Horizon Forbidden West – The Next Gen Upgrade Debate

Sony recently announced that if you want to buy Horizon Forbidden West on PS4 and PS5 you will have to pay a £10 premium. I’ve seen many people complaining and the typical MSM (mainstream media) response, which consists simply of comments like THIS IS EVIL AND ANTI CONSUMER, THEY HAVE TO REVERSE. All quoting MS’ way of handling next gen. I find this extremely short sighted and see this situation from multiple sides. There is the consumer side, the business side, and then the actual end product delivered side.

Let me start of by saying though, and this is one of the angles, it is not always justified. Ghost of Tsushima on PS5 adds borderline nothing, no native 4k, just an upped checkerboard resolution, no graphics improvements outside of upped particle numbers, some 3d audio tweaks and haptics no actual major work done, and it is not worth the £10 premium.  This is one of the arguments, is it justifiable, and I will touch and build on this point later.

The first side is the “pro consumer side”, why should the user have to pay that extra £10? Especially with game pass and free upgrades on Xbox? I see this as short sighted, on the surface sure this makes Sony look like the bad guy and anti-consumer, but the reality is much more nuanced. For starters, everyone complained that Horizon was cross gen, and how it will hold it back the game. While there will without a doubt be limitations due to PS4 being a dev target, we already have confirmed a unique underwater system on PS5 that is leagues beyond anything in any other open world game. So, what should Sony have done? Not bothered taking advantage of the PS5, just adding a 60FPS mode for back compat if using a PS5 and call it a day?

I can already hear people shouting “NO JUST GIVE IT AS A FREE UPGRADE” MS does, but here is the situation, and I am not for one minute saying Sony could not absorb the cost, they could. However, no MS game that is cross gen has any systems that are unique to next gen, it’s just resolution, some graphics upgrades and frame rate. While giving those is great, Horizon has an underwater system unique to PS5 that cost time and money to develop, much more than any resolution, fps and graphics upgrades would ever cost, as they are just upping the numbers until they fall below the performance target.  We don’t know what else they have instore outside of haptics and 3d audio, but there’s a conscious effort to make the PS5 version more than just upping the numbers. Sony are making a game that needs to be optimised for PS4, PS4 PRO and PS5, and they are actively going out of their way to use the PS5 as much as possible out of a cross-gen title.

To add to that, there’s also the case of budget, no one can deny Sony production values vs MS are on two different levels entirely, now this doesn’t make one better than the other by default, but the fact is Sony games cost more. MS is leaning more and more on UE a free engine for their games, while Sony is making bespoke engines and then spending a lot of time and money upgrading them, in addition to much bigger budgets for the games. MS is making games that must fit a game pass budget, Sony is not, and thus they pump more into it.

For MS to upgrade a UE game for series X, it is incredibly easy, quick and painless. There will be other games where it is slightly more complex but again still nothing on the level of what Horizon is doing on the PS5. Not only that, all future MS titles after this year are next gen only. So instantly the free upgrade proposition is gone. Cutting out the cost of having to make sure the game runs on 3 other systems as the one and one s are different spec wise and obviously the one X is.

Meanwhile Sony, for better or worse (depends on the game), is not abandoning their current user base, and instead offering current gen versions, with next gen upgrades. With games like Horizon offering tangible differences. For Guerrilla Games to make an entirely new underwater system for PS5 it would have taken a considerable amount of time, upgrades to their bespoke engine and thus costs more money. This is not the 1:1 comparison the MSM is trying to portray. Sony is spending significantly more money, making sure they don’t leave anyone out where possible and in the case of horizon, is offering tangible benefits, offering something you can only get on PS5. Unlike the Tsushima upgrade which is completely unjustifiable.

I just want to put something else into perspective before I continue. The reason MS is pretending to be pro consumer, is the typical reason all big companies that are pretending to be sheep while secretly being wolves… They want to use their immense wealth to push everyone out the market, taking an initial revenue hit in the expectation that in the long run they will have a monopoly and can bleed you dry.  MS revenue last year was 168 billion US dollars, they have been making billions for years upon years and have an immense war chest.

Meanwhile Sony has been making a loss in every other department bar PS (which has only recently become profitable) for a significant number of years and do not have a large war chest. Sony had a revenue of 81 billion US dollars last year thanks to PS. Now I’m not saying Sony is poor, but Xbox is part of MS, one of the biggest companies in the world, they don’t care about the consumer, they will tell you they do but they do not.

