Last week’s surprise announcement that anyone who buys “Horizon Forbidden West” on the PlayStation 4 will not have a free upgrade path should they eventually get a PlayStation 5 received harsh criticism, which led to some sorely needed clarity.

PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan announced Saturday that the company is walking back the Thursday decision for the “Horizon” upgrade pipeline to PS5 by keeping it free, but maintaining that future first-party games like the next “God of War” will come with a $10 upgrade price. Ryan told The Post last September that launch games would receive free PS5 upgrades. While Ryan did not mention “Horizon” by name, the title was still implied as a launch title at the time.

Ryan’s decision to charge $10 for future first-party, cross-generation upgrades to the PS5 versions finally puts into place some kind of standard for the PS4 to PS5 pipeline. The messy and incoherent PS4-to-PS5 upgrade pipeline has only grown worse since the console launched last year, even when we’re only talking about Sony exclusives. The PlayStation 5 platform needed a clearer distinction, especially since it continues to rely on upgraded versions of PS4 titles to maintain sales.

Here’s a look back at the mess:

  • Owners of the PS4 games “The Last of Us Part II,” “God of War” and “Horizon Zero Dawn” all received free PS5-exclusive upgrades in game performance to 60 frames-per-second, all while using the PS4 files of each game.
  • Owners of the PS4 versions of “Final Fantasy VII Remake” were able to upgrade to a PS5-updated version free. But if you own a digital-only PS5 and only own the disc of the game, or downloaded the game free through Sony’s PlayStation Plus service, you have to buy the PS5 version of the game outright, which includes additional story content called “Intergrade.” The new content also needed to be purchased anyway for an additional $20.
  • “Ghost of Tsushima” received separate PS4 and PS5 editions of a “Director’s Cut.” Sony was able to charge PS4 owners a premium of $20 preorders or $30 upgrades thanks to additional story and game content added by the developer. Boosted frames performance and a few updates come free for anyone who doesn’t bother with the “Director’s Cut” at all.
  • “Death Stranding” offers a $10 upgrade to its “Director’s Cut,” which also comes with new story and game content. The director’s cut of this game is exclusive to PS5 and is sold alone for $50, cheaper than the “Tsushima” director’s cut stand-alone game.
  • Sony’s original Thursday announcement for “Horizon Forbidden West” meant that players will not have “dual entitlement” (Sony’s words) to PS4 and PS5 versions unless they purchase the $80 “Digital Deluxe Edition” or the premium “Collector’s” and “Regalla” editions priced at $200 and $260 respectively.

Contrast all of the above with the upgrade path on Xbox’s latest series of consoles: Simply hit the “update” option of the game you already own, and, presto, you have the next-gen, Xbox Series X or Series S version of the game via the Microsoft-coined “Smart Delivery” system. The option isn’t available for every game on the Xbox platforms, but many of the biggest multiplatform titles offer free upgrade paths on Xbox, as do all of Microsoft’s exclusives.

Xbox CEO Phil Spencer explained to me in February of last year that the company coined the phrase “Smart Delivery” to arm customers with publisher expectations.

All this confusion over upgrades may seem like it won’t matter to owners of a PlayStation 5 or anyone only concerned with the latest and greatest titles. But it also ignores the reality that many of today’s most-played games are several years old, yet still maintain healthy communities. The act of playing old games is more relevant today than ever.

The confusion may also seem foreign to anyone who’s traditionally played video games only on consoles. But the PC and mobile spaces have trained millions of users on how software works in the modern world. People who buy “Stardew Valley” for their iPhone X don’t have to repurchase another “iPhone 12” version of the game when upgrading to an iPhone 12. You just get the same game on a different device. That’s the kind of cross-gen capability Xbox is shooting for — something Sony hasn’t been able to maintain.

Nintendo, meanwhile, operates on its own, indecipherable logic and doesn’t offer its consumers any choice in how to play old games besides either playing them on old devices or repurchasing them on the Nintendo Switch.

For now, Sony seems to want it both ways: It wants to maintain the perspective that its exclusives are a luxury you can only get with a PS5, all the while acknowledging that the PS4 library is too valuable to gather dust by frequently updating some of its beloved titles. At least some of these Sony upgrades include additional content, like “Ghost of Tsushima” and its Iki Island expansion.

These various upgrades raise the question: Just how valuable are the lines of codes that distinguish a PS4 or PS5 version of otherwise the exact same content? It’s not a question customers should be expected to answer, especially this early in the console generation. For now, Sony has an answer: That’ll be $10. The remaining questions include how developers will now address that $10 value attached to upgrading to a PS5 version, and whether that consistency and price is reasonable enough to keep players of both PS4 and PS5 happy.

Read more