How Microsoft plans to make Xbox 360 games work on Xbox One

The Xbox One isn’t just going to pretend it’s an Xbox 360 when it runs games for the old system. It’s actually going to become an Xbox 360.

That’s a layman’s description of what Microsoft’s head of Xbox, Phil Spencer explained on an episode of Giant Bomb LIVE! filmed at E3 on Tuesday. A key aspect of the Xbox One is the ability to run three different operating systems, one for apps like Skype, another to run Xbox One games, and a third to allow all the disparate parts of the Xbox One to “talk” to one another. 

Running another O/S for Xbox 360 games is the kind of thing Xbox One was designed for, even if it wasn’t part of Microsoft’s original plan for the console. 

“The approach that we’ve taken is to actually emulate the full Xbox 360 O/S,” Spencer told Giant Bomb. “The full Xbox 360 hardware layer. So the O/S for the 360’s actually running, when you run the game. And if you watch the game’s boot right now, you’ll see actually the Xbox 360 boot animation come up.”

Spencer also explained how game streaming and capture for Xbox 360 games will be possible on the Xbox One. You can check out his full conversation with Giant Bomb about backwards compatibility, which includes all the technical details, on YouTube.

Backwards compatibility on the Xbox One is currently limited to Xbox preview members, who are given access to things like UI improvements prior to their official release. Microsoft on its Xbox site has shared the current list of Xbox 360 games that will play on the Xbox One.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Dennis Scimeca

Dennis Scimeca

Dennis Scimeca was the Daily Dot's gaming reporter until 2016. He loves first-person shooters, role-playing games, and massively multiplayer online games. His work has appeared in Salon, NPR, Ars Technica, Kotaku, Polygon, Gamasutra, GamesBeat, Paste, and Mic.