There is a debate murmuring around “hardcore” PlayStation fans surrounding the cross-generation status of some of the PS5’s biggest and most anticipated games.
Titles such as Horizon Forbidden West, the God of War sequel, and even Gran Turismo 7 were all assumed to be next-gen exclusives. However, recent interviews have revealed that all will come to both PS4 and PS5 consoles.
This revelation has ruffled the feathers of some early adopters of the PlayStation 5, with many of their upcoming AAA titles being viewed as “mere next-gen upgrades” of games available on previous-gen tech. While Sony was always upfront that it wouldn’t just cut ties with the PlayStation 4 generation for some time, this cross-gen dilemma requires a rethinking of how we view cross-generational titles.
For one, let’s look at economics. At this point, if you somehow managed to snatch yourself a PlayStation 5, you are one of only 7.5 million as of April 2021. Now compare that the enormous 114.5 million units sold on the PlayStation 4. While PS5 exclusives like Returnal or Demon’s Souls will sell well in relation to the number of console units sold, it will pale in comparison every time to those available across both generations.
Financially, it is a simple case of making a product available to a wider consumer base. There’s a reason games like Call of Duty, FIFA, and Just Dance support so many platforms, even legacy ones – it makes their publishers more money.
Looking beyond the financials and into the meat of their argument, though, are cross-gen titles unfair to next-gen players? The short answer is: “no” – it’s just different to how it used to be. If you look back towards the launch of the PS4, and the number of cross-gen titles, you’ll notice that it is a far more popular trend now. But this is where the technology available changes matters.
Prior to the PlayStation 4, consoles were incredibly bespoke beasts. Each generation was physically distinct from the last with limited carry-over between hardware and capability. But with the PS4/Xbox One generation, those consoles featured an (admittedly heavily-customised) AMD APU, a combination of CPU and GPU, that was architecturally similar to what people were using in x86 PCs. The architectural leap from the PS3 to the PS4 was, in layman’s terms, from a bespoke and unique console to a customised, specialised, refined PC platform.
That’s a trend that has continued into the latest generation. Jumping from the PS4 to the PS5 is on similar architecture, even if the hardware is, again, customised. One of the major upgrades in the PlayStation 5 comes from its super-fast SSD, allowing for incredible load times, yet at this point much of how the games are made is similar. Look no further than the ability to play PS4 titles on the PS5 – a feature missing in the last generation – to highlight the similarity of past and current generations.
Looking at the PlayStation lineup – the PS4, PS4 Pro, and PS5 – and you’ll begin to see a tech structure more akin to the PC ecosystem. Maybe one can only run the game on basic graphical settings, while the other can play games at a silky-smooth 120FPS. Just as PC players will want to play on a variety of different capability hardware, Sony has steadily offered a tiered PlayStation experience that can no longer be viewed as cut-and-dry anymore.
Think of it like the minimum/recommended/ultra system requirements on a PC game, but instead of having to account for hundreds of different CPUs and GPUs, it’s a handful of discrete console units to target for developers. It’s something that Xbox has already been doing with its lineup, with its mid-market bridge – the Xbox Series S – between the Xbox One generation and the Xbox Series X. (And, of course, its enviable backward compatibility framework helps.)
Inevitably, there will be a time when PS4 releases phase out as the technological scales tip. Games like Ratchet and Clank are already being built around tech too advanced for the PS4, and as the years go on this will only become more frequent. But it is in Sony’s interest – and the vast majority of PlayStation console owners – to keep the PS4 generation around for as long as they can. With the popularity of free-to-play games and gaming communities, Sony knows that the best way to succeed is to give its players access to as much as they can.
Coupled with bringing its first-party exclusives – like Horizon Zero Dawn and Days Gone – to PC, it’s a sign that PlayStation is hoping to broaden its appeal outside these “hardcore” fans. By offering a scaled experience between the PS4 and PS5, Sony keeps the money flowing, and more players get to pick their entry point into the latest releases.