With PS5 exclusives on PS4, did Sony just prove Xbox right?

Sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of validation that you’re on the right path, that your plans for the future make a bit of sense. Sony and Microsoft are fierce rivals for your free time, and despite the regular love-ins on social media they’re constantly trying to one up each other with most powerful consoles, new exclusives, or special bonuses. It’s this that had the two companies originally paint two very different pictures of what the next generation and the future of gaming could look like.

Funnily enough, Sony have now plainly validated what Microsoft is trying to do with the Xbox Series X and S, Xbox Game Pass and cross-generational gaming.

Wow, wow, wow… They did what now?

Despite months of saying otherwise, it turns out that Sony are actually in favour of cross-generational game releases for their first party games. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure and Horizon Forbidden West are all coming to PlayStation 4 as well as PlayStation 5 when they launch, and that’s a major turn out for the books when viewed through the lens of what PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan was saying earlier this year.

In a quote that is now being thrown back in his face by so many people (alongside the whole pre-order heads up thing), Ryan told GamesIndustry.biz back in May that “We have always said that we believe in generations. We believe that when you go to all the trouble of creating a next-gen console, that it should include features and benefits that the previous generation does not include. […] We are thinking that it is time to give the PlayStation community something new, something different, that can really only be enjoyed on PS5.”

You would have been forgiven for thinking that this statement followed by the June PlayStation 5 reveal event meant that all Sony’s first party titles would be PS5 exclusives. Sure, we could take it with a pinch of salt that Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a game being built on the foundations of the PS4 hit, would be focussing on visual finery more than pushing the SSD to its absolute limits with dimension hopping antics, and that Sackboy: A Big Adventure was an exclusive to tempt families and could lean on DualSense tricks, but Horizon Forbidden West looked and sounded every bit the next-gen exclusive that would push the PS5 as hard as possible.

Of the three, it’s Horizon Forbidden West that really validates Microsoft’s decision to support cross-gen gaming for the start of the new generation. It turns out that where there’s a will to cater to the current generation, there’s a way to do that while also making use of the power of the next as well. Can we maybe accept that cross-gen isn’t necessarily anathema to providing a next-gen gaming experience on newer hardware?

Ryan’s comments and the way that this shaped the narrative of the next generation this summer now seems like an attempt to gain a quick victory over Microsoft, and it’s come at the cost of riling up the partisan fans and maybe even adding to the latent toxicity that can be found on the internet.

Now, obviously Microsoft aren’t perfect and they also deserve criticism for their own failings. They’ve done anything but stick the landing as they try to put their cross-gen plan into action. Their Xbox Series X showcase was quite ironically full of pure next-gen exclusives that must be at least a year away from the console’s launch, and their marquee title Halo: Infinite was still disappointing as a supposed visual showcase of the console’s raw power. However, just because a game has to support the current generation does not mean that developers cannot also extract major advantages from next generation hardware. Demon’s Souls is a remake of a PS3 game, and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that game’s design being held back, instead it’s praise for how far Bluepoint are pushing its visuals.

The follow up to Sony’s stream last night also validated another side of Microsoft’s next-generation plan: the cost. Next gen is going to be expensive, and Sony revealed that they will be joining Activision and 2K Games in raising the cost of their biggest first party titles, settling on $69.99 / £69.99 / €79.99 for their most premium games. Add to that the price of the next generation consoles that, while more reasonable than some might have feared a month or two ago, is still a significant cost for many gamers to consider this Christmas or next year.

Where they are getting is spot on, though, is with trying their hardest to bring the cost of the next generation down as much as possible. The Xbox Series S comes in at the price point of a current gen console, there’s also the All Access purchase plans that puts both consoles more within reach of those on a budget, and Microsoft’s commitment to putting their own first party games into Xbox Game Pass is looking like better and better value as time goes on.

The appeal of Game Pass will come down to actually being able to fill the service with enough new and compelling games, and the pressure is now on for Xbox Game Studios to deliver. It might be a few years away before they can truly deliver a string of blockbusters, but even a single big game could be enough. It’s difficult to argue that subscribing to Game Pass for £8 or £11 a month to play the next Forza and also getting access to over a hundred other games is bad value for consumers, especially when Gran Turismo 7 on its own will now set you back £70 on day one. I know GT holds a special place in a lot of people’s hearts, but… that’s a hell of a deal.

Sony’s Jim Ryan sat down for another interview with GamesIndustry.biz overnight saying, “We have had this conversation before — we are not going to go down the road of putting new releases titles into a subscription model. These games cost many millions of dollars, well over $100 million, to develop. We just don’t see that as sustainable.”

