Data Shows Xbox Gamers Aren't Using Backward Compatibility Much [Update: Microsoft Contests]

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Backward compatibility is a big draw for console gamers nostalgic for older titles, but new data shows that Xbox One players don't spend much time revisiting backward-compatible Xbox 360 games.

A new Ars Technica report that grabbed stats from nearly a million Xbox Live users showed that, on the Xbox One, only 1.5 per cent of these gamers' time is spent revisiting Xbox 360 titles. "Microsoft said in late 2015 that Xbox One users had spent nine million hours playing Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One in its first month or so of availability. That may sound like a big number, but it averages out to just a few minutes of playtime for each of the tens of millions of Xbox One owners out there," Ars Technica explains, adding, "In our sample, Xbox Live users on Xbox One averaged about 23.9 minutes with backward compatible games over 4.5 months."

Microsoft introduced backward compatibility to the Xbox One in 2015, but only on a game-by-game basis. The announcement at E3 proved wildly popular. Ever since, a slow-drip of 360 games has migrated to the Xbox One's store each week. But despite the initial hype, Ars Technica's sample of Xbox Live users on the Xbox One betrays less enthusiasm for older games.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Call of Duty: Black Ops was the most popular backward-compatible Xbox 360 game in Ars Technica's September to February sample, but only three out of every thousand Xbox One users plays it. And Black Ops is an outlier — Rayman Origins and Skate 3, the next two most-played Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One, are played only one-third as much. Ars Technica reports that "The hundreds of backward compatible Xbox 360 games combine to represent less than half of the play time that a game like Grand Theft Auto V manages on its own."

It's worth noting that the data doesn't stretch to April, when Call of Duty: Black Ops II became backward-compatible with the Xbox One and led to an explosion in its player-base.

UPDATE 6/11 2:11 PM: Microsoft has since responded to Ars Technica, stating that the exact percentages have actually been under-counted. Microsoft did not, however, provide specific stats. When asked by Kotaku if they could share that data, a representative said:

We've carefully reviewed Ars Technica's article, and have completed our own analysis of the actual data using identical parameters. Based on our findings, Ars Technica's analysis and conclusions are grossly inaccurate and misleading due to an incomplete set of data and drawing conclusions about actual usage from data that approximates usage. As an example, we specifically know, based on our complete view of Xbox Live usage data, players are highly engaged with backwards compatible game titles. It's why we continue to support this well-loved feature and the games that use it. We appreciate the work and effort by Ars Technica to share more information about the Xbox community and we are continually looking for ways to do so that also protect the interests of gamers and our partners.

Ars Technica, for its part, says:

It's still unclear to us whether or how the "approximations of usage" provided by the API impact the relative usage rankings in our sample. If all apps and games were undercounted by the API's "approximations" at the same rates (or even roughly the same rates), then these relative rankings would still be largely valid over a random sample. That would apply to figures and charts describing various apps or categories (such as Netflix or backward compatibility) as percentages of total sampled playtime


Earlier this week, Sony executive Jim Ryan made some controversial comments to Time about backward-compatibility generally: "When we've dabbled with backward compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much." He went on to say that Playstation 1 and 2 games look "ancient," and asked, "Why would anybody play this?"

Ryan's assessment of the desirability of backward compatibility was criticised widely by lovers of classic games, including Kotaku's Chris Kohler, who argues that titles like Suikoden II still do look very good. While the Xbox One and PS4 are different platforms, this new data discovered by Ars Technica reinforces the idea that sometimes, enthusiasm for the idea of a huge catalogue of older games games doesn't reflect extensive actual playtime.


    I must be such an outlier. I have 4 games I plan to use my Xbox One for: Assassins Creed 3, Red Dead Redemption, Fable 2 and Recore. Most recently played through all of Banjo Kazooie.

    Well, I was going to use the One, until it moved into the main lounge room to be used as a Netflix box. Good thing the 360 is still set up I suppose.

      Me too, since BC came in, I've played though to completion:

      Phantom Breaker, Dark Souls, Mirror's Edge, Doom 3, Foul Play, Monaco, Outland, Gears of War: Judgment, Gears of War 2 (Japanese, shh), Deus Ex: Human Revolution, South Park: Stick of Truth, Sacred Citadel and XCOM Enemy Unknown.

      Pretty sure thats more than my allocated 24 minutes, and thats not counting the games I intend to play.

    yeah I have a feeling the data is probably skewed against it for several different reasons ie alot of people use the xbox as a media system for watching netflix etc

      Maybe but the 1.5% is of playtime so one would hope that excludes media player time, but i don't know what they track and how.
      The stat I would be more interested in is what % of playtime it is for people who have used it. If only 10% of users have ever used that feature then 15% of those players time is spent on BC games.

