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By Dan Moren

Microsoft shows backwards compatibility doesn’t mean going backwards

I ended up with an Xbox One earlier this year1, and since most of my friends have now moved over to Microsoft’s new console, my Xbox 360 has been largely gathering dust. But I hadn’t yet considered ditching it entirely, in large part because I have an extensive catalog of games for it, dating back seven years or so.

Good news, then, that Microsoft announced this week at E3 that they’re rolling out backwards compatibility with 360 games. Granted, it’s a gradual process, and not every game will get the treatment, but it seems likely that most of the popular games I own—your Mass Effects, your Grand Theft Autos, your Halos—will probably make the jump.

To make this happen, Microsoft has actually built a virtual Xbox 360 console into the digital versions of the games, complete with the 360’s Guide interface. That’s kind of nuts, but it reminded me of the old Classic environment in OS X, which maintained compatibility with apps running on MacOS 9 and earlier. It also apparently means that you’ll be able to keep using all the features of the game in question, including online multiplayer, which is great if you want to dig out an old title and play it through.

Kudos to Microsoft for making this process free and, on paper anyway, easy. If you bought digital editions of the games on the Backwards Compatibility list, you can just download compatible versions to your Xbox One; if you own the game on physical media, you put the disc in your Xbox One and the digital version starts downloading automatically. (You need to keep the disc in the drive to play, though.)

Right now, there are only a handful of 360 games available, and you need to be a member of the Xbox Preview Program in order to use it. Microsoft is estimating there will be more than 100 titles available, and it’s actively soliciting suggestions for games to add. (Red Dead Redemption!)

Microsoft didn’t originally promise backwards compatibility for 360 games on the Xbox One, perhaps because when they tried to do the same for original Xbox games on the 360, it had, well, less than impressive results. I’d like to think that this attempt will be more successful, thanks to the horsepower the Xbox One can bring to bear, though. Either way, it means getting a little more value out of those games I’ve already paid for, which is always a bonus.


  1. Courtesy of my friends, who very nicely pooled to buy it for me as an early birthday present.  ↩

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]