I don’t think MS is being half-assed with BC so much as it is a thing that, no matter how hard they try at it, it’s always going to seem half-assed.
The systems are different enough that going the emulation route is a freaking nightmare, and the kinds of coders who can pull off this stuff (and make it go fast enough to be playable) don’t exactly grow on trees. I honestly expected there to be fewer BC games than they have now, ever since they first announced BC and said “top titles.” I figured we’d get 10 games, the list would grow to like 50, and they’d be done with it.
The annoying part, as everyone says here, is that there’s no communication about it. Say whatever you will about how tricky it is to do the coding work, it’s not tricky to update the Gamerscore blog or for Major Nelson to whip something up.
If I had to guess, I would say that they don’t say much about it because they don’t want to make promises they can’t keep. This kind of emulation work is the sort of thing where you can’t just “drop features” if you can’t get the code right. It’s not like developing an original game. And it’s the sort of thing where you can get a game 99% of the way there, but that last 1% is a showstopping bug, and you might just never ever figure out how to get around it. So a month before the next BC update, do you tell people that you’re “really close” to getting Game X to work and it “will probably” be in the next BC update, and then it turns out you can’t deliver it? The gamers targeted most by BC are the ones who would get super excited about one particular game that’s finally going to be on the list, and then get super vocally pissed when it doesn’t show up.
Sony’s certainly doing a much better job of BC, but then, they kind of have to at $500/600. I don’t mean that they’ve got a hardware solution (though they do, and that’s part of the cost equation). I mean that there are a great many places in the world where you can’t sell a $300+ console. India, South America, Mexico, Eastern Europe, not to mention a huge portion of the market in the typical NA/Japan/Europe/Australia locals.
The PS2 will have a “long tail” in those markets (either officially or grey-market importing), being the affordable console of choice along with $20 Greatest Hits games and such. With the hardware in the PS3 and the cost associated with it, it will take 3-4 years before they can really start to make a dent for those demographics (and we’re talking tens of millions of potential customers, minimum).
So why is Microsoft not supporting the Xbox with first-party anymore, and putting all their marketing efforts and such behind the 360? I feel it’s because they’re not expecting the Xbox to be the long-tail product in those territories. They’re not even in many of them yet. Their goal is to provide official first-party launches of the 360 in those places and real MS support for them (rather than letting the grey market handle it). Sure they’ll only reach a fraction of the market with an expensive console, but they’re cheaper than the PS3 and can drive their costs down faster.
MS hopes to establish a beachhead with the affluent in these regions, build retail relationships and such, and then capture tens of millions of gamers in “emerging markets” as they drop the price.
Look at how incredibly fast they’re pushing the 360 into these markets. Since the initial three-territory launch, they’ve had official launches in:
and by the end of the year: South Africa, India, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia
That’s awfully fast global rollout for the first year. So I think MS’s priority, internationally speaking, is with making the 360 “the standard” and not extending the life of the Xbox, which has already lost to the PS2 in these markets (where they don’t buy multiple consoles, by and large). Sony’s priority is the opposite - the PS2 dominated so well, and is so cheap relative to the PS3, that it will be their international console of choice for a few years. Doing back compat well is a bigger onus for them, because globally speaking, they have to keep supporting the PS2 with strong software longer than Microsoft has to keep supporting Xbox.