Now that PlayStation 4.5/4K/Neo has been confirmed to exist, it's time to dig in to what this means. Granted, we've been tearing into this for some time now, but we finally have some
concrete details with which to work. I'm personally pretty excited for what this device could mean, but a lot of people are not. Please keep in mind that I'm not trying to convince you to buy this device, I'm just trying to assuage your fears about the end of gaming as we know it.
1. Getting Left Behind
A lot of people feel like they are being forced to buy this machine so they don't get left behind. Here we are having just bought an expensive piece of hardware, and now do we have to buy another one?
Hopefully it won't look identical. It probably will.
The answer is a resounding no. Even when we only had rumors, it seemed pretty clear that Sony intended to make the Neo an optional luxury option of the PS4, not a completely new console. Since then, Andrew House has come forward to confirm that all games will be PS4 games with the caveat that some games will look prettier on the new Neo console. In other words, until the PS5 or a similarly large leap in hardware power comes along, you'll be fine with your baseline model of PlayStation 4.
Considering Sony's generally great track record with supporting its hardware, this should come as no surprise. The only piece of hardware that they've really failed in this regard since their earliest days was the PlayStation Vita. While you can certainly fault them for not developing their own AAA games, they've spent a lot of money and resources on both bringing third party games to the device and helping those games get developed with XDev. This promise seems pretty solid to me, and as long as Sony doesn't raise any barriers to development, third parties would be foolish to not make their games with the baseline in mind.
2. Getting Inferior Games
With that said, some are still concerned that games will stop being optimized for the PlayStation 4 base model, and will instead be optimized for the Neo.
Long time PlayStation fans will remember what this did to the PlayStation 3. For a good portion of the previous generation, games were primarily developed for the Xbox 360 and then converted for the PS3. As a result, there were many games that were clearly superior on 360 despite the PS3 being the theoretically
more powerful system. It's important to remember that we were not talking about a few pixels of rendering, but rather that there were occasional huge differences in frame rate and frame rate consistencies, that there would be regular issues with textures appearing poorly, and in some instances, games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
would have game breaking bugs (in this case, the PS3 version had a critical memory issue not found in the 360 version).
Don't worry, Nathan Drake will continue to look at least this good.
But this isn't then. This isn't even just the normal transition of hardware found between hardware generations, but rather a transition to very similar, but more powerful hardware. What we have is something closer to the difference between two fairly high end, very similar computers. If you've played a game in the past 5-10 years on a PC that wasn't hideously underpowered, then this is essentially the same thing. There were almost certainly more powerful computers out there with better specs, but that didn't really affect the base experience that you had. Even then, we generally put the responsibility on the developer to optimize their games for the machines they release them on provided that the hardware manufacturer didn't make a machine running on a Cell architecture.
Unlike PCs that have thousands of hardware configurations out there that can still sometimes break an otherwise powerful PC, with the Neo, you're looking at only two configurations that are very similar. There's little excuse for there to be any large disparity between the two and developers would be foolish to the tune of millions of dollars to not make sure it worked on booth.
3. The Slippery Slope
There is a fear that this marks the start of a slippery slope towards the cell phone market or towards the PC market. The latter is just not going to happen as PCs already fill that market and the console loses its cost saving advantage when it's no longer buying parts in the millions.
So, will consoles become like phones?
It's a complicated answer, but at a basic level the answer is that it already is. This goes back to the very original consoles such as the top loading Famicom/NES. Even then, the PlayStation 2 Slim predates the iPhone by several years as a mid-cycle hardware revision, which wasn't just smaller, but also had small improvements such as a built in Ethernet port.
Remember this baby?
In this instance, the real improvements come down to just a power bump and potentially more USB ports to support VR better. Microsoft is going for a four year mid-cycle launch, and Sony would be foolish to do anything shorter, especially considering that they already have a piece of hardware launching this fall.
Could we see both parties trying to shorten the periods between console iterations? It's definitely possible. It could very well be only three years between Scorpio/Neo and their next iteration, especially if it's the "something beyond generations" about which Phil Spencer was talking, which is actually the best case scenario for a few very simple reasons.
What such a system provides is choice. A BG (Beyond Generations) console provides the ability to play any game past or future provided that the system is powerful enough to run it. There would no longer be an excuse for leaving games behind, spending years researching emulation, or spending extra money on remasters. Older games would be able to function as a matter of course (for the most part), and newer games that don't require a lot of horsepower have an opportunity to play on older hardware that didn't exist before. Simply put, you may be able to play some of the games designed for whatever hardware comes after the Neo on the base model PS4 that you already have.
This SHOULD always come with you in the future. If it doesn't, that's when you get mad.
There's another advantage, however.
The iPhone released seven months after the PlayStation 3. In the 9 years since its launch, we've gone from the average phone being a camera phone that is navigated by a couple of arrow buttons, to a multi-touch device that is a part of every aspect of your life. It can communicate with people on the other side of the world with video calls, has access to the sum of human knowledge, can interact with your home security system remotely, and contains the ability to translate multiple spoken languages in real-time in case you don't speak the native language. What's more is that even in some of the poorest, most remote parts of the planet, people have cell phones that they can use to communicate their needs for medicine or to inform others that they are under attack.
Just 10 years ago, only one person in my fairly privileged group of friends had a phone with access to the internet, and people were splitting hairs over how many 150 character text messages they could send in a given month. Now, low end devices have become cheap enough that they've permeated the entire globe, and the high end devices that have become relatively common in the first world have turned normal people into something akin to wizards compared to who we were less than 10 years ago.
Remember when you only had so many minutes during peak hours?
There are a lot of people that buy a new phone every four to five years (or more) rather than every two years, but the benefits of so much money moving around has had a dramatic impact on everyone.
In much the same way, this option provides the possibility for this kind of growth. You don't have to buy the new devices, but you could still very easily reap the benefits. The most common, highly demanding thing that almost any device does (including your phone and computer) is gaming. Imagine the amount of power devices could have in just 10 years if the most demanding common use of electronics is put on the same kind of cycle as a cell phone? The PlayStation 3 was used for cancer and Alzheimer's research simulations, which in 10 years would be roughly the equivalent to the flip phone compared to today's smart phones.
5. Emergency Exit
If none of that sounds compelling, don't buy the next iteration of consoles. Consoles already operate on relatively slim margins, so if these new devices don't sell well, both companies stand to lose money from the endeavor, delaying or permanently stopping similar programs in the future.
In Shuhei we trust.
But if you can trust that Sony won't go out of its way to screw you, and you can trust that large companies aren't dumb enough to throw money out the window, allowing people to have the option to buy whichever device they want is not only consumer friendly (choice always is on a fundamental level), it could benefit you immensely, even if you don't partake in it yourself.