Here is how Sony intends to have its cake and eat it too.
With the PS4 Neo all but confirmed at this point, we need to stop speculating over whether it exists, and start focusing more on what to do now that it does- how exactly does a half step SKU for a console work? We have already seen it in action in the handheld market a bit- the Gameboy Color, the Nintendo DSi, and the New Nintendo 3DS. But there is almost three decades worth of precedence there- the concept of a half generation is new for the console market. How does Sony intend to keep their userbase happy, and avoid very real issues like those of fragmentation?
On the whole, it sounds like Sony is planning to err on the side of conservatism and caution with the PS4K. From the looks of things, Sony would rather have the new SKU never be properly utilized by third parties, than risk alienating the 40 million people who have already purchased a PS4. According to Eurogamer, Sony has a gamut of policies in place to ensure that PS4 owners don’t feel burned by the PS4K:
1. There will be no segregation on PSN between PS4 and PS4K- essentially, this means that developers cannot attempt to separate PS4 and PS4K player bases in multiplayer games. On a related note, developers are also forbidden from giving PS4K players any benefits or bonuses that could lead to tangible gameplay advantages- so higher framerates in multiplayer modes for PS4K players are out.
2. PSN does not differentiate between PS4 and PS4K- they are treated as one and the same. A side effect of this is that you can not have a PS4 and a PS4K each as your primary console- it can only be one or the other. PS4 and PS4K versions of the game both ship on the same disc, or same file. The game detects which console it is running on, and boots up in the ‘base’ or ‘Neo’ mode appropriately. PS4K players get the ‘Neo’ enhancements for absolutely free- in other words, you don’t get to pay more or less for a game simply because of which console you own
3. Neo enhancements can be made to existing games forPS4 Neo via free patches. Finally, Neo versions of the games can be enhanced- at the very least, Neo versions should match the base PS4 versions, but if developers do choose to enhance the Neo versions, they can opt to do so by expanding on content they are already providing in the base game- for example, higher resolutions, better graphics, or four player splitscreen multiplayer for Neo players versus just two player splitscreen for base PS4 owners
All of this makes the PS4 Neo sound like an even less of an incremental step up than the New Nintendo 3DS was. Which is sort of disappointing- I am a fan of iterative consoles, after all. I just am not sure I’m all that big on Sony’s overly safe implementation of the idea.