Console upgrades are lazy and bad for everyone

ps4k neo

PC gamers have spent so long getting bent over the knee of the games industry and spanked harder than the South African cricket team in a World Cup match that I’d actually forgotten that the greedy corporates that run the show these days actually don’t care about anyone except themselves.

For the first time in a long time, PC gamers are watching on in horror as their console brethren get chased around the house with a wooden spoon. There’s something disturbing about the whole spectacle as well, something unjust. Console gamers, currently, are like the pizza delivery guy that dropped off six large Hawaiians at the S&M party and somehow wound up getting paddled with a spiked cricket bat.

PC gamers are the masochists – we know what we’re getting into when we choose that particular platform, but for console gamers it’s supposed to be different. They want the quick fix, works every time, minimal investment gaming platform that is good for a decade. Now they’re stuck with clamps on their nipples and no safe word. Right, I think it’s probably time to jettison this extended BDSM metaphor before I get put on the NSA’s pervert watchlist (if my Google search history hasn’t landed me there already).

Point is, it’s been a rough teething phase for the new console crowd. First they had to contend with games designed for both current and old technology, which ultimately hurt everyone – PS3 owners had to play games on a console that could never run them optimally and PS4 adopters got watered-down variations built to accommodate or simply not out-shine the older tech.

Then once developers finally let go of the older generation, we got poorly optimised titles that cap out at 30fps and suffer frame drops anyway. And now, in the biggest middle finger delivered since the world gave us One Direction, they’ve decided to abandon the entire point of getting a console in the first place.

If console gamers wanted to “upgrade” every few years, they’d have just given up on a life of happiness and fulfilment and embraced the self-loathing misery of mouse-and-keyboard gaming. The move makes even less sense when you consider the console is a mere two years into its life at this point. I have trash in my car that’s survived longer than that. Honestly, the whole situation stinks worse than the pile of hookers decaying in Dane’s basement.

What makes me the most pissed off about all of this is that it feels like a substitute for proper game development. When you look at something like The Last of Us running on 512mb of RAM (memory that was shared with the GPU, Gaben have mercy), it’s absurd that Fallout 4 can’t manage a consistent 30fps with 16 times that. “But Chris,” you say, combing your neckbeard, “There’s more to hardware than memory you daft, slack-jawed mouthbreather.”

Yes, there is, and the new-gen consoles are significantly better in every conceivable metric. Or to put it in words you might understand, in all of the things. It’s like the difference between playing chess against Michael Jordan and getting shot in the face with a bazooka. If that analogy doesn’t make sense to you, it’s only because you need 16x the processing power to understand it.

"1v1 me bro"
“1v1 me bro”

The point I’m trying to make here is that when it comes to console games, optimisation of the software goes a very, very long way. Consider this – one of the PS3 launch titles was Call of Duty 3. In case you don’t remember it, it looks a lot like a bag of shit left in the sun for three weeks, with a World War II theme.

In contrast, 2014’s Call of Duty release, Advanced Warfare, made it to the PS3. Compared to the PS4 release, Advanced Warfare struggled. Compared to Call of Duty 3, it might has well have been made by an alien super-race with a penchant for unoriginal franchise cash-ins. It also (shakily) ran at 60fps.

The dreaded 30fps cap has been prevalent throughout the PS4’s short lifespan, and more than a handful of AAA releases have had worrying performance issues. This is a problem, no doubt, and I wouldn’t argue otherwise – but I will argue with the fix. Upgrading the hardware is a narrow-minded, inefficient non-solution that hurts consumers.

The Neo is reportedly going to be sold at the same price as the original PS4, which instantly tanks the value of the current console for anyone who owns one. More importantly, it commits the cardinal sin of console gaming – developers are forced to develop for a platform with inconsistent horsepower.

This creates a feel-bad experience for the customer, who essentially has graphical and other features gated behind a “Neo-only” wall. The situation becomes most problematic years down the line, when the installed base of the Neo has grown sizeably. There’ll be a not-insignificant chunk of die-hard fans who sell off their current console in order to upgrade, and assuming the price is in fact the same, every PS4 bought after the Neo’s release will be a Neo – barring mass discounts from retailers trying to offload old stock.

At what point do developers start to focus their games on being optimised for Neo, using that as the baseline experience and providing “legacy” PS4 owners with a diluted, lesser game? If there ever is a PS5, this will no doubt leave a sour taste in the mouths of previous customers.

Pictured: PS4 owners.
Pictured: PS4 owners.

The whole idea just seems especially shitty because part of buying a console is buying the expectation that you’ll be a part of a unified platform that will last several years. Sony may have not specifically promised that, but it’s baked into the culture of console gaming. A dangerous precedent is being set here, and what’s stopping Sony from making a Neo 2? Or 3? Just as the PS3 received several updates to its look, design and form factor, Sony may decide to do the same with the PS4 but simply make hardware changes as well.

After all, two years is just far too early in my opinion to be making a significant hardware change. The timing here just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; an upgrade would be far more logical five years in. All that means, to me, is that like a Kardashian sex tape, this probably won’t be the last one we see.

I’m interested in your thoughts, NAG collective. Are you excited for this, or is it the worst thing to come out of Japan since tentacle porn?

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