Last week it came to light that Sony’s decision to shut down legacy system digital storefronts (that’s the PSP, PSVita, and PS3 PSN Stores) would have a detrimental effect if this policy were to be enforced on the PS4 store in a few years.
In short, the issue, dubbed CBomb, comes into effect when the CMOS battery on the console’s motherboard fails. This battery keeps the motherboard powered so that it can preserve simple things like the date and time and ensure that the console clock is accurate whether you power it on daily or annually. CMOS batteries are not anything new, we’ve had them since PCs became a widely used item, but unlike on PC, changing the battery on a console requires you to take your console apart. This is not a highly skilled operation, but unlike PCs where most things are easily accessible, taking apart a console takes a bit more work and requires you to keep track of many more screws.
While CBomb is more an issue for the legacy consoles than the PS4 since the PS5 can play all but a handful of PS4 games, it is still concerning. Luckily while the issue affects both digital and physical games on the PS4, on PS5 physical games will run perfectly fine.
Before the Xbox fanboys start pointing fingers the same guys who experimented and brought CBomb to light have been looking at the Xbox consoles and what they have found is just as concerning. The first issue is that on initial setup Xboxes require an internet connection and and active XBL account. So if the servers ever go away, or more likely are shut down in favour of something newer, you will not be able to setup and activate an Xbox. This again is an issue for retro gamers and archivists mainly, but also for any owners who for whatever reason have to factory reset their consoles. And, yes, replacing a CMOS battery on an Xbox console likely requires server authentication or a factory reset. While Cbomb may be repairable by users this issue is not.
The second issue relates to physical discs for backwards compatibility. While backwards compatible games are insert and play, Microsoft has created a DRM solution that requires the console to “phone home” and authenticate the disc before allowing the game to be played. Again, if the servers go offline, your physical discs won’t work.
In fact the way the backwards compatibility works for physical discs, at least according to this support thread, is that the physical disc is just used to validate that you own the game. According to Xbox Ambassador ArminatorX, “The thing with backward compatible games on disc is, that the disc is only a “proof of purchase” for the console. The actual game data on the disc is useless, as it is in a different “language” than the X64-architecture in the Xbox One (the Xbox 360 using a Power PC processor architecture).”
While I could not find any confirmation that the Xbox One on=r Series consoles backwards compatibility follows the same process, I doubt that MS would change their processes each generation.
While both these issues are unlikely to affect consoles in the short to medium term, with MS’ current customer-friendly policy of trying to make every game from every generation playable on the latest hardware, it is a problem that will be faced at some point. While it is MS’ policy today a change in leadership at MS will occur and with that change will come policy changes and the customer-friendly policies could just as easily be one of those policies.