The PS5 was supposed to be a console that proved that Sony believed in generations – at least that’s what the company initially said back in May 2020.
In case you forgot, here’s a reminder of what Sony Interactive Entertainment’s CEO Jim Ryan said to Gamesindustry.biz when asked specifically whether PS5 games would be playable on PS4, just like Microsoft proposed with Xbox Series X games like Halo Infinite:
"We have always said that we believe in generations. We believe that when you go to all the trouble of creating a next-gen console, that it should include features and benefits that the previous generation does not include. And that, in our view, people should make games that can make the most of those features.”
Ryan went on to add: "We do believe in generations, and whether it's the DualSense controller, whether it's the 3D audio, whether it's the multiple ways that the SSD can be used... we are thinking that it is time to give the PlayStation community something new, something different, that can really only be enjoyed on PS5."
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Sony’s stance on console generations was widely interpreted as this, then: PS5 exclusives were important, necessary even, and that developers who wanted to make games for PS5 wouldn’t need to worry about being held back by older hardware.
Today, Ryan’s statement in May 2020 doesn’t quite line up with Sony’s actions.
Shortly after the PS5 Showcase Event, which took place in September last year, Sony began to backtrack on its idea of not bringing PS5 games to the PS4. It started with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure and Horizon: Forbidden West – all three titles were positioned as PS5 exclusives, until Sony revealed that its trio of high-profile exclusives would be cross-gen after all.
It didn’t make an announcement during the PS5 Showcase Event, though, which was watched by thousands of eager PlayStation fans. Instead it chose to reveal the news discreetly in a post on the PlayStation Blog.
In response to the news, which came as a surprise to many, Ryan had this to say: “We know that the PS4 community will transition to PS5 at different times, and we’re happy to announce PS4 versions of some of our exclusives,” Ryan told the PlayStation Blog. “While these three games were designed to take advantage of PS5 and its unique next-gen features like the ultra-high-speed SSD and DualSense controller, PS4 owners will also be able to enjoy these experiences when they launch.”
While it’s true that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure do take advantage of the PS5’s unique features, such as the DualSense controller, the fact that they’re still perfectly playable on PS4 should have been made clear from the outset. It wouldn’t be too unreasonable to surmise that Sony deliberately withheld this information until the last moment in case it harmed PS5 sales, otherwise, why didn’t it share it sooner?
Sadly, Sony has gone on to dangle the proverbial carrot with other purported PS5 exclusives, only to change the narrative down the line. God of War: Ragnarok and Gran Turismo 7, when announced, both appeared to be destined exclusively for the PS5. In fact, a ‘New and Upcoming Games’ trailer from Sony clearly specifies that Gran Turismo 7 is a PlayStation 5 exclusive (skip to the 23 second mark in the video below to see for yourself).
But now it turns out that this might not be the case after all. In a lengthy Q&A with head of PlayStation Studios Herman Hulst on the PlayStation Blog, Sony has once again revealed a few surprises.
Hulst said: “Where it makes sense to develop a title for both PS4 and PS5 – for Horizon Forbidden West, the next God of War, GT7 – we’ll continue looking at that. And if PS4 owners want to play that game, then they can. If they want to go on and play the PS5 version, that game will be there for them.”
God of War and Gran Turismo 7, it seems, will almost certainly release on Sony’s aging hardware, even though we won’t see Kratos’ next adventure until 2022. Talk about a sharp U-turn.
Now, from a business perspective, I totally understand Sony’s logic. Sony has sold more than 110 million PS4 consoles, and PS5 stock continues to be harder to find than a snow leopard in a blizzard. It makes complete sense, then, to support the PlayStation 4 with new content, particularly from Sony’s first-party studios.
However, there are millions of people who purchased a PS5 on the back of Sony’s original promise, and that’s where it’s hard not to feel aggrieved. Sony could be accused of being purposefully coy in how it’s finessed its definition of what constitutes a true PS5 exclusive. And even now, we don’t have explicit confirmation that God of War and GT7 are exclusive to PS5 – PS4 versions do seem almost guaranteed based on Hulst’s interview, but it’s not crystal-clear.
The truth hurts
What makes Sony’s actions look even more distasteful is that Microsoft was criticized for admitting that Xbox One would receive Xbox Series X first-party exclusives like Halo Infinite when those games launched. The company even went as far as to say the Xbox One would receive exclusive games for at least a year, and this led many to believe that the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S would be held back as a result, or that the consoles wouldn’t be able to provide a true next-gen experience.
And while that might have been true to an extent, and was perhaps disappointing news for some, consumers at least knew exactly what they were buying into when it came to Microsoft’s new machines. If you wanted to wait for true next-gen experiences, you could – you didn’t need to rush out and buy a new Xbox on day one to play the latest titles.
Sony, however, has not been as forthcoming. And as we’ve seen on more than one occasion, it has acquired a habit of stringing players along, only to reveal the true details at a later date.
This approach comes across as naïve at best, and dishonest at worst. There will be people who sold their PS4 just to play a game that they believed wouldn’t be available on that system, because Sony decided to withhold this important piece of information.
Only on PlayStation
As it stands, the only titles that can be classed as true PS5 exclusives in 2021 will be Astro’s Playroom, Demon’s Souls, Returnal, Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart and Deathloop. You could argue Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Intergrade too, to an extent – but the bulk of that game already exists on PS4, even if there is PS5-exclusive content bolted on for the Intergrade version.
And honestly, that lineup would be absolutely fine if Sony had just been clear from the start.
While I don’t personally subscribe to the idea that Horizon: Forbidden West won’t be fantastic because its development has been held back by the PS4’s limitations, or that Halo Infinite will somehow be any less enjoyable because of the Xbox One, I can sympathize with those who feel like they’ve been misled.
Sony needs to be more transparent going forward, as the last thing it wants is to create distrust on the part of consumers, who may feel that they need to second-guess every future announcement. It also needs to remember that it has a responsibility to be clear in its messaging, so that people don’t make purchasing decisions based on potentially misleading announcements , or information that clearly could have been shared earlier.
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