The release of the PlayStation 4.5 (Neo) could spell doom for the PlayStation 5 — sort of.
Lorne Lanning, the creator of the Oddworld series of games, appeared in an episode of the Game Informer Show earlier this month. He shared a conversation that he had with Sony’s president, Shuhei Yoshida, at the D.I.C.E (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit.
“I said, ‘well, what does the PlayStation 5 look like?’ And he said ‘you mean if’ … I said ‘are you willing to say that on a stage?’ and he said ‘yeah, it’s an if.'”
So according to Sony’s head, the PlayStation 5 might not even happen.
The rumored release of the PlayStation Neo seems to support this notion. The suggested move has gamers and industry analysts questioning Sony’s business plan for the console line.
According to TechRadar, “Sony will require that all games released from October 2016 forward offer support for both console versions out of the box, and that games shipping in late September must have a day-one patch to add in the functionality.”
This mandate seems to suggest that the Neo is coming sooner than the fall of 2019, which is the expected time of release for the next generation of gaming platforms based on historical marketing practices.
If Sony releases a PlayStation 4 upgrade between now and 2019, would it make sense for them to release the PlayStation 5 at that time? The company is already going to have to contend with the Neo significantly shortening the current console’s lifespan (about 10 years). They may also have to suffer alienating current PS4 owners with a move that may come off as greedy and ungrateful to what has always been a loyal customer base. It is safe to say that if the Neo does release before 2019, there will not be a PlayStation 5. The Neo would become Sony’s next generation console.
The PlayStation’s next release could be the first in a series of upgraded systems that come over the next several years. Sony may be transitioning to a more frequent production plan that incrementally improves its platform while keeping all games compatible with each iteration.
According to Forbes, “We’re at a point with video games that huge leaps and bounds aren’t really the expectation any more between console generations. Incremental upgrades finally make sense.”
Sony’s insistence on the compatibility of game titles certainly seems to support the idea.
Lorne Lanning also feels that more frequent iterations and a change in the business model should be expected.
Regarding the current PlayStation release strategy, Lanning commented, “The idea that you are going to release a piece of technology that lasts for seven years into the future … I think, is less and less viable.”
Lorne claims that we will see VR headsets release on a similar schedule as smartphones. While he doesn’t think consoles will release quite that frequently, he does hold they will switch to a more constant upgrading model. Furthermore, Sony has proven that they are not afraid of experimentation in the marketplace.
Forbes agrees with this concept.
“Neo wouldn’t have to be the end game, either. PS4 could see four or five or six upgrades over the course of years and years, with all games playable across all devices, but with the newer machines capable of higher resolution, better textures, and so forth.”
While releasing a PlayStation every couple of years does make sense on one level, game developers will be pulling their hair out trying to find ways to make their games compatible across all versions while keeping the production cost low. In the past, backward compatibility has rested on the shoulders of console manufacturers. Shifting this burden to the backs of the game producers may drastically increase the cost of games that are already viewed as too high.
The release of PlayStation games as episodes, like the Telltale series of games, and other games releasing downloadable extensions, is evidence that developers are already struggling to produce standalone versions of their games. While episodic games and downloadable content seem to be a successful business model so far, making the core game backward compatible down the line seems to be quite a bit more challenging.
Whether consumers and developers are ready for such a drastic change remains to be seen. It is too early to tell if such a plan is even in the works, but once the next PlayStation is released, consumer response will inevitably dictate Sony’s plans moving forward.
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