I think it’s fair to say that if you’re reading this, you’re aware of the worst kept secret of 2016. Sony is working on an upgraded PlayStation 4, codenamed the Neo, to release at some point toward the end of the year. It’s said to be packing a new CPU and GPU that will seemingly give a healthy performance boost, with a price point akin to the PS4 at its release. With the internet full to the brim of Hot Takes, I felt it only right to throw my opinions on the leaks out there. (Oh, and I’m aware the image is a poor joke, but what the hell)
First up, there’s the overwhelming question of “why?” followed by “Why now?”. Well, let’s tackle the first question. Why? Well, there are rumblings that we’ve heard at NGB that some developers are pushing the PS4 pretty damn hard, and coming up with some roadblocks when trying to make games look and feel as good as they can be. It’s no secret that the visual fidelity and technical performance of higher end PCs is outstripping the performance of the PS4 and Xbox One at a rate that’s only going to widen when NVidia drop their new cards in the coming months. Console gamers have seemingly always enjoyed a period of time when their boxes out-performed PCs in a few areas before they slowly saw those with more expensive PC hardware start to outshine them, until the end of the generation when even a modest Windows box could have games running much better, only for the whole cycle to repeat a few months or years down the line.
Sony are so far ahead in the console race, it would be like Usain Bolt rocking up at my office and challenging me to a sprint round the building. Recent estimates put it at around a 2:1 ratio ahead of Microsoft’s machine, with little sign of it slowing down. Consumers are more than happy with the PS4, and it’s proving popular beyond anyone’s expectations. PlayStation VR is on the horizon, and there are a bunch of exclusives being lined up for Sony to shout about before 2016 wraps up. Personally, I don’t understand why they’re doing it. Sony’s messaging has been killing it for them since that fabled E3 2013 Press Conference when the grin on Jack Tretton’s face could be seen from the International Space Station. It felt like their “This is for the Players” motto was genuine, but with this leaked news it feels different. Maybe it’s because the news has gotten out before they wanted it and it’s beyond their control, but this just doesn’t feel “right”, and I really don’t know why.
I guess a big part of it is the way that the console industry has always worked. Everyone with your console gets the same experience. The same highs, the same lows, the same technical masterpieces, and of course the same bugs. The instant you add an upgraded piece of hardware into the mix, you’ve knackered that cycle. The biggest worry for me if there are two noticeably different SKUs is, quite simply, that devs will develop for the higher spec machine and scale down for the base PS4. Whilst Sony have seemingly taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen (according to documents seen by Giant Bomb), the fear remains. It’s already happening on the “New 3DS”, with some games performing appallingly on the old hardware and just scraping by as acceptable on the refresh. Mark my words, the first game that this happens with on the PS4.5kNeo (Yes, that’s what I’m calling it. Deal with it)? There’ll be riots.
I’ve seen people compare the PS4k.5Neo to a new phone. “People upgrade those every 2 years, or maybe every year”. Well, yes they do, but in my eyes, a phone is a very different beast. For starters, there are very few people who shell out the full cost of £500 or so for their phones, the vast majority will be free or a relatively small cost on a suitably expensive contract in order to subsidise the handset. People use their phone a lot more than they use their console, and many would consider a phone an essential item, rather than a luxury (which, much as it pains me to say, games consoles most definitely are).
I’m certainly not throwing my toys out of the pram along with half of NeoGAF and stating that this is the worst thing in the world, but I’m still really, really skeptical. The plans that Sony have allegedly put into place (seriously, if you don’t know them by now then check Giant Bomb’s piece) will ensure that everyone who owns a PS4 will be able to play PS4 games until the PS5 comes out. At the risk of sounding like a whiny entitled prick, however, it does feel like a little bit of a dick move. Sony wouldn’t be in the driving seat this generation if it weren’t for the people who have invested in their ecosystem. The vast majority of people who own a PS4 have had to save to buy one, and most will be thinking that this will be the best console money can buy for another few years. To find out that there will potentially be a new one out in a few months that surpasses the box they’ve just bought? Yeah, it’s easy to see where some frustration comes from.
Some have speculated that Sony will offer some kind of “affordable” upgrade path for existing users. Personally, I can’t see that happening as these new units will probably be in the same ballpark to manufacture, and they’ll want to keep the profit margins relatively high, which an upgrade path for potentially 40 million users would shave right down to the point of it maybe making a loss. Me? I’d like to see a subscription model, which would push it right into that phone territory. Have the option to pay £15 or £20 a month for 3 years, get the newest PS4 model included as well as PS+ and PSNow. New console comes out? No problem, just sign up for another 3 years.
Of course, I’m speculating about all of this without really knowing much at all. Will it have a redesigned box? How much will it cost? Will it be shown at E3? I think we’ll probably just have to wait and see for now… But Sony need to be on their A-game with the messaging for this thing, or they’ll have an awful lot of very pissed off gamers on their hands. I keep flip-flopping on how I feel about this, and I’m really not sure I’ll reach a consensus until everything’s out there in the open.
(Now watch it come out and sell like hot cakes!)
Looks like an exciting new box of (ma)trix
If they release a slim at the same time, we’ll be looking at a Trinity of new boxes…
And the gags keep rolling in. Not just limited to the NGB show, folks.
Marketing will definitely need to be handled carefully, then again they might need to take a Morpheus approach to it.
When you say a Morpheus approach, are you talking “control the messaging and prove it’s a worthwhile product”, or “give everyone a choice of 2 pills, knock them out and prove their entire life has been a lie in order to power a race of machines”?
I think the latter is the only real path to success (Good article btw)