Last week, Horizon Forbidden West pre-orders opened up, allowing excited fans to lay down some dosh for Guerrilla's anticipated PlayStation exclusive. While this was of course met with enthusiasm, the announcement was tarnished by the game's PS4-to-PS5 upgrade path — or, to be precise, lack of. If you purchased a copy of the sequel on PS4, and wanted to then play the PS5 version, you'd have to buy the same game again. This has since been walked back following a lot of flak from consumers, with a free upgrade when you move the title up to the current-gen version, but all this fuss has left me torn.
Firstly, I feel as though there's a lot of confusion about what Sony "promised" and what it's now aiming to deliver. Some argue that the platform holder had pledged a free upgrade for Forbidden West nearly 12 months ago in a PS Blog post. However, the paragraph that seemingly suggests the upgrade would come at no extra cost doesn't quite say that.
...The PS4 digital versions of launch games include a free upgrade on both PS5 consoles, while the PS4 disc versions of these games include a free upgrade on the PS5 with Ultra HD Blu-Ray disc drive.
Reading this very carefully, you'll notice that Sony says "launch games" will include a free upgrade path. Horizon Forbidden West isn't a PS5 launch game, even if it may have been at some stage. It's wily wording, but Sony never explicitly stated the game would benefit from the upgrade scheme people have come to expect. However, all this is kind of moot now that Sony has U-turned on the situation.
What's keeping everyone up in arms now is how the company will handle upgrades going forward. Future first-party titles from PlayStation Studios that launch on both PS4 and PS5 will charge a 10-dollar fee to upgrade. I've seen a lot of outrage over this decision, but I think it's a fair compromise. If Gran Turismo 7 costs 60 bucks on PS4, pay $10 more and you'll be entitled to the PS5 edition too. That's a darn sight better than paying $60 for one copy and then $70 for the PS5 equivalent, and is less than Forbidden West's 80-dollar Digital Deluxe Edition, which was previously the cheapest way to get both versions. Long story short: the $10 charge really isn't that bad.
The problem you then have is, well, every other publisher offering better deals. Generally speaking, high-profile cross-gen games launch with this free upgrade business. On Xbox, it's not even really a matter of upgrading; you buy the game, and if it supports Smart Delivery, you're given access to the best version available, depending on what hardware you have. It's just automatic. While I don't personally see Sony's $10 upgrades as a problem, consumer expectations have, on the whole, been altered. If the same game is on multiple platforms, you shouldn't have to pay more than once — that's the mentality now.
In an increasingly digital age, it does make sense, and it's not even all that new an idea. There have been games released on, say, PS3 and Vita that offer both versions for the price of one. Going further back, PC players have been paying a flat price for games all along, with their hardware determining the end result. With the arrival of the PS5 generation, the value proposition has shifted. Games last a long time now — they're constantly being updated and publishers want you hooked in for as long as possible. It's in their interests to ensure you can play stuff like Rainbow Six: Siege wherever you like and for the process to be painless. Publishers want your time more than your money — they'll make back any losses via premium DLC, microtransactions, and subscription services.
It's funny: one of the first things I thought after this Horizon debacle made me realise my own age. What I want to say is that, back in the day, if you wanted two versions of the same game, you'd just have to stump up the cash. I bought Rayman Origins on PS3, and a second time on the Vita, no questions asked (and no regrets). So, to my 31-year-old mind, the idea that people are given free stuff — and that they fully expect it — baffles me to an extent. It's like going into a car dealership, seeing two near-identical models, and expecting to get both for the price of the cheaper car, in case you'd eventually rather drive the one with racing stripes and a cool extra badge on the side. That 10 dollars isn't for nothing — you're almost certainly getting a better-looking, better-running version of the game, with maybe some features not present on the last-gen edition. Making that PS5 version costs millions; you can't blame Sony for wanting to make it back.
Again, though, I do get it. Things have definitely changed. With PS Plus, PS Now, and, yes, I'll say it, Xbox Game Pass, we've become accustomed to a never-ending abundance of video games. People want more for less, and they're getting it. If you ask the modern consumer about the upgrade situation, they're likely to say you're being shortchanged if you don't receive these upgrades free of charge. Sony offering cross-gen updates for $10 comes across poorly, even considering any improvements made to the software, because other companies are giving those upgrades away like candy.
Then you have the argument that PlayStation exclusives in particular might justify the extra money. While Microsoft is giving its subscribers everything for a monthly cost, Sony's first-party efforts are, generally speaking, some of the best and most beloved releases to launch each year. Fans may not mind the charge when we're talking about the likes of Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, God of War Ragnarok, and who knows what else. I'm not saying Xbox Game Studios is incapable of making games on the same level, I just think the pill might be easier to swallow on Planet PlayStation (bringing that back) because of how consistently high quality the games are.
Anyway, I think I'm going in a circle now. I don't really have an answer to all this, and that's kind of the point — it's a complex thing. Games are costing more and more to make, but publishers are simultaneously competing to provide the best value for money, and this is where we are. I don't know how to feel. This article is what happens when you take a shrug and convert it into 1,000 words of prose. Cheers.
Stephen will be okay, he's back trying to platinum Returnal now. Wish him luck. What do you think of all this? Is Sony justified in charging $10 for game upgrades? Are you pleased it turned things around for Horizon Forbidden West? Be kind to each other in the comments section below.