A little while ago a good friend of mine wanted to talk to me about his primary issue with the new PlayStation 4 (PS4). His issue was the lack of backwards compatibility with titles that he had purchased digitally. He was concerned about what was going to be happening to his old purchases.
I would like to take the time to state that I am not a particularly great programmer. I took programming in college and earned a programming diploma; however, it was during this time that I learned that my aptitude was as a network / system administrator. I then attended and graduated from college a second time in a program better suited to my skills and interests. That being said, I feel that I know enough to get by and understand the broad concepts of hardware architecture.
I took the time to explain to my friend that the reason older games would no longer work on the PS4 is because of the drastic architectural changes. On some level Sony must have realized that the Cell processor was a mistake. Then in an effort to become more accessible, they chose to move towards X86. X86 is the same architecture that the common desktop personal computer utilizes. However, upon making this switch, it meant that the software specifically developed for the Playstation 3 (PS3), which uses the Cell Processor, would no longer be compatible with the PS4. While explaining this, I thought of an idea that would help Sony keep up their momentum with the new console war along with generating a lot of good will towards consumers and even developers. I speculate that it would not take a lot of work for Sony, or the developers of the existing games to follow through with.
The majority of the multiplatform games for the PS3 already exist on an X86 platform, namely Windows or OSX (sometimes Linux). Games like The Cave, Braid, Deathspank, Dyad, etc. all have Windows or Mac (OSX) versions that are already finished. Sony could provide these developers with the PS4 Software Development Kit free of charge and assist in porting the game over to the new PS4 platform. If they really wanted to go the extra mile, they could provide some small amount of funding to assist in the port process, after all game programmers do need to eat.
Once the porting process has been finished, and the games have passed whatever quality assurance necessary to get them online, the new PS4 version could be put up for sale on Playstation Network (PSN). Sony has already stated that they want the PSN accounts to carry over from the PS3 to the PS4. Its speculated this is to pull over all trophy data and friends, but Sony will still have purchase records stored on their servers as well. Using the method I have described, if they see that you purchased The Cave on your PS3, then you could gain access to the PS4 version immediately through the Sony cross buy program.
This would mean there would be no need for emulation, which could result in a loss of performance, and people would be able to keep their old games. The developers of these games could enjoy being released on a new platform at launch, extending the life of their game. Also, new customers who missed out on the PS3 (or people who are jumping ship from Microsoft) could be gained, and best of all, Sony would look great in the public eye and have a larger game catalog at launch. Everybody wins.
The only issue with this idea that I can foresee, is that it would require all of the small developers to devote resources to get their game working on, and support, yet another platform. For example, I doubt that Jonathan Blow would be able to get Braid up and running on the PS4 in time for launch, as he is busy working on The Witness. This means, the idea would need to be implemented on a developer to developer basis, and if a developer does not think that it is worth the effort, it probably will not happen.
Even still, it is definitely an idea that could help Sony, the developers, and the customers; and I think that it is worth pursuing.