Last year, Sony promised that unlike rival Microsoft, who were going to soften the full reset necessitated by hard generation transitions, they were going to maintain and respect the traditional generational model, and push for the purported innovations in game design that that brings with it to the table. “We believe in generations,” PlayStation head Jim Ryan said, in no uncertain terms, also then explaining that trying to maintain parity with older consoles would hold back game design and innovation – echoing a sentiment that lead PS5 architect Mark Cerny had expressed in the tech unveil of Sony’s new console.
I honestly have never really had any issues with the cross-gen model. I had zero issues with it when Microsoft was doing it. I have zero issues with it now that Sony is doing it. I don’t buy that cross-gen games hold anything back either. Game design or quality is not contingent on the tech available to it. The best games ever made through the four decade history of this medium have been designed under heavy technical constraints, and games that are regularly considered among the very best of all time were designed for technology far more primitive than even the PS4. So no, I honestly don’t think that cross-gen holds back game design. I don’t think that new technology automatically makes games better. I think it allows for new, powerful, and sophisticated tools that make developers’ lives easier, and make it easier and more cost-effective for them to realize their vision than having to work around the technical constraints of weaker consoles would. But I don’t think that any game will be the best ever purely because of the magical SSD in the PS5.
But even though I don’t have any issues with cross-gen games, I absolutely do have issues with how Sony has handled its messaging around this topic in the last year or so. There has been a deliberate and consistent attempt to mislead and obfuscate at all times. Though Jim Ryan’s words leave enough wiggle room for interpretation when viewed in isolation, in context of the broader discourse at the time – they were specifically said in response to Microsoft’s cross-gen strategy, and the backlash that provoked, as well as off the tail of Mark Cerny’s repeated emphasis that the PS5 would enable games that wouldn’t be possible on the PS4 – it is very clear that Sony misled. And the proof of that is in the pudding, because if Sony had no intention of misleading, why, exactly, were every single one of the ultimately cross-gen games revealed as PS5 exclusive? Spider-Man Miles Morales, Horizon: Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, God of War Ragnarok, every single one of these games was either explicitly or implicitly supposed to be a PS5-only game, with PS4 versions only being announced much later.
No, the “pandemic shortages” which fans often like to point at as an excuse for why these games are cross-gen have nothing to do with this strategy, either. Unlike what fans would like to believe, these games weren’t meant to be PS5 exclusives initially and then only turned into cross-gen titles once the shortages that COVID-19 would cause became clear. Not only does game development not work that way – you have to scope out the technical budget and framework of your project ahead of time, and adding a system late in development can derail things significantly – but if that was true, then it would by definition nullify Mark Cerny’s entire sales pitch that PS5 games wouldn’t be possible on the PS4. If that was the case, how was it possible to turn PS5 games into also-PS4 ones late into their development cycle? If they were designed around the PS5, which enables experiences that cannot be achieved on old tech, how did that even happen?
But honestly, we have substantial proof, including from the developers, that this was never the case and that these games were developed for the PS4 from the get go. For instance, Guerrilla Games confirmed in an interview with Game Informer that the game had primarily been developed on the PS4, and that even playtesting of the title was being done on the PS4. If anything, the PS5 version is the one that came later, it appears. A report by VGC also seems to confirm that this is true for all of these cross-gen games – God of War, Sackboy, Spider-Man, Horizon were all in development for the PS4 from the get-go, with Gran Turismo 7 being the lone exception in being originally intended as a PS5 exclusive, and then being back ported to the PS4.
So no, Sony had always, always planned on these games being on the PS4 – they just heavily implied (or explicitly stated) that they would be exclusive to the PS5, presumably to generate hype, presumably to get people to buy the PS5 in a frenzy, maybe for some other reason. But the fact of the matter is, Sony did mislead and lie here. There is no getting around that, and honestly, it’s such an unnecessary move on their part as well. The PS5 is selling extremely well right now – better than any other console has in history, actually – and it is doing that in spite of its high price, the shortages, the controversy surrounding its game prices, and loads of bad press Sony seems to have a habit of generating these days. It’s selling well because it’s an amazing product, and because Sony makes amazing games. It was always going to sell well on those merits – Sony didn’t need to lie to artificially generate hype, particularly since the blowback with every single announcement for a game by them that will also come to the PS4 just ends up being egg on their face now as a result.