        Wouldn't at all be surprised if most of the Xbox One user base was unaware of BC.

    I wonder how these numbers compare to Nintendo who has a major part of their business model devoted to re-releasing old games.

    Btw, Phil Spencer has already debunked this data.

      Yep. Curious how Ars rather large sample could get it so wrong, something wrong with the way they are scraping the data I guess.

        See my comment below. Ars is pretty accurate even according to MS itself.

      That wasn't debunked.

      Also, Xbox One sales reached 26 million in January 2017.

      The average Xbox One user spends 2.5 hours per day gaming - (survey of 17,990 console users).

      Backwards compatibility came in on 12 November 2015.

      Since 12 November 2015 there have been 574 days.

      574 x 26,000,000 x 2.5 = 37,310,000,000.

      508,000,000 / 37,310,000,000 = 0.014, or 1.4% of total gaming time has been spent on BC games.

      Now, obviously there is a margin of error there, including that 12 months of sales have elapsed where Xbox One has gone from about 20,000,000 sales (November 2015) to 26,000,000 sales (January 2017). But even assuming 20,000,000 users, the math comes to:

      574 x 20,000,000 x 2.5 = 28,700,000,000
      508,000,000 / 28,700,000,000 = 0.018 or 1.8% time spent on BC games.

      MS trying to spin the numbers, but when you look closely, they are not being frank.

        Yes and no. There's a variable you haven;t taken into that, from what I can see. The question asked is "Roughly how many hours do you spend playing on games consoles during a typical day?", not how many hours do you play specifically on your Xbox One per day. I could only find a website with data from 2014, but it found at 51% of households own more than one console.

        The fact that a selling point of the Xbox One S being the (or at least one of the) cheapest Ultra HD Blu-ray player on the market at launch would logically increase the chance of some Xbox Ones being used more for media than games. (That's just speculation on my part, happy for that to be taken with a grain of salt).

        If you're saying if you own an Xbox One, then on average you spend 1.8% of your total game time on your Xbox One playing Xbox 360 b/c games, then yes. If you're saying if you own an Xbox One, then on average you spend 1.8% of the time you play Xbox One playing Xbox 360 b/c games, then no.

          Yeah, I agree that the multiple console thing is a possibility, but
 was the Xbox One and Nintendo Wii U users who dedicate the most time to this activity, clocking up a daily average of around 2 ½ hours. PS4 users then fall slightly behind on 2:15 hours..."
          it doesn't make sense to refer to Xbox One users and PS4 users separately if they include Xbox One users who also own a PS4 or PS4 users who also own an Xbox One. I think it makes more sense for the survey to have asked owners how much time they spent on each console per day. Otherwise (if you look at the infographic further down the page) it would be too difficult to separate the different users into a single console category - unless the users had to nominate a 'primary' console for the purposes of the survey. Even then, giving time spent on all consoles but being categorised under a single console does not make sense. I'm therefore pretty sure that the time given would translate to a single console, although the article could have specified this.

            Ars Technica issued a statement of their own saying they fucked up the numbers themselves.


              Interesting that in my calculation above though, I didn't use the Ars report at all. I used Microsoft's own figures: 508 million hours of BC usage. That figure, as a fraction of all gaming time on Xbox, is still pretty insignificant.

              I suppose MS wants to correct the perception that very few people use it, and I accept that probably quite a lot of Xbox owners use BC, but they use it only a tiny little bit. I think it's fair to say that most people might only try it out on a game or two and then not touch it again.

    I have been playing GTA3 via backwards compatibility on my 360. The last GTA that was fun.

    Xbone Back compat games are hidden in a crappy store on a terrible system at outrageous prices where the $200 elite controller for those games is worse on Xbone then originally with the 360 controller.
    Go check youselves. The Elite controller performs worse. No matter the configure settings.

    Whats not to love.

    Just finished playing Halo: Reach again on the weekend. The BC feature has allowed me to pack away the old 360 so I no longer need both consoles out. After packing it away I realised now I can't use the HD-DVD drive without the 360 and I have Blade Runner (all 5 versions) on HD-DVD :(

    WIll the BC eventually also support the HD-DVD? I actually have quite a collection including Start Trek TOS.

      I've ended up ripping all of my HD-DVDs to the computer. Unfortunately the discs are all starting to die. I'd backup your collection before they become unplayable.

      Considering HD DVD rapidly became a defunct standard, I think your in the minority sadly.

    I had a look through the backwards compatible games list when it first came out and literally none of my games were there.

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