

Another way of making the Xbox One backwards compatible is via emulation. This is how the Xbox 360 dealt with original Xbox games. It wasn't without it's problems though with quite a few games being buggy and/or laggy. Emulation is tricky and requires immense amounts of processing power, even though 360 games are far less advanced than their Xbox One counterparts. It’s been notoriously tricky to create console emulators on PC's that are far more powerful than the new generation of consoles and it’s unlikely Microsoft will bother trying to use this method to make the Xbox One backwards compatible due to cost and complexity. 

For some, lack of backwards compatibility is a deal-breaker. For others, it’s not much of an issue. On the plus side, some games that will exist on both current and next-gen platforms are offered alongside upgrade incentives. Battlefield 4, for example, can be upgraded from the Xbox 360 version to the Xbox One version for just under a tenner. Crucially all your stats and upgrades will be transferred to the new version.

Backwards compatibility isn’t just about games though.

Will my Xbox 360 controller work with the Xbox One?

Microsoft has confirmed that the Xbox 360 controller won’t work with the new Xbox One. That means that you will need to purchase extra controllers for same screen multiplayer action. 

An Xbox One controller with with play and charge kit will set you back £59.99 or £44.99 for it without the extra battery. In the US that's $75 and $60 respectively.

Will my Xbox 360 Kinect work with the Xbox One?

Once again the answer is no, but it’s less of a problem than the controller incompatibility. The Xbox One will come bundled with the new Kinect so it’s not much of an issue.

Can I use my Xbox 360 headset on the Xbox One?

This is a tricky question. If you want to use your official Xbox 360 headset with the Xbox One you’ll need to buy Microsoft's  adapter for £19.99.

If you have a third-party headset then you should be able to use it with the Xbox One out of the box for audio, but you’ll likely have to wait for the adapter to arrive before you get voice working. 

The official Xbox One headset costs £19.99 but it has only got a single speaker so you'll most certainly want your surround sound headset to be supported sooner rather than later.


It may sound a little gloomy, but we shouldn't forget that the Xbox 360 has been around for a long time and the Xbox One is a vastly superior beast. We're keen to find out for ourselves whether the extra effort expended on developing the new Xbox One controller and Kinect are more worthwhile than ensuring a link to the past is kept. In the time we've spent with the Xbox One so far we think it is. 

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