They are simply absorbing large losses with game pass and free upgrades because of two reasons, one the upgrades are cheap with how they do them and two they have the large MS war chest and revenue to rely on. This is their calculation, absorb the loss make the competitor look anti-consumer, try to push them out then jack the prices up.  If you don’t think this is the case well let me, give you a quick story…

Everyone has heard of windows 11 and it’s compatible CPU list, now while there are some justifications for this, there are multiple ways to get a TPM 2.0 chip however, including a software based version. Not only that, until yesterday there were a significant number of machines well under the CPU spec running the windows 11 beta PERFECTLY FINE. They have now all been kicked off, so why did MS kick off machines that can work with W11 perfectly fine?

The answer is simple MONEY. License costs potentially saved, a much smaller list of configurations they have to think about (albeit still large) and of course big money deals with Intel and AMD to push sales of new tech. New tech that surprise surprise has all gone up in price due to a shortage, a shortage that somehow didn’t stop MS upgrading millions of servers for XCLOUD with SX hardware. MS has never been pro consumer, not even with the XBOX, everything is calculated. Yes you can install it on unsupported devices when it releases, but you will not be getting a lot of security updates, which MS says is the whole point of W11… Why would you install an OS that is full of security holes? You will not, but at least MS can pretend to not be shutting people out, when the reality is the opposite.

So, to start wrapping this up. There is the “pro consumer argument” where you make comparisons to MS who offer free upgrades, while ignoring the fact that companies like Nintendo are charging full price for WIIU ports (some with extra content but not justifiable at the price). In addition to that, MS puts significantly less work in their next gen versions of cross gen titles, which again are ending soon. Leaving Xone users in the dust and removing 3 systems that would have to be developed for, saving significant time and cost.

While titles like Ghost of Tsushima have not justified the extra cost. Take a look at Miles Morales on PS4 vs PS5, the models, the rigging everything is substantially upgraded, and while Tsushima is the worst PS5 upgrade by miles, Horizon is adding entirely new and unique systems to the PS5 version. Putting more time in money into a cross gen version than MS has done and will have ever have done giving it is RIP Xbox one users in 2022 if you want first party titles.

Sony is not abandoning it’s PS4 user-base unlike MS, and thus spending significantly on development. Could Sony afford to absorb the cost? Sure, they could, but this is a business about making money and unlike MS they don’t have effectively infinite funds to absorb losses and are offering significant benefits through a paid upgrade.  

So where does this leave things? Is it justifiable to charge for a next gen upgrade, given what MS do and what the MSM media says about it? Depending on the situation, IT ABSOLUTELY CAN BE! Horizon is being developed for 3 platforms and 2 generations, with a significant budget and extra time and money being put into engine upgrades to offer things on PS5 that you will not experience at all on PS4, In the case of Tsushima, it is not justified and offers no real significant benefit vs the BC version and is absolutely pure greed.

That being said, MS has achieved manipulating the MSM narrative in their favour and have completely skewed the value of things by using their infinite wealth. No outlet will mention the fact that MS is dumping last gen after this year, or the fact that they have a massive financial war chest and spend significantly less money on their next gen versions compared to Sony. 

There is a lot more to this argument than what is being portrayed, it is not black and white one charges and one does not if you want to have a genuine discussion. While Sony’s handling of things has not been flawless, it is far from anti consumer, and depending at how you look at it, could be pro consumer given PS4 users are not being left in the dust, while PS5 games still get exclusives.

At the end of the day, you have a choice, stick with the PS4 version or pay £10 more get a genuine next gen version that is more than resolution, FPS and upping some simple numbers, and by doing this Sony is not leaving their current user-base in the dust while MS is. What approach you prefer is entirely subjective, but both companies are setting out to achieve entirely different things. Sony are developing 2 versions of a product and one costs more to make, and thus they are charging a bit more, that is completley normal business.

Charging £10 for tangible and in the case of Horizon and spider-man IMO as ray tracing in an open world is a GAME CHANGER and no mean or cheap feat, while still supporting PS4 users. Not leaving previous gen users in the dust is certainly not anti consumer or greedy. While you could argue forcing people into having to buy a new system (even if there is a cheap entry point) is. Where do you sit?

Leave a Comment