One of the biggest takeaways we got in video game news this week was that we’ll get PS5 backwards compatibility with the PS4. This means that it will run your digital and physical PS4 library and make the transition into the next generation of consoles a smooth one. This news came as part of a huge exclusive interview Wired did with Sony’s Mark Cerny about the next-generation PlayStation. Another portion of the Wired article talked about Death Stranding, with Sony confirming a PS4 release and the author speculating, based on Cerny’s pause and smile, that it will indeed be a PS5 release as well. But isn’t that a given?
From where I’m standing, Death Stranding releasing on the PS4 automatically means it’s a PS5 release, at least where backwards compatibility is concerned. In fact, that’s one of the big benefits Sony’s next console will have. All of those amazing end-of-generation releases won’t have the awkward “go back to last-gen” problem that the PS3 to PS4 transition had.
Two major games that released in the year before the PS4 released, Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us, were treated to PS4 remasters very quickly, but it also meant a whole new PS4 sku for the game. If you already had it on the PS3, that was another $60 out of pocket on the PS4. Games like Destiny received releases on both systems, but again, they were separate games. The online ecosystems were separate. Support was separate, and if you bought one, it didn’t instantly mean you had access to the other.
All of that could change with PS5 backwards compatibility. If you buy Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima, or Cyberpunk 2077 on the PS4, it means that you also have them on the PS5. It’s effectively universal cross-buy. There’s no need to pay more to buy it again, and it makes the purchase of a next-gen console a lot more attractive. There are far too many PS3 games that got left behind simply because they didn’t carry over the the PS4. Puppeteer and Ni no Kuni, for example, never got PS4 releases. As my PS4 backlog grows, I’ve been worrying that I’ll never get around to playing many games. Now that PS5 backwards compatibility is confirmed, I still probably won’t get around to playing any of these PS4 games, but I can’t blame it on console limitations anymore.
PS5 Backwards Compatibility Could Completely Change Remasters
What will this do to the remaster market? Presumably, PS4 games played on the PS5 using backwards compatibility will get some sort of PS5 boost mode, similar to how the PS4 Pro enhances games that can be played on both systems. That’s Sony setting a precedent right there. There may even be exclusive capabilities for the PS5 versions of the game, though whether developers will be able to activate that on the PS4 sku, or if it will need a whole new PS5 sku of its own remains to be seen. That’s the big question with Death Stranding. Does it release as a PS4 game and a PS5 game with two separate skus; two separate products? Or does it simply release as a “PlayStation” game with the ability to play it on either a PS4 or PS5? For retail, that branding is important, so I’d be willing to bet Sony will at least have two different packages for it, even if the game inside can be played on either system.
Likewise, unless a developer wants to remaster a game with functionality that is simply not possible on the PS4 version, we’ll probably see updates to games to enhance them on PS5 as opposed to full re-releases on the new console. With digital becoming more prevalent, all Sony needs to do is advertise these games in the PlayStation Store on the PS5 to draw interest from people who may have never bought them. Another example to look to is PC. Often when a game is remastered, original owners of the PC version get the remastered update for free, while the game then gets a whole new burst of marketing for people that have yet to join the community of players. It’s only the limitations of consoles that have necessitated two separate products between PS3 and PS4. Developers could feasibly remaster games from early in the PS4’s life through free updates, giving new life to older games.
We’ve also seen a lot of attention shifting away from monetizing remasters to developing full remakes instead. I do think that trend will continue, but in a way that puts games in a whole new light, rather than just painting a fresh coat on top of them.
Cerny’s “pregnant pause,” as the Wired article author described it, tells a much larger story than just saying “yes, Death Stranding is coming to both the PS4 and the PS5.” It’s a window into the possibilities that are present with PS5 backwards compatibility, and I think there’s a much larger plan in place here than simple cross-generation releases as we’ve come to know them. We got some hints with the PS4 Pro enhancing games, and this will be a big part of what Sony will talk about when they delve into the PS5 reveal and overall strategy for the next generation.
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