While the topic has quietened down a little over the past couple of years, cross-game chat was just one of the many failings of the PlayStation 3. For years it was touted as a reason to purchase the Xbox 360 over Sony’s flagship machine, and even used as a justification for the premium price attached to Microsoft’s online service. However, it wasn’t the infrastructural cost of running the constant communication link that squandered the feature’s future on the Japanese giant’s current generation machine – though we’ve no doubt that it may have played a part – but more the fact that the computational resources simply weren’t available on the console. And the reason for that is because Sony surrendered much of the system’s memory in the early days of its life.

It wasn’t the infrastructural cost of cross-game chat that squandered the feature’s future on PS3, but the fact that the resources weren't available

And that – as we’ve already alluded in our other story – is why today’s news about the PS4’s supposed RAM restrictions may actually be a blessing in disguise. For those that missed the memo, Digital Foundry reported this afternoon that the impending next generation console will use just 4.5GB of its on-board 8GB GDDR5 RAM. The remainder of the console’s memory will be reserved for system-level functions – but it’s not entirely cut and dry. Studios will be able to request an additional 1GB GDDR5 RAM – though the stipulations are not quite clear – suggesting that the platform holder is simply providing itself with a buffer while it streamlines the machine’s operating system, and gets a feel for the overall next generation landscape.

It’s a cautious tactic, but a smart one. The company was caught with its pants down when the Xbox 360’s impressive feature set started to worm its way into gamers’ expectations. Functionality such as achievements and cross-game chat became a standard, and while Sony managed to hastily incorporate Trophies, the latter eluded it throughout the entirety of the generation. That’s because, as previously mentioned, the company had already promised developers a specific amount of usable RAM, and once that’s the case, there’s no going back. As soon as games start to take advantage of those precious resources, they simply can’t be reclaimed, because previously released software will suddenly cease to operate.

By creating a buffer, though, the organisation is merely buying itself time. It now has a window to look at the state of its competitors, its own goals, and its immediate and long-term plans. Over time, as it begins to streamline the operating system and analyse the console’s lifespan, it will be able to slowly give those resources back to developers, without affecting the performance of previous games – or the system’s longevity. In other words, if some amazing new feature analogous to cross-game chat should rear its must-have head over the next couple of years, the company will have the opportunity to incorporate that, because it will have the resources available.

It’s disappointing in the sense that the first batch of software will not necessarily be taking full advantage of the machine, but when has that ever been the case? Many of the console’s launch titles – Watch Dogs, Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, the list goes on – are all set to deploy on the PS3, meaning that they’ll be targeting the current generation console first and foremost. Furthermore, it’s not like there’ll be a dearth of memory available to blockbuster exclusives – it’s worth remembering that the stunning The Last of Us is powered by just 512MB of RAM. The jump will be immediately noticeable, as footage of games such as inFAMOUS: Second Son have already proved.

It’s an expensive piece of hardware that we’re all eager to see pushed to its absolute limits, but no console has ever been truly tested on launch day

And those releases will get better and better as more resources become available to developers, and third-party studios – who will eventually dump existing consoles – begin to focus their efforts solely on next generation machines. But the best thing is that Sony will be able to ensure throughout that the console has an ample amount of memory available to ensure a quality experience. It will streamline the operating system’s footprint over time, but the days of staring at spinning symbols every time that you push the PlayStation button in the middle of a game are set to fall by the wayside. Theoretically, the company should be able to keep the system snappy – even as it layers new functionality on top.

So, while it may seem a little disingenuous the way that the company’s flaunted the PS4’s on-board 8GB GDDR5 RAM, this snippet does not really make the console any less enticing than it was yesterday, last week, or on 20th February. It’s an expensive piece of hardware that we’re all eager to see pushed to its absolute limits, but the developers aren’t complaining yet, and no format has ever been truly tested on launch day. And yet, by thinking ahead, the platform holder has at least ensured that the system’s ready to adapt to almost any scenario. And that’s something to celebrate, rather than outright criticise.

What do you make of the reports regarding the RAM that will be available to PS4 developers at launch? Are you worried about this, or do you think that it’s being blown out of proportion? Let us know in the comments section and poll below.

What do you make of the PS4’s current RAM scenario? (57 votes)

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