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.
While the Xbox One initially launched with completely no support for older Xbox 360 titles, Microsoft announced at E3 2015 that we’ll finally be able to play our dusty old games on the Xbox One. Whether you’ve downloaded them from Xbox Live or still have the discs.
The idea of adding backwards compatibility to the Xbox One has floated around before, but this is the first confirmation we’ve seen that it’s coming and it actually works. 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)
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It looks like the work has paid off and Microsoft has finally been able to build an emulator. Having backwards compatibility is a big win for more casual gamers who don't want to keep multiple consoles in the lounge or just those of us with huge Xbox 360 game libraries.
It’s interesting to note that the PS4 is still not backwards compatible, with Sony instead throwing its eggs into the Playstation Now service. This lets you rent PS3 titles and stream them to your console.
How does it work?
To turn the Xbox One into a backwards compatible machine, Microsoft has built an Xbox 360 emulator that will run on the new console. This emulator will spring into life when you insert a compatible Xbox 360 disc and you’ll be able to download the title right to your HDD. It seems like you’ll have to keep the Xbox 360 disc in the tray while you play the game, which comes as no great surprise. If you’ve previously purchased Xbox 360 titles from the Store, these will automatically show up.
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You’ll even be able to take advantage of some of the best features on the Xbox One while you’re playing older titles. Game DVR is fully supported, as is quickly snapping a screenshot and broadcasting your finest play over the web.
Unlike Playstation’s Now streaming service, which charges for all games even if you previously owned them, this Xbox emulation will be completely free for all games. That’s definitely a nice touch.
What games are supported?
While few concrete details were given about just what games will be supported, we did see the original Mass Effect in action, Microsoft has said that ‘more than 100 titles’ will be arriving in time for Christmas. We’d assume that number will grow as the service becomes more and more popular. It should do, because developers don’t really have to do much to get their titles up and running. They just need to approve it, and Microsoft will do the rest. For the Tom Clancy die-hards amongst you, both Rainbow Six Vegas and Vegas 2 will be some of the first games supported by the service.
EA has also confirmed it will be adding a number of other titles from its massive vault to the service, but it didn’t divulge any further details.
Xbox 360 Kinect required games will not be supported.
If you’re lucky enough to be an Xbox Preview member, you can take the service for a spin right now. You won’t have access to all those titles though, Microsoft has handpicked an initial selection that includes Perfect Dark, Perfect Dark Zero, Viva Piñata and Banjo-Kazooie. You can check out the full list here.
When’s it coming?
As we just mentioned, Xbox Preview members can get a taster of the service right now. For everyone else it looks like it’s going to be sometime around Christmas. A bit of a wait then before we can dust off those old titles and get all nostalgic.
Why wasn’t the Xbox One initially Backwards Compatible?
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.
Backwards compatibility isn’t just about games though.
Will my Xbox 360 controller work with the Xbox One?
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. Microsoft has also just announced a rather fantastic looking ‘Elite’ controller. This lets you customise your game with replaceable triggers, a new stainless steel d-pad and a host of other improvements. It’s coming later this year for $149.99. Yes, that much.
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. Some Xbox One bundles still come bundled with the new Kinect but you can also pick them up separately.