The blowback actually appears to come most from those people who bought the PS5 on the promise of exclusive next gen showcases for the console. I get that sentiment. The PS5 is not cheap – it’s $500 and it’s extremely hard to find, and it’s all that in the middle of the worst economic slowdown the world has seen in a hundred years. People who bought the system on the promise of a next generation God of War or Gran Turismo (two of Sony’s biggest franchises) only to now be told they aren’t actually getting that, that the games they are getting will be prettier versions of PS4 titles in those franchises, have a lot of reason to feel jilted (even if I personally don’t think that the game design will suffer from being on the PS4 like so many seem to). I mean, sure, the PS5 has had exclusive titles from Sony – but none from Sony’s biggest and most popular franchises. Spider-Man, Horizon, Gran Turismo, God of War, all seem to be opting for cross-gen, rather than committing to delivering next-gen exclusive experiences.
For people who spent the $500 on the console on the promise of those experiences, I do feel bad. However, ultimately, I feel that this is just vindication of an age-old refrain I have held – do not buy a console until you actually need to. Definitely do not buy it on a promise.
Consoles are expensive purchases. You should really only buy them once there is enough already available that justifies the hundreds of dollars you will be spending on it. This can be anything – it can be one showcase game that you feel is worth springing that money for, it can be new entries in your favourite franchises for that console, or it can be a specific number of games that finally makes you comfortable enough to pull the trigger. But you should only do it once those games are actually out. Buying consoles on promises is always a short-sighted decision. Because you have two options – either you buy a PS5 now because a God of War game for it has been promised, or you wait till God of War for the PS5 is already out and buy it then. The latter is always the better option because it is a more informed purchase. You’re waiting till a) the game is out b) you are aware of its quality and c) you know what it entails (I.e. you are not buying a system on the promise of a next-gen only experience that doesn’t exist; at that point, if you are choosing to buy a PS5 for God of War, you are doing so knowing it has a PS4 version as well). You can’t possibly feel misled or like you wasted your money then, because you know what you spent your money on – rather than having spent your money on something that is never delivered in the form it was promised to begin with.
To be clear, I don’t think this is exclusive to Sony either. I think this applies to all consoles. Consider the Wii U – it sold pitiful amounts, but how many of the people who bought it bought it on the promise of that great new open world Zelda game for it? That game was eventually delivered, sure, and it was amazing, but it was also inferior on the Wii U (and would go on to become the signature game for its successor). So if you spent $300 on the Wii U to play Breath of the Wild, you could either resign yourself to playing an inferior version after a years-long wait, or you could spend another $300 to play it in the best form possible. This, of course, could have been avoided if you’d waited to spend the money on the Wii U until the game you were buying it for – Zelda in this case – was actually out.
Ultimately, of course, everyone will decide how they want to spend their money. And spending money foolishly doesn’t absolve companies like Sony lying and misleading like they did with regards to the cross-gen situation for the PS5. But I do feel that there is something to be said for customers exercising some judgment before they spend hundreds of dollars on shiny new toys. Sony may have misled, but people who feel jilted at the money they spent wouldn’t have had they just… not spent the money until they had more information and concrete reasons to buy the product, rather than just empty promises.
So in an ideal world, I could hope that Sony, and Nintendo, and Microsoft, stop misleading their customers and are honest and upfront. But in this same ideal world, I’d also hope that customers actually start waiting before committing to expensive purchases – at the very least wait for the game you want to buy the console for to be out before you buy it. And, well, if the point was never the game, and it was just the console itself? Then you really shouldn’t feel that let down if a game or two isn’t what was promised. There are still plenty of next-gen experiences on the PS5 right now, and there will be more. Even a new PS5 only God of War and Horizon will eventually come. Unless the point wasn’t next gen games, but specific next gen games, the PS5 is delivering well enough that you don’t really have much to complain about in that case right now.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.