Microsoft's pondering how to let you play Xbox 360 games on your Xbox One

Xbox One controller

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

If you perhaps thought backwards compatibility would never come to the Xbox One, that would be understandable. After all, it was former Xbox chief Don Mattrick himself who infamously told us last year, "If you're backwards compatible, you're really backwards." And then probably high-fived himself for that sweet wordplay.

But if you'd lost hope in ever playing Halo 3 on the Xbox One (besides the inevitable re-release, of course), console development lead Frank Savage is here to extend the long arm of hope to you. Kind of. Maybe.

When asked at Microsoft's Build conference if there are plans for Xbox 360 compatibility, Kotaku reports that 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. There's nothing to announce, but I'd love to see it myself."

The best laid plans

For my money? I'm not counting on the feature ever making it into the Xbox One directly. It's easy for Microsoft to say they're working on it and get people excited, but it's much harder to execute on the idea. Even Apple, when it switched from PowerPC to Intel processors—as Microsoft did when it moved from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One—declined to update the Classic shell used to emulate OS9.

Backwards compatibility is far more complicated than it sounds, due to the fact that every console is built from very specific parts and designed to run a specific way. Things get even more complicated when you get towards the end of a console cycle and developers use the hardware in different ways than intended—features which must be properly included in emulation.

It's not that it can't be done, but that it's a lot of work for a feature most people don't use.

Provided backwards compatibility ever makes it onto the Xbox One, it'll most likely be in one of two forms: Severely hampered (like the Xbox 360's emulation of the original Xbox) or streamed over the web (as Sony plans to do with the PlayStation 4).

Xbox (Original)

The Xbox 360 was "backwards compatible" with the original Xbox, but only 50% of the Xbox's library was ever made to work.

The Xbox 360 was "backwards compatible" with the original Xbox, but only with certain games, and even those games occasionally had texture or sound issues. It wouldn't be surprising if Microsoft got emulation working with two- or three-dozen of the most popular games and left the rest to rot.

Or there's the possibility of Microsoft joining Sony in the streaming realm. Sony has plans for PlayStation Now, a streaming service that will allow both new and old games to be played on a remote machine over the web—remnants of Sony's Gaikai acquisition. Streaming games doesn't require the technical trickery of native console emulation, as it's essentially just a video feed, but it does require a robust server infrastructure.

Microsoft certainly has a robust server infrastructure in Azure, its cloud hosting platform. It wouldn't be surprising to see Xbox 360 backwards compatibility arrive in that form, although streaming comes with its own issues, primarily latency.

But until we know more, you'll have to keep that 360 hooked up if you want to play Red Dead Redemption or Gears of War.

This story, "Microsoft's pondering how to let you play Xbox 360 games on your Xbox One" was originally published by TechHive.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon