Xbox Series X secret weapon against PS5 fully revealed

xbox series x, xbox series s
(Image credit: Future)

Both our Xbox Series X review and PS5 review are live, and they're both excellent machines. But one area where the Xbox Series S and X pulls ahead of the PS5 is on backwards compatibility.

While both Microsoft and Sony’s next-generation systems have it to some degree, backwards compatibility is far more complete on the new Xbox consoles. 

And it turns out that isn’t by chance. This is something that Microsoft has been working hard on for four years, according to the company’s director of program management for Xbox, Jason Ronald.

“We’ve been working on Xbox Series X and Series S since 2016,” he told Inverse. “Before we even had a processor, we took performance data from existing games and ran them on a next-generation chip simulator. This allowed us to identify potential problems with the process or even before it was produced.”

The company would keep testing games as the hardware advanced, making sure things continued to work as expected, even improving them in some respects with features like Auto HDR.

This, as you might imagine, is time consuming. And it's surprising exactly how much effort the company has put into something that has never previously been seen as top priority.

“Last year we ran tests that could take 16 to 24 hours for a single game,” Ronald continued. “We had a whole army of testers, about 500 people, who went through all the games in order of priority. If they found problems, our Backward Compatibility team would fix them without developer involvement. We have a responsibility to ensure that these games continue to work.”

The results are certainly impressive, with just a handful of Xbox One games not working due to the lack of Kinect hardware integration. 

The PS5’s solution, meanwhile, is said to be more patchy. Although the official list of unsupported titles looks pretty unremarkable, Ubisoft has hinted that this may not tell the full story. Plus, of course, while the Xbox Series X supports select original Xbox and 360 games, PS5 backwards compatibility starts and ends with the PS4.

And Microsoft may not be done with backwards compatibility yet. Later in the interview, Ronald is asked about more vintage titles being added to the mix, and doesn’t rule it out. “Yeah, it's definitely something we're looking into,” he replied. “Some of the challenges are technical, but more often than not it comes down to licensing. In some cases, the developer or publisher doesn't exist anymore. Even tracking down who we need approvals from can be very, very difficult.”

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.