Sony seriously needs to clarify the backward compatibility situation on PS5

The Order 1886 No Ps5 Sad Face
The Order 1886 No Ps5 Sad Face (Image credit: Samuel Tolbert/Android Central)

Backward compatibility was a staple on Xbox One, so of course Microsoft is doubling down on this philosophy with the Xbox Series X. Considering the overwhelmingly positive response that backward compatibility has gotten, Sony appeared to be poised to adopt that same type of program on PlayStation 5 (PS5). All comments seemingly indicated that backward compatibility would be a major feature on the PS5, but judging by Mark Cerny's canceled GDC talk, which was streamed online Wednesday, this doesn't appear to be the case.

Cerny mentioned that 100 of the most popular PS4 titles were being tested for backward compatibility on PS5, but this confused some people who didn't know if that meant that only those 100 titles would playable on PS5 or if those were just the games being tested at the moment. An official post on the PlayStation Blog did not assuage fears, and only added to the confusion.

...We're excited to confirm that the backwards compatibility features are working well. We recently took a look at the top 100 PS4 titles as ranked by play time, and we're expecting almost all of them to be playable at launch on PS5. With more than 4000 games published on PS4, we will continue the testing process and expand backwards compatibility coverage over time.

Judging from the wording here, people have read this to mean that most of the top 100 PS4 titles will be playable on PS5 at launch. The rest? You'll just need to wait and see. That's eerily similar to the Xbox One's program right now, but according to Microsoft, all Xbox One games will be playable on Xbox Series X without exception. It's disappointing to see Sony living in the past instead of moving forward.

Xbox One backward compatibility is achieved on a software-level by emulating the Xbox 360. There's no hardware built-in to natively play Xbox 360 games, which is why not all are compatible — and, you know, pesky licencing agreements and whatnot. The PS4, likewise, could not natively play PS3 games. It's unclear what type of solution the PlayStation 5 will use.

The Last of Us

Source: Sony (Image credit: Source: Sony)

The PS4's architecture was a far cry from that of the PS3, but an in an initial interview between Mark Cerny and Wired, it was noted that the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 would have similar architecture, thus making backward compatibility possible.

There's a lot of confusion on the state of backward compatibility on PS5.

But that's only one way to interpret the wording. You could also read it as Sony only using the top 100 games as a reference point. The company did not explicitly state that all PS4 games won't be playable. The end of the quote, however, where Sony says that it wants to "expand backwards compatibility coverage over time" doesn't instill a lot of hope. It's unclear whether Sony intends to expand the library before or after the PlayStation 5's launch.

To be honest, I don't generally play a lot — or any, for that matter — of Xbox 360 games on my Xbox One. I just don't take advantage of the program. But that doesn't mean it isn't immensely beneficial for a lot of other players. Backward compatibility is a crucial feature that currently sets the Xbox One apart from the PlayStation 4.

This isn't time for Sony to bungle its messaging, especially when Microsoft has released a ton of Xbox Series X information — much more than Sony has done for the PS5.

It doesn't help that on paper, the Xbox Series X's CPU and GPU are more powerful than that of the PS5. I personally don't care about power and teraflops — the solid-state drive (SSD) is much more interesting to me — but these are the numbers that a lot of other hardcore fans see. I could talk until I'm blue in the face about how amazing the PlayStation 5's SSD is and how revolutionary it could be for game developers, and people would still only care about teraflops.

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CategoryPlayStation 5Xbox Series X
Processor8x Cores @ 3.5GHz Custom Zen 2 CPU8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz Custom Zen 2 CPU
Graphics10.28 TFLOPS, 36 CUs @ 2.23 GHz Custom RDNA 212.155 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2
Memory16 GB GDDR6, 256-bit16 GB GDDR6, 320mb bus
Memory Bandwidth448GB/s10 GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
Internal Storage825GB Custom NVME SSD1 TB Custom NVME SSD

Sony needs to address this whole backward compatibility situation as soon as possible because it isn't looking great at the moment, and there's no reason to let players get worked up over nothing. It's disappointing enough that it looks like PS3 games won't be backward compatible at all.

We've reached out to Sony to ask for clarification on this and are waiting to hear back. We'll update you when we have more information.

Jennifer Locke
Games Editor - PlayStation, Android, VR

Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life. You can find her posting pictures of her dog and obsessing over PlayStation and Xbox, Star Wars, and other geeky things.