Sony fail to dodge bullets with talk of the PlayStation 4.5/Neo

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On April 21, 2016

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So…if the rumours are to be believed Sony is planning to release a PlayStation 4.5 codenamed Neo, with a beefier processor and the ability to take advantage of 4K video. Sony rather curiously have yet to comment on the matter. Like many gamers around the world I currently now find myself in console purgatory.

For years I have clung to my gaming console of choice. In an uncertain world consisting of ISIS, selfies and Donald Trump, I now no longer know what to think. Console gaming has traditionally always been about one box. Yet if the reports are to be believed, it seems Sony will be splitting its user base with the Neo.

Yes I know, rumours are the PlayStation 4 and 4.5 will use the same “user environment”. But give me a break.  If Sony go ahead with this plan you’ll have approximately 40 million people with a PS4 and another user base playing PS4.5’s. Call me crazy, but I fail to see how people experiencing different graphical fidelity on each console equates to a supposed shared “user environment”. With the cat truly out of the bag, Sony must now address this mess. They cannot afford to simply wait for E3 in the summer as they had previously planned, according to reports. The longer Sony wait, the more confused PS4 owners will become and the greater the risk of an almighty PR gaff.

The dangers of a split user base are certainly very clear and present. Last year Nintendo released the new Nintendo 3DS – a more powerful version of the old 3DS. It loads games faster and allows you to play a small selection of “New 3DS only” games. The result?  Hardly anyone is making games for the New 3DS as the 3DS user base mostly consists of old 3DS owners. The rumour mill regarding the PS4.5 suggests that Sony will release games designed to work with both the PS4 and PS4.5. Nevertheless once the 4.5 is released, 40 million PS4 owners will be treated to downgraded graphics and a lower framerate. If developers in the future do indeed wish to take advantage of the beefier PS4.5 they will be turning their back on the 40 million people who already own a PS4. To make matters worse, industry veterans are reporting that developers don’t appear to be overly enthusiastic about the PS4.5…

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In splitting their user base Sony will also effectively be giving the middle finger to people who invested in a PS4 and expected like in years gone by, for their console to last a good few years. Sure, technology is often updated periodically. Look at the iPhone I hear you say! That’s all well and good, but for twenty years I and my fellow gamers have been raised on the belief that if you purchase a console, you can expect to get a good 5-10 years of use out if it. Now it would appear Sony wishes to change things. Old habits die hard and by introducing a new iteration less than 3 years after the release of the PS4 Sony will inevitably anger a sizable section of its user base. Consumers hate double dipping especially for incremental upgrades.

A split user base and angry developers and fans. Looking at PS4 sales numbers, you’d be forgiven for believing that too many Sony executives have watched Fifty Shades of Grey and developed a fetish for BDSM and shooting themselves in the foot. The PS4 has outpaced the PS2 in terms of units sold and moreover has crushed the Xbox One with close to double the number of units sold. Why risk ruining what you already have? Especially when Microsoft have yet to officially announce a new Xbox. I understand Sony’s thinking to some degree. By releasing a PS4.5 with 4K support they can perhaps sell more 4K TV’s. However the age of 4K has yet to take hold. Sure you can go out and buy a 4K TV, but prices are still pretty high to say the least.

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Image source: vgchartz.com

So where is Sony left after all of this? If they decide to wait until E3, gamers like me will simply avoid investing in games and peripherals. Potential new customers will also avoid buying PS4’S. Why would anyone in their right mind commit to buying a nice new shiny PS4 now, when in a few months it could be superseded? Messaging will also be even more important with the launch of PS4.5. To label the console PlayStation 4.5, PlayStation 4k or PlayStation Neo will do little to quell the anger of alienated PS4 owners. In addition you end up confusing parents…”Well honey, junior wants a new PlayStation but there appears to be two different kinds!”

I can’t help but feel Sony should bite the bullet with this one and just label the console PlayStation 5. If you’re going to commit to a vision, commit to it fully.  Listen up Sony. You’re going to annoy 40 million people regardless of what you do. The question is how much do you annoy them? Ditch the 4 and slap a 5 on it is what I say. Don’t turn around to the people that made the PS4 platform what it is and ask them to shell out for a modified PS4, when we all know a PS5 is around the corner. By labelling the console PS5, Sony would make a far bigger statement and reassure fans that this “new” console will not be superseded yet again in 2018 or 2019. But perhaps this is just wishful thinking. Now if you excuse me I’m going to go and cry in a corner.

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