For Sony it might not make sense when they see Spider-Man selling 9 million copies in the space of 3 months – that’d be $540 million gross at RRP – The Last of Us Part II passing 4 million in 3 days,  and each new first party release and IP setting records. You do also have to wonder if a single subscription like Xbox Game Pass can truly provide enough cash to feed the churn of game development at Microsoft. They’ve themselves admitted that it’s not currently a real money-maker for the company just yet, but they’ve also been able to state numerous times that their subscribers typically go on to play more games and spend more money outside of the subscription. We don’t know their absolute sales and performance, but it’s not like their first party games aren’t able to swoop to the top of Steam’s charts whenever they’re released.

Sony are clearly seeing the appeal of Game Pass and responding in their own way with the PlayStation Plus Collection, a range of PS4 games as a free bonus to PS5 owning PS Plus subscribers. Put that alongside PS Now, and outside of having their games entering their subscription services day and date, Sony are tentatively following the same kind of path as Microsoft.

After months of posturing and a handful of half-truths, it turns out that Sony’s vision for how the next generation comes to be isn’t all that dissimilar to Microsoft’s. Now we just have to wait and see who can do it better.

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13 Comments

  1. I think you’re right, so far, I haven’t seen any mind-blowing exclusives to make me want a PS5. And as it’s looking like a lot of multiplayer games (e.g Black Ops) will support cross-generation play as well as cross-platform, I don’t feel like my PS4 Pro will be left in the dirt just yet.

    It kinda validates my decision to upgrade my PC for the new gen, and then potentially pick up a PS5 Pro a few years down the line. The question is, what parts do I buy…

  2. It’s 3 games so far that everyone’s getting all worked up about. And we’ve no idea the difference between the PS4 and PS5 versions of any of them.

    One of them is really just a big standalone DLC for the Spider-Man game. I thought it was coming to the PS4 as well anyway, but there’s been so much news lately it’s hard to keep track and not get confused. The Sackboy game doesn’t seem to be that desperate for any PS5 features. And we’ll have to wait and see how the PS4 version of Horizon Forbidden West holds up against the PS5 version. That one seems like it was designed for the PS5 and then they’ll try and squeeze it into the PS4.

    And we don’t know how many of the other games announced will be PS5 only. Some? Certainly more than the number of Series X-only games MS will be getting in the first year or 2.

    Sony’s position was always “generations are a thing, and we’ll do things the same way as before”. The PS4 had some cross-gen games as well.

    MS took the position of “XBox is a thing, look, thousands of games”. And pushed that message hard.

    Nothing that happened last night “plainly validated” the position MS are taking. The reaction to it seems to have been either completely the opposite (“No! We want PS5 only games!”), or a more sensible “PS5 games would be good, but some cross-gen games wouldn’t be bad either”.

    As for Game Pass, yes, it’s good value (so is PS Now, really). But with everything going in on day 1, it can’t be sustainable. How many millions is it costing MS? Or possibly up into billions in “lost” sales? At some point something will change. Or the quality will go down to keep on adding more games for the same price.

    Sony’s model is more “here’s some great older stuff nobody is buying any more”. Not going to lose them much in sales throwing all those PS4 games in for free with PS+ on the PS5, but it’ll get them all those PS+ subscriptions.

    And at least Sony are being honest about the multi-platform games. To the point of being too eager and saying things are multi-platform when they’re not. I guess we know who to blame for the Rise of the Tomb Raider lies now. If FFXVI is clearly announced as a timed exclusive straight away.

    • Well said.

    • Headlines like this and that awful EG article are beginning to make me think MS has a small group of troops to call upon to spread some crap after a PS event.

      Those quotes from Jim Ryan can be read as Sony committing to next gen features such as the super fast SSD, DualSense controller, Tempest sound – a generation defining leap in tech/features. You could also argue that MS stated all 1st party games will be on old hardware for 1-2 years, where as Sony have just the three so far, with no commitment to releasing more cross-gen (no denial either).
      Don’t giving a handful of great games for getting PS Plus on a shiny PS5 is hardly a Game Pass validation. If that was the case they’d have released them all into PS Now and promoted it that way. It’s just a nice bonus offering and genius move imo.
      So no, I don’t think Sony has proved Xbox is right, but you got my click and comment.

    • All three games were being positioned as PlayStation 5 exclusives, and now they’re not. Sony obviously aren’t going all in on cross-gen, but it’s still a major change compared to “we believe in generations” which was 100% read by everyone that there would not be any cross-gen releases at all. They could have said they were cross-gen and hyped up the improvements for the last few months, but they didn’t and it’s led to bickering about games being “held back”.

