Console gamers looking at upgrading to a new system at the end of the year likely have a few major questions about how their existing game libraries will work across console generations, such as:
- Will I be able to play my current games on the new system?
- How will those games be improved when running on more powerful hardware?
- Will I have to buy another copy of the game to get those enhancements?
The answer to those questions varies greatly depending on the platform and publisher involved, and answers for some specific games are still unknown. That said, here's a handy guide to where various cross-generational game compatibility and upgrade plans stand at this point.
At a basic level, both Microsoft and Sony are taking steps to ensure that most (if not all) of your current-generation console game library will be playable on their new consoles.
For Microsoft, this promise dates back to last June, when Phil Spencer said, "your games, your achievements, your progression, your accessories, your console experience with Xbox: it all comes forward with Scarlett [the codename for Xbox Series X]." Since then, Microsoft has clarified that "existing Xbox One games, including backward-compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games" will work on the new system. In addition to every Xbox One title, that compatibility list currently includes over 500 Xbox 360 games and 39 original Xbox games. For Sony, the specific compatibility list is less clear. In March the company announced the PS5 would run in a "legacy mode" to support content made for the PS4 and PS4 Pro. Originally, though, PS5 architect Mark Cerny only promised that the top 100 most popular PS4 titles would be compatible with PS5 at launch, with plans to further expand later.
In an update days later, Sony Senior VP Hideaki Nishino clarified that Sony "believe[s] that the overwhelming majority of the 4,000+ PS4 titles will be playable on PS5." That said, Nishino also added that the company is "currently evaluating games on a title-by-title basis to spot any issues that need adjustment from the original software developers."
Reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like most PS4 games will run on the PS5 without issue through the launch-day "legacy mode." But Sony also seems wary of making any promises even approaching "universal" backward compatibility until more internal testing is done.
There's no indication so far that games from earlier pre-PS4 PlayStation consoles will be directly compatible with the PS5. A PlayStation Now subscription will give PS5 owners streaming access to hundreds of titles from the PS2 and PS3 libraries, however.
When it comes to accessories, Sony will require users to purchase new DualSense controllers to play PS5 games (though the older DualShock 4 will work on the PS5 when playing PS4 games). Microsoft, by contrast, is promising that all Xbox One controllers (with the exception of the Kinect) will work on the Series X without issue.
Will my old games get enhancements?
Both Microsoft and Sony are promising that all older games will automatically look and perform a bit better when running on newer hardware. Microsoft, for instance, says backward-compatible software on Series X will "benefit from steadier framerates, faster load times and improved resolution and visual fidelity—all with no developer work required."
Sony says it is "expecting backward compatible titles will run at a boosted frequency on PS5 so that they can benefit from higher or more stable frame rates and potentially higher resolutions." That mirrors the promise of the PS4 Pro, which used an optional Boost Mode to achieve much the same effect.
Those kinds of improvements should be possible on new hardware without any extra work from the original game developers. But gamemakers will also have the option of specifically "optimizing" current-generation games to take fuller advantage of the additional power of the new consoles.
Microsoft is heavily leaning into this "Optimized for Series X" branding, promising that "50 new games planned for this year" and "more than 40 popular games" from earlier in the Xbox One era will be upgraded in this manner in time for the November launch. These optimized titles will offer "unparalleled load-times, heightened visuals, and steadier framerates at up to 120FPS" on the Xbox Series X, Microsoft says, though specific resolution and frame rate values will vary from game to game.