So by now pretty much everyone has heard the news that Sony is allegedly working on an upgraded version of the Playstation 4. This was due to a Kotaku article last month, and as per usual the internet blew up. And in all fairness, I can see why, it's not every day a new console is revealed (or at least leaked), and it's certainly an unusal move, especially for Sony. But this has happened before so let's rewind the clocks, shall we?
The first system that comes to mind is the 32X, Sega's ill fated add-on for the Genesis (Megadrive). The idea was that it was supposed to add some lonjevity to the aging 16-bit hardware. It added some primitive 3D capabilities to the system, maybe a bit better than what Nintendo was doing with their FX chip games, but not much beyond that. While it wasn't incredibly expensive ($160 at launch) it came out at a time whent the true next generation had already began; the Saturn had already launched in Japan by the time the 32X rolled around, everyone knew it was better just to wait.
And I have to wonder what Sega's long term plans were for the 32X. Did they intend to release software for the system well into the 5th generation? The last gen systems stuck around till around 1997, but that's because they were so ubiqutious and affordable that it was easy to justify dumbed down ports and lower budget games. 32X clearly had one foot in the grave as soon as it came out.
Well at least the ads we cool...
The second system that comes to mind is the N64 or rather the expansion pack. While you could argue which system has more pleasing graphics, there's no denying the N64 had more raw horsepower, and this is before the N64 expansion. See the PS1 had 2MB of RAM and the stock N64 had 4MB, but add the expansion pack and it doubles to a whopping 8MB. Lots of games took advantage of it too, most of the time it was simply a resolution bump, higher framerate or better quality textures. The thing is that while many games took advantage of the periferal, there were only 2 games that legitimatley required it: Majora's Mask and Donkey Kong 64 (and that was just to get around a glitch). Okay, Perfect Dark had a good chunk of the content locked out if you didn't have it, but it still was techincally compatible.
It was successful because it wasn't expensive ($30) worked accross a broad range of titles, and didn't lock you out of games except the ones previously mentioned. You didn't have to buy an all new system, and the games carried accross the board. In my opinion, this is how an upgrade can be successful.
Unlock the powaa!
But what about modern examples? Let's look at the DSi and New 3DS. Both of these are interesting cases because both required someone to purchase an all new system, and both have exclusive software yet were both successful. But I think there's a reason for this.The DSi had most of it's exclusive catalog walled off behind an online shop. There was little confusion because you couldn't get on the DSi shop without a DSi. There are a total of 5 exclusive DSi physical releases, none of them came out to all regions, and they are all pretty forgettable games. Add that to the fact that the DS lite was sold concurrently and had it's own features, and it's pretty easy to forgive Nintendo for splitting their audience.
The new 3DS is a similar situation. Much like the DSi it was largely a hardware upgrade. In this instance tou can get things like the circle pad pro and the NFC reader for compatibility but it does become bulky at a certain point. Unlike the DSi, the new 3DS didn't see any price difference, it's simply a replacement model. The exclusive catalog is a bit of a different beast. If you'll notice all the "exclusive" games are ports. Xenoblade the only AAA exclusive is a port of the Wii game, the VC games are availbe on Wii and Wii U, and even Hyrule Warriors Legends (if you want to count it) is a port. While I don't like fragmenting the audience and being forced into buying new hardware, I have to admit this is pretty well handled.
But what about this proposed PS4.5 or PS4K? Now there are two ways that Sony can approach this: either they could make it to where it's simply for media, or they could make it to where games see a performance increase.
Now the former I would be all in favor of. You might have missed it because there wasn't a lot of hype behind it, but UHD Blu Rays are a thing now. Currently the only player on the market is a $400 Samsung, and I can see where Sony would want to jump into that market themselves. Imagine if you will a $500 PS4 that can play these new discs, it would need an HDMI 2.0 port and they would probably upgrade the hard drive to an SSD or hybrid drive for performance. I could also see improving the wifi card for streaming 4K (from my understanding it's not that great). Yes, the current PS4 can do 4K photos and videos, but talking about having the best 4K Blu Ray player on the market sounds like a very Sony thing to do. They might have to sell it at a loss, but this would easily be the best way to get their foot in the door.
I imagine Sony want's a piece of that pie.
The second way I'm not as sure about. Basically this new model would run current games in 4K resolutions, we might see other N64 expansion pack-like upgrades like better textures and framerates. The problem is even high end gaming PC's have trouble running games in 4K. What makes you think Sony can make a box that will be able to do that for a reasonable price? That's something that would be best left to next gen. I'm thinking more along the lines of 2K resolutions at best. Then, we have the Hyrule Warriors problem, the old hardware could be left with bad ports; let us not forget the massive install base the PS4 has right now. Do you really want to upset those people when your company is struggling? The PS4 is the best thing they have going right now, it's certainly not winning with the Vita.
Now theoretically, they could pull a Nintendo and make it a handful of titles, but then why spend so much money to upgrade? It destroys their unlerlying message of having the most powerful hardware. If it was so great why do we need to upgrade? It's the same problem Nintendo would have had if they had ditched the Wii U gamepad: it's a canibalistic practice that destroys the selling point of the system.
Now maybe I'm wrong, but as far as I'm concerned it's the reason I'm a console gamer. If I wanted to keep up and have the best graphics possible there is a machine on the market that allows me to do this: it's called a gaming PC. The current setup of consoles has existed for 40 years, and it's done so because it works. I know that if a game comes out for a system it will work as intended, regardless if it's 2 weeks old or 20 years old. With a PC you don't really have that. (We are getting away from that with online only games and patches but I digress...). The idea is that when you buy a console you know it will be supported for 5-7 years.
I don't want this to be a regular thing....
I feel like it's a bad idea to segment the audince in this way. Sometimes it can work as we have seen, but if this is a sign of things to come I may break down and switch to PC gaming, there may not be a difference before long.
But what do you guys think. Would you buy a more powerful PS4? What if you could trade in your current model? Sound off in the comments below.