The lack of backwards compatibility on PSVR2 isn’t exactly surprising news, but being honest about the complications would go down a lot better than PR spin.
I thought we’d gotten past this. After a period of odd resistance to the idea of backwards compatibility—highlighted most excruciatingly by that comment from Jim Ryan—it seemed like PlayStation had finally come around. Compatibility with almost the entire PlayStation 4 library was one of the PS5’s big selling points, and it’s been a remarkable success in smoothing the generational transition. The playerbase is less fractured, and there’s less pressure on developers to target both generations or risk lost sales. For players who want the new stuff but still want to play PS4 games—which more is most of us, I’d wager—there’s no need to keep two consoles hooked up. It also means newcomers to PlayStation have huge back catalogue for new PlayStation players to delve into, something Sony very specifically catered to with the PlayStation Plus Collection. Being able to effortlessly do double duty as a PS4 has been, I think, one of the PlayStation 5’s biggest strengths.
Obviously, then, PlayStation would do the same with PlayStation VR, right? Sony’s first foray into virtual reality was relatively successful; despite being comparatively weaker than other VR systems, and being a cable management nightmare, it managed to accrue a reasonable install base for what is, realistically, niche technology. More importantly, it turned out some wonderful games, including a few genuine masterpieces that really pushed the boundaries of what “VR” means—Moss and Astro Bot: Rescue Mission come to mind. After seeing how well it worked for PS5, there’s no way that Sony wouldn’t leverage PSVR’s unique strengths to help PlayStation VR2 hit the ground running, right?
“PlayStation VR games are not compatible with PlayStation VR2 because PlayStation VR2 is designed to be a truly next-generation virtual reality experience,” Hideaki Nishino, senior vice president of platform experience at SIE, revealed recently on the Official PlayStation Podcast.
“PlayStation VR2 has much more advanced features like an all-new controller with haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, as I’ve said, and inside-out tracking in it, 3D audio is coming together, 4K HDR of course… so this means that making games for PlayStation VR2 requires a whole different approach than the original PSVR. These features actually enable developers to create worlds that feel more vivid and alive, and bring players closer to the experience than ever. I believe that.”
On one hand, it’s not that surprising. I get it. Buried in between PR spin like “truly next-generation” and “worlds that feel more vivid and alive” sits a salient point: “making games for PlayStation VR2 requires a whole different approach”. PSVR2, from everything we’ve seen so far, is a very different piece of tech. It uses a different, camera-less tracking mechanism. The controllers are completely different. I’m not technically savvy enough to predict the implication of the one-cord setup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that requires a fundamental change to the way games send video to the headset. It’d be naive to think PSVR2 backwards compatibility is a trivial matter, especially if it’s to be done at a hardware level and not on a case-by-case basis for individual games.
But if that’s the case, just say so! I know I wasn’t alone in quietly hoping I’d be able to play my PSVR games on PSVR2 and finally retire the old headset—I love the games on it, but there’s no arguing that it’s not a hassle to set up and use. The lack of PSVR2 backwards compatibility was always going to be disappointing news, but how that news is presented makes all the difference. “It’s not technically feasible due to the differences in hardware, here’s why” —that’s still a disappointing announcement, but it’s a reasonable one. The more honest and upfront you are about it, the more understanding most people will be.
Instead, Nishino’s comment buried an allusion to that more logical explanation in the middle of a bunch of weasel words about how amazing and revolutionary the new system will be, in a way that makes it sound more like a content curation decision. “PSVR2 is a place for new, next-gen games that bring players closer to the experience ever, not for those filthy old games that can’t even do haptic feedback. Why would anyone want to play those?” I’m sure that’s not what was intended, but it’s how the announcement came across—as looking down on PSVR’s legacy, and seeing those games as outdated and irrelevant.
Which is insane, when you think about how good some of the stuff on PlayStation VR is—and still is, to this day. In a medium that’s still trying to find its feet, you have remarkable things like Moss and Astro Bot: Rescue Mission showing just how unique and engrossing VR can be when you get creative with it and break away from the assumption that everything has to be played from a first-person perspective. Games like Tetris Effect and Thumper, though VR-optional, showed just how impactful virtual reality immersion can be when it’s channeled into something other than realism for the sake of realism. They’re still the games I turn to when I need to just shut out the world completely and drown myself in an onslaught of sound and colour. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is still a rollicking fun rail shooter.
None of these are games that needed haptic feedback or 4K HDR displays to work, or to be “immersive” and impactful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see what PSVR2 devs will do with that technology—Team Asobi in particular, after the sheer brilliance of Rescue Mission and Astro’s Playroom. But that doesn’t mean the stuff that came before is worthless.
Quite the opposite, in fact. If Sony could, somehow, get PSVR games to play nice with PSVR2, the new headset could launch with a ready-made library of fantastic games to help entice new players. For existing PSVR owners who are on the fence, “you can finally ditch that old headset with its millions of wires and cluttered setup in favour of something much more convenient” is a very appealling proposition. Maybe it’d cost a bit to overcome whatever technical hurdles stand in the way, but backwards compatibility for PSVR2 would make a much, much stronger sales pitch. ”Oh, you’re new here? Well come on in, and enjoy all this good stuff that you missed out on before!” It worked very well for PlayStation 5.
And if there really, truly is just no possible way to make that work? Just be honest with us about it, instead of giving us this PR spin about how PSVR2 is going to be “much more advanced” and “bring players closer to the experience than ever”. That just makes it sound like, rather than coming from a place of technical viability, is the result of Sony seeing no value in those groundbreaking, remarkable games simply because they’re not “next-gen” enough. It sounds a little bit too much like “Why would anyone want to play that?”