      And I think everyone’s wondering that about Game Pass. It depends, and their games still top various sales charts at release. Microsoft are mixing things up with smaller internal projects and signing plenty of indies, and a lot of the library is legacy titles similar to PS Now and PS+ Collection. Collection is Sony’s answer to the appeal of Game Pass in a lot of ways.

      • Nobody thought “we believe in generations” meant no cross-gen releases. It just meant “some PS5 only games, some cross-gen games”, with the PS5 versions taking advantage of the PS5 features to varying degrees.

        That might mean “looks a bit nicer, adds some fancy audio and does weird things with the controller triggers”, or “looks great on the PS5, got squished down into a PS4 and doesn’t look great there”.

        Sony just said “business as usual with the next-gen console”. MS are the ones being all weird with their “no exclusives, and look at all those old games you can play”. We’ll see who has the biggest improvements in the next-gen versions of their games. Will it be the PS5 games they tried to squeeze down onto the PS4? Or the Series X games when they just build an XBone version and tart it up a bit for the XSX?

        And I’m not convinced the PS+ Collection is really an answer to Game Pass. Obviously the popularity of Game Pass probably helped persuade Sony to other something extra for the PS5. But is it not just the same thing they did before? Back in the PS3 days, when they just added a bunch of games instead of just a couple every month. So it’s not really anything new from Sony.

        Just Googled it, and it was 8 years ago! Found a lot of XBox owner comments along the lines of “Cancelling my XBox Live and getting PS+ instead. It’s great value!”. And that was on Eurogamer, of all places.

      • Well, I’m very glad we agree that PS+ Collection, while very different, is probably a way for Sony to react to Xbox Game Pass.

        But I’m not sure how Sony doing cross-gen releases is business as usual. Aside from publishing indie games digitally, the only cross-gen release I can see is LittleBigPlanet 3. So given their history, Ryan’s statement and the PS5 reveal and follow up posts never mentioning the PS4, a lot of reasonable people believed that all those games are PS5 exclusives, regardless of their scope and whether they would be feasible on current platforms.

  3. I did have it in my head that Spider-Man was coming to PS4, I thought that was announced around the time of its reveal

    But Horizon on PS4 was a big surprise to me and does go against what they have been posturing

    There is an article on EG today about Sony’s “broken promises… eroding trust” a bit clickbaity but has plenty of substance

    I think it’s a very fair point about the economics of things like GamePass and the sustainability of it, even if right here and now it is an excellent offering for the consumer

    • A bit clickbaity? Slight understatement. We know EG aren’t exactly fans of Sony, but that was more of a “we don’t like Sony, so we’ve interpreted everything they’ve said in exactly the right way to accuse them of lying”.

      The worst thing is apparently the pre-orders. Sony did exactly what they said and announced pre-orders would be available the next day, not “a minute’s notice”. And then someone (or several someones) fucked up and pre-orders went live straight away from certain retailers.

      Almost as if they can’t think of anything nice to say about MS apart from “Game Pass! Yay!”

      • The pre-orders do seem like a mess though, with retailers accepting orders without knowing how much stock will be allocated. This in turn seems to have made some people place 2 or 3 orders at different retailers, which just exacerbates the issue. And one day’s notice isn’t exactly much, even if some places pulled the trigger too early.

  4. Jim Ryan does seem to be making a habit of saying things that come back around on him. He should focus on bigging up PlayStation rather than talking about what the competition is doing. Gamepass is great value for the customer, and the PS plus game collection is clearly a response to that. He should remember the success of rocket league and fall guys to see that being on PS plus can really give a game a great start and be very profitable too.

    • Rocket League was developed by a tiny company. 130 employees at some point last year. It might have made them lots of money from whatever Sony paid to have it on PS+, a whole bunch of DLC, and eventually being bought by Epic.

      Similar thing for Fall Guys. Apart from not being bought by Epic. Yet.

      Those are the sorts of things that should be on PS+ or Game Pass. Probably doesn’t cost a huge amount to be on there, with the potential for a lot more players buying DLC. Quite likely to be profitable that way.

      Putting big AAA games on those services on day 1? Harder to see how that’s in any way sustainable. Without just throwing loads of money at it, as MS seem to be doing. You’d better hope the Series S/X don’t do too well if you want MS to keep bribing you with all those games. The sooner their plan to sell consoles based on the Game Pass offerings works, the sooner they’ll alter the deal.

      So sure, it’s great value. Tempting to get a Series S at some point just to play all those games. But it can’t last. Unless MS need it to.

  5. I was more surprised to hear that a Sackboy game and sequels to HZD and Spiderman might be PS5-exclusive than i am to discover they are also coming to PS4.

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