There have been a lot of questions raised about compatibility as Microsoft and Sony lay out their respective plans for the transition from the current console generation to the next-gen hardware currently prepping for release. Various software developers and publishers are clarifying their own plans, including Bethesda. Happily, if you’re a current Bethesda gamer, you can look forward to picking up some titles on your future console purchase free of charge. Bethesda writes:
Players who own or purchase either title on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 will be able to upgrade for free to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions, respectively, when those versions are available. Additionally, our teams are working hard to ensure both titles will support backwards compatibility when the new consoles launch.
The mention of backwards compatibility seems to imply that current players won’t just get to play the new versions on new consoles for free, but that some of the features being developed for the new hardware may also make their way back to older equipment. This makes sense if Microsoft intends to keep the Xbox One around as its base gaming platform (I almost typed “base playing station,” in an unintentionally amusing neural misfire). We may get more details this week, since virtual QuakeCon kicks off tomorrow.
Bethesda hasn’t announced anything about its other major titles, but it confirmed that both Xbox and PS4 owners would receive free upgrades to any updates made to any games, which most likely includes (say it with me), Skyrim. If you asked me which game was more likely to get an update for PS5/XSX, Fallout or Skyrim, I’d say Skyrim, hands down. It really says something about either the state of FO76 or the enduring love various fans feel towards the Nord / Imperial civil war that it’s not clear which title Bethesda will choose to bring to future consoles. (Obviously they could just port both, but if they had to pick just one, I’m guessing it’d be Skyrim).
How Will This Impact the PC Ecosystem?
There’s an interesting question in all this talk of backwards and forwards compatibility: How is it going to impact PCs? On the PC, backwards compatibility is assumed outside of unusual exceptions, but major overhauls to titles are typically pushed out as priced updates. If you want to mod the original 2011 Skyrim, including mods that could arguably make it look better than the updated version Bethesda formally shipped, you are entirely welcome to do so — but you can’t download the Enhanced Edition of Skyrim for free just because you own the original.
The proposition of free graphics updates and improvements for console players that PC players are expected to purchase is likely to be a non-starter, but no publisher that I can find has given an update on whether they intend to make any updates to current titles available on PC as well. Since most multiplayer games still don’t support cross-play between consoles and PCs, technically it’s likely possible to update the console flavors but leave PC gamers holding the bag.
As consoles gain the advantages of PCs, like upgradeable mid-cycle hardware and assumed backwards compatibility, PC gamers deserve to benefit from the features that previously defined the platform and made it unique. Rolling upgrades out as guarantees for one player base without addressing the other is a problem that companies need to address — hopefully by clarifying that any improvements made to console versions of titles and provided free of charge will be equally free to PC players. Bethesda’s blog post doesn’t mention this group of gamers at all. Hopefully that’s just an unintentional oversight.
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