Yesterday, PlayStation let slip that some more of its upcoming PS5 games will also be launching on PS4.
Joining Horizon: Forbidden West will be the next God of War and Gran Turismo 7. The internet is unhappy about it. There's this notion that if a new generation game is playable on an older console, then it's not truly a new generation game. It's a belief that was somewhat referenced by PlayStation chief Jim Ryan, who said that it was time to give customers something new "that can only be enjoyed on PS5," responding to Xbox's strategy of making games cross-generational.
To begin with, I've never been overly convinced by the idea that taking a PS5 game to PS4 makes it any less a PS5 game. Gran Turismo 7 will, I'm sure, make use of all the fancy PS5 bells and whistles. We've just had an entire generation where certain developers ported their Xbox One and PS4 games to Nintendo Switch, and nobody suggested that made them any less Xbox One and PS4 titles. I understand that some games -- such as next week's Ratchet & Clank game -- will make such good use of PS5 tech that it's impossible (or at least very difficult) to get it running on PS4, but that won't be true of all games.
Leaving that argument aside, Sony's decision to actively support PS4 seems to contradict its original plan to upgrade customers quickly to PS5. What better reason not to upgrade than the fact most of the new games are available on your existing machine? But the games industry has changed significantly since that was the vision, and Sony is wise to keep supporting its older machine.
In its most recent investor presentation, Sony said it wants PS4 to have its 'strongest ever tail', which when you consider they were still making FIFA games for PS2 right up until 2013, is quite a statement. Sony even expects 70% of PlayStation Store revenue to come from PS4 this year. Its older console and its 110 million install base is big business.
But beyond that, PS4 is being played more than it ever was. During the pandemic, Sony saw new customers come into the market and lapsed gamers turn on their console again. Suddenly, the firm has a huge new audience to speak to. You can't expect that new group of gamers to jump to PS5 straight away. So it's now on Sony to keep that audience engaged with its older platform so that, one day in the future, they do transition to the new one.
"PS4 is being played more than it ever was as a result of the pandemic"
There are lots of ways it can do that, including PS Plus activity, focusing on service-based games, and deals on some of its bigger titles. But the best way to keep an audience engaged is to give them new things to play. And if Sony has some big games it can get running on PS4, then it would be foolish not to. In fact, as the industry works out how to keep hold of these new customers once the pandemic is over, it's imperative that Sony keeps bringing games to PS4 in the near term.
Speaking at the launch of PS5 last year, Jim Ryan told GamesIndustry.biz: "Obviously, our eyes and our horizons have lifted with regards to what's possible with that PS4 community [...] In 2021, 2022, that PS4 community will be the vast majority of people on PlayStations during that time. It is crucial that we keep them engaged and happy. And the last six months have demonstrated that we could do that to an extent that we didn't think possible when we were setting our minds pre-COVID."
Furthermore, although Sony has done an impressive job in terms of getting so many PS5 consoles to market, I have little doubt that it had originally hoped to deliver even more. The semi-conductor shortage is doing its best to slow down the generational transition, so once again, it's vital that PS4 owners are getting looked after. And then there's the economic fallout, which may impact some gamers' ability to upgrade to the newer device. Perhaps Sony always planned to release Gran Turismo 7 and the next God of War on PS4, but recent world events only cements that decision as the right one.
In reality, people will want the best version of these games. Spider-Man: Miles Morales is more popular on PS5 than PS4, and that will be true of Horizon: Frozen West, Gran Turismo 7 and God of War. It's the difference between watching the new Marvel movie at the cinema compared to getting it on Disney Plus. The hardcore fans will want the big screen experience. But as the film industry also discovered during the pandemic, there's a huge opportunity in the TV space.
COVID-19 has changed things for the games industry. It's made things trickier, it's slowed things down, but it's also opened up the business to a whole host of new customers. And it's right for PlayStation, and indeed its competitors and partners, to adapt to this new reality.