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Sony stumbles on classic games, handing Microsoft an early E3 talking point

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This is why you don’t spit on your own past

Annual E3 Gaming Conference In Los Angeles Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Sony global sales chief Jim Ryan only had to brag about the 60 million PlayStation 4 units the company has sold since the hardware’s launch in an interview with Time, but instead he handed Microsoft an easy talking point going into E3.

The Xbox brand cares about the past. PlayStation does not. That’s how it can be spun, anyway.

“When we've dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much,” Ryan explained. "That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”

The statement itself is likely accurate — a lot of fans like to make noise online about older games and backwards compatibility, but the data seems to suggest it’s rarely used — but it sounds terrible on paper.

Playing old Gran Turismo games can be fun precisely because you get to see how far games have come since the first title. Looking ancient can be a feature, not a bug, and it’s rare to hear someone in a position of power be so contemptuous of the history of their art form.

It makes sense from a business point of view, however. Sony’s strategy involves updating the graphics of classic games before releasing them as “remasters,” as Kotaku pointed out, but that approach comes with drawbacks.

“You might appreciate these upgrades, but the increased amount of effort required to do these necessarily keeps the selection limited and the price high,” Chris Kohler wrote.

Microsoft now has an easy way to dunk on Sony

Sony’s Jim Ryan may not think people want to play old Gran Turismo titles, but Microsoft is comfortable dumping what had to have been a substantial amount of money into a reissue of the commercial flop Phantom Dust. The 2017 version of the game was given away to fans for free, and earned the company mountains of good will from players, even if very few people will end up playing it extensively.

“The act of preserving and appreciating the history of games doesn’t rest only on the shoulders of fans and journalists; platform holders and IP owners carry a unique responsibility to propagate games from the past,” Camouflaj founder Ryan Payton wrote in a story praising the decision.

Microsoft doesn’t just seem to care about its gaming past, the company is also willing to get its wallet out from time to time to prove it.

Microsoft regularly updates the list of games that are backwards compatible on the Xbox One, while also selling digital copies of those titles. Doing so gives the Xbox brand positive press, while providing added value for anyone who is thinking about jumping onto the platform.

If you already own any of these games on your Xbox Live account, they just kind of appear for download on your Xbox One. It’s always a pleasant surprise, and who doesn’t want to play Red Dead Redemption with a smoother frame rate before the sequel is released?

Both platforms are looking for any advantage they can find going into E3, and Microsoft is already scoring points on Sony’s misstep. Here’s Xbox CMO Mike Nichols, for instance:

Carrying your gaming past forward as you purchase new hardware in the Xbox brand is a big part of Microsoft’s strategy, and it’s a weak spot for Sony that the company should maybe avoid in the future instead of shooting themselves in the foot.

Older games are a point of both nostalgia and pride for enthusiast gamers, and even casual fans like the idea of being able to play games they’ve already purchased on new hardware. Microsoft gets to say it’s putting its money where it’s mouth is in this area, and Sony does not. Expect to hear more about that quote during E3, as Sony just handed Microsoft a very simple, and effective, talking point.