PS5 backwards compatibility revealed — and it’s bad news

(Image credit: Sony)

One of the most persistent PS5 rumors has been that Sony’s next console will be backwards compatible with previous PlayStation systems, going all the way back to the PS1. Sony never said anything to this effect, but the possibility still crops up every now and then, buoyed by enthusiastic fans as well as Sony’s own patents.

A recent Ubisoft support article seems to settle the issue definitively, however: The PS5 will apparently be backwards-compatible with most PS4 games, but nothing older than that.

Information comes from an Ubisoft support article entitled “Transitioning PlayStation 4 Titles to Next-Gen Versions.” As you may have guessed, the article contains information about Ubisoft’s program to offer PS5 versions of games that players have purchased for the PS4. It’s a pretty short article, linking out to more comprehensive guides, but there is one telling section at the end:

“Backwards compatibility will be available for supported PlayStation 4 titles, but will not be possible for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, or PlayStation games.”

That would seem to settle the issue. Many PS4 games will be backwards compatible with the PS5; PS1, PS2 and PS3 games will not. (We do have to wonder whether there are any PS1, PS2 or PS3 games that will even have PS5 versions, but that’s neither here nor there.)

This limitation won’t shock anyone who’s familiar with how PlayStation architecture has changed over time. Without going into too much technical detail, the PS3 used a completely different form of processing than the PS4 and the PS5, making backwards compatibility just about impossible. There’s a reason why if you want to play PS3 games on the PS4, you have to stream them through PlayStation Now.

On the other hand, fans who believed that the PS5 would offer complete backwards compatibility cited streaming as one possible avenue. PlayStation Now, or a similar service, could theoretically stream old games that players already own from a Sony server. (There is, in fact, a Sony patent to this effect.)

Since PlayStation Now already supports a number of PlayStation games from older consoles, it’s not at all ridiculous to believe that Sony could expand PS Now’s functionality and library in the future. However, that’s still a far cry from “total backwards compatibility,” which Ubisoft’s message seems to quash.

Once again, it seems worth pointing out that Sony itself has never promised backwards compatibility on the PS5 beyond PS4 games. During his technical breakdown of the console in March, Mark Cerny pointed out that the PS5 would be able to run the vast majority of PS4 games, and support the enhanced resolution and frame rates available in PS4 Pro-optimized titles. The “PS5 will be backwards compatible with everything” rumor seems to be just wishful thinking that started and crystallized on social media.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.