The Xbox One X could be the best thing to happen for PS4 Pro.
For people that haven’t yet bought into the midcycle refresh consoles, the arrival of the Xbox One X–at the same $499 pricepoint the Xbox One launched at four years ago–makes the PS4 Pro more than a little redundant. A hundred dollars extra nets you a system that’s genuinely comparable to an upper midrange PC and actually delivers on its 4K promise for the most part. But if you’re an existing Pro owner (or if you’re just particularly interested in Sony’s exclusives), the arrival of the One X isn’t all bad news.
Development is never free, and it simply doesn’t make sense for a studio to put in (paid) man-hours towards porting a game or adding features that don’t net a return on their investment. In the console space, that means taking a good, hard look at each platform’s install base before taking a call. While PS4 Pro sales were certainly better than what Sony expected, the total install base of the Pro is still tiny: going by Sony’s figures, about 20 percent of all PS4s sold are Pros.
The Pro’s been selling for one year, as compared to the 4 years the PS4 has been on the market. As of June 30th, over 63 million PS4s (of all kinds) have been sold, so a figure of roughly 70 million as of today isn’t unreasonable. Divide that by 4 for average year-on-year sales, and then take out 20 percent of that and here’s what you get: an install base of roughly 3.5 million PS4 Pros, and that’s on the optimistic side of things.
"Even if the One X was to only sell as well as the PS4 Pro has done so far, that means that there could very well be 10-15 million “4K” consoles in people’s homes by the end of next year. At that point, it starts making a lot more sense for developers to allocate resources towards enhanced support for the new consoles."
What does that mean? There are roughly 20 PS4s out there for every PS4 Pro. If Xbox One sales are in the picture as well (approximately 30 million Xbones have been sold till date), what this means is that the PS4 Pro has a market share of…roughly 3 percent. It makes absolutely no financial sense for developers to spend time on features that will only benefit 3 percent of the market. That’s a cold, hard truth, and it’s the reason for the sorry state of “4K” on the PS4 Pro: the numbers just don’t add up. As of last month, there are roughly 250 titles on Playstation–multiplats and exclusives–that officially support the Pro. That’s out of a library of roughly 1700 titles. Of course, things look better if you just take AAA games into consideration, but even then, PS4 Pro patches feel more like grudging concessions than anything else: in many cases, support amounts to little more than an obligatory hike to 1440p or an implementation of checkerboarding.
If the Pro was alone on the market, it’s hard to say how things would look in the years ahead, as far as Pro patches are concerned, unless Sony themselves somehow subsidized the cost (haha!). But that is precisely why the Xbox One is a blessing in disguise for PS4 Pro owners.
Xbox One X sales have been doing much better than expected. Gamestop evidently ran out of their entire allotment of Xbox One X units in 24 hours. IHS Markit, a prominent analyst, has doubled its 2017 sales forecast for the One X. Even if the One X was to only sell as well as the PS4 Pro has done so far, that means that there could very well be 10-15 million “4K” consoles in people’s homes by the end of next year. At that point, it starts making a lot more sense for developers to allocate resources towards enhanced support for the new consoles, and this is something that owners of both the Pro and the Xbox One X will benefit from. What’s more, with a larger addressable market, theses addons could turn into more than just the obligatory resolution bump.
"Widespread support for the Pro and Xbox One X, and meaningful visual enhancements that go beyond a resolution increase would benefit both publishers/developers and console owners."
Developing and QA-testing a basic 4K patch is certainly a non-trivial expense, but we’re not talking about millions of dollars here. If the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro together account for 10 percent of the market by next year–a fairly reasonable estimate–4K support would quickly turn from an annoyance to something that makes sound financial sense. (Mind you, when we’re talking about financial sense, we don’t mean it in the literal way: developers aren’t allowed to charge for PS4 Pro patches. The couple thousand dollars it’d take to implement and QA test a patch would be recouped through the extra game sales to Pro owners).
Consider the fact that, per Sony, close to 40 percent of all PS4 Pros are purchased by PS4 owners looking to upgrade. This little factoid seemingly defies common sense: PS4 owners are the demographic that stands to benefit the least from buying the Pro, considering that most PS4s aren’t even connected to a 4K TV. This number’s interesting from both sides. On the one hand, it tells us that Playstation owners are committed to the idea of an enhanced experience for PS4 games, to the extent that they’d shell out for an extra console after just four years. And on the other hand, it tells us that more than half of all PS4 Pro owners are new to the PS4 ecosystem–and they’ll generate game sales for every title they purchase.
Widespread support for the Pro and Xbox One X, and meaningful visual enhancements that go beyond a resolution increase would benefit both publishers/developers and console owners: you’d have a virtuous cycle where more people buy the consoles because of the widespread 4K enhancements, and where the 4K enhancements become better and more widespread because of the increase in the addressable market. Everyone wins.
Ideally, this would’ve been the picture with just the PS4 Pro by now but, between the relatively low sales figures, lackluster developer support, and the fact that graphics hardware on par with the R9 380X is really just not suited for 4K, the reality’s been a good deal less interesting. But, with the amount of interest in the Xbox One X of late and the possibility of sales growth into next year, things might well change. It’ll be interesting to see just how.