Last week, PS4 added “backwards compatibility” – starting with just 8 “fan favourite” PS2 games but no doubt growing over time. Combined with Playstation Now (Sony’s impressive but expensive game-streaming service) this means PS4 owners have access to a huge catalogue of games from the past 20 years of Playstation. Together with Shuhei Yoshida’s recent announcement that Sony are working on PS4 streaming to PC and Mac Sony appear to have countered two of Xbox’s biggest new selling-points. However, while Xbox One got a slight headstart and can run more, and more recent titles there on the machine, there is another crucial difference – Sony’s model asks gamers to pay again for the privilege.
For someone like me, with a PS2 and a couple of games still in the loft, this is really just a minor negative. No amount of up-rendering or trophy support will let me justify re-buying something ICO or Shadow of the Collossus but my PS2 still works, my collection was always small and I skipped the PS3 entirely. Backwards compatibility and Playstation Now give me the option to enjoy some of the titles I missed and I’m looking forward to doing this just as soon as I make some progress on my insane current backlog. But for someone with a large Playstation collection, I’d expect this to be a bigger deal. An approach that disadvantages your most loyal customers? As they say in a western, that’s either pretty brave or pretty stupid.
As owner of both the main consoles this generation and what you would politely call a “veteran”, I’m really not interested in igniting console war. It seems almost impossible that Sony can be caught in terms of sales but it’s a market with plenty of room for two so there doesn’t have to be “loser”. But what surprises me is seeing Playstation remain the choice of the “true gamer” despite this sort of anti-consumer policy. While Sony charges gamers to play games they already own, rejects EA Access as “poor value” and seems to have forgotten about releasing any new first-party exclusives, I’d argue that Microsoft has focussed on the games, listened to customers and offered choice and value.
The PS4 is a great machine with some fantastic games. It’s clearly more powerful (although that’s never been the key in previous generations) and has had great support from gamers and developers, building a commanding lead over the Xbox One. But it feels like Sony have been complacent, relying on the momentum from a launch period where Microsoft misfired and PS4 rightly shone. The public can be fickle, just ask Sega.