Gaming: Analysing The Free Next-Gen Upgrades Controversy

This week, Sony announced the special editions for Horizon: Forbidden West. They come with the usual fare of options based on price point, from bonus digital content to statues of the main character, Aloy and a robotic mammoth, to steelbooks. We’re very excited and can’t wait to jump into the sequel, set for release on 18th February next year.

The announcement threw up some unexpected controversy though, as Sony quietly went back on their word from a blog post last year that promised fans of the series a free upgrade from PS4 to PS5 when the game launches. The issue with this is that since the launch of the PS5, the new console has been difficult to get hold of due to COVID-19 and a shortage of semiconductors, meaning a lot of gamers that want a PS5 haven’t been able to get one and will likely be looking to buy the PS4 version of the game on launch to then upgrade once they eventually get the new console. 

Up until now, this hasn’t been a massive issue with Sony (alongside and in line with Microsoft) have been offering free upgrades on a number of their games that are either from before the launch of the PS5 or have been released in the current transition period where the customer base slowly switches to the new hardware. It’s not exactly been smooth sailing with difficulty or an inability to transfer saves being one of the more commonly reported issues, but, I mean, it’s a free upgrade so can we really complain too much? 

But, as mentioned above, the upgrade path appears to slowly be coming to an end as Sony announced that the only way to get a PS4 and PS5 version of the game without buying two copies at full price, is to get the Deluxe Edition for £80.

Add this news to the recent re-release of Ghost of Tsushima in the form of a full price Director’s Cut (with a £10 upgrade fee if you bought the Director’s Cut on PS4 first, or a £30 upgrade fee to go from the standard PS4 GoT to the Director’s Cut on PS5), and it looks likely that Sony’s plans are definitely changing. 

Now, the controversy is pretty understandable from the side of your average gamer who is excited to play a brand new game, but hasn’t been able to get a PS5. They invest in the game on the device they currently own and then naturally would like to be able to upgrade it without needing to pay out twice over a short period. 

On the other hand, Sony are potentially losing out on a strong revenue stream by offering lower cost (not free) upgrades or requiring players to re-purchase the full price game once they upgrade. And there’s definitely a balance here. As the new hardware slowly becomes more widely available, the amount of lost revenue from free upgrades skyrockets and gives the consumer the option to sit on the old console, knowing they will be able to buy the game once and get a free upgrade to PS5 if they want to replay it in higher fidelity with the new features. 

So what’s the resolution? Obviously, paying full price twice for the same game is quite hard for consumers to swallow, but also Sony and developers are businesses and need to make a fair return on their investment in time and money which they don’t necessarily get when they sell two copies of the game for the price of one. 

The issues that have come from this next generation of consoles will start to resolve as more players move to the new hardware and new PS5 only games begin to enter the market will only speed up this transition, but we could be a way off that. A great middle ground is to charge a low fee to upgrade for fans who have already bought the PS4 edition, and as controversial as it may be, to group the two versions together so that consumers get the current and next-gen version with the next-gen only costing a small fee. 

Sony’s choice is a difficult one, but from a business perspective, it’s the right one. It’s that balance that will also ensure that those who are waiting for PS5 availability will keep looking, and jump on the next-gen wagon. The sooner that happens, the arguably bigger technological steps Playstation games can make, as developers don’t need to develop for two generations of console. And based on last gen, that can only be a good thing.