Backwards compatibility is a big deal, and the crowd at Microsoft’s E3 event responded with applause at the news.

Microsoft promised us some surprises at E3, and it looks like they delivered.

Phil Spencer dropped a bombshell right at the beginning of the conference by announcing backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One.11101622_10153294426656023_1506528883964594824_o (1)

The company promises that Xbox 360 games will run perfectly on the Xbox One this holiday season, though it won’t be all games to start with.

Whether or not it works perfectly is a giant question mark, but if it does this is a huge change.

I’ve got a stack of Xbox 360 games nearly a story high in my house, and I know I’m not alone.

It looks a little sad there right now, seeing as I’ve mostly moved my gaming over to current-gen systems. Backwards compatibility isn’t something we’ve seen on Xbox or Playstation since the PS3, which didn’t turn out too well (The Wii U is backwards compatible with the Wii, though).

Microsoft appears to have found a pure software solution to the problem, unlike the PS3. But people like me aren’t really the target audience. This is clearly aimed at Xbox 36o owners who have been nervous about making the full jump to Xbox One.

This smooths out that transition by giving people peace of mind: they won’t have to totally restart their games collection. Microsoft promises that digital games should start appearing in libraries around launch.

PS4 still has a massive lead, and I’d be surprised if this would be enough to close that sizeable gap. But it’s a great feature for Xbox 360 owners, and an important reversal for the company that bombed E3 so badly two years ago. That Microsoft appeared to want to stymie gamers with DRM and requirements at every turn. This is just the opposite: as Phil Spencer said, gamers shouldn’t have to pay more for games they already own — a clear shot at Sony’s Playstation Now service. It’s a pro-player move, and we could always use more of those.

E3 has already started strong with Bethesda’s conference last night, and this backwards compatibility is one of the better announcements I’ve seen in a while. Will Sony have something big to show us tonight? We’ll see.

At Microsoft’s end, all this will be made possible via a painstaking software emulation initiative.

Ybarra also confirmed that some games could look better when displayed on Xbox One, and in an apparent dig at Sony’s PlayStation Now subscription service, said that “we at Microsoft won’t charge you to play the games you already own”.

System-wide Xbox One features, such as DVR and streaming, will be available on all Xbox 360 titles.

If you want to know what you’re going to be able to play on your Xbox One, here’s the comprehensive list.

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