PlayStation’s cross-gen plans have been frustratingly opaque

The recent news regarding 'God of War 2' and 'Gran Turismo 7' being cross-gen titles emphasizes a larger problem Sony has had in its PS5 messaging

Kratos hugging a PS5

Earlier this week, the internet erupted when PlayStation revealed that the untitled sequel to 2018’s God of War will be coming to PlayStation 4 as well as PlayStation 5.

This has led to much debate about cross-gen game development. On one hand, there are those who like that the many millions of people with PS4s can play the new God of War, especially with the PS5 still difficult to get. In contrast, there are those who want PS5 exclusives to allow developers to take full advantage of the beefier hardware, rather than have to make concessions for its weaker predecessor.

All told, I understand both of these takes and even agree with parts of them. But regardless of where you land on the matter, the bigger issue here is that PlayStation has, at best, repeatedly misled gamers about its cross-gen plans and, at worst, been blatantly lying to them.

In the lead-up to the PlayStation 5’s release, Sony repeatedly emphasized the system’s litany of improvements over its predecessor. In particular, Mark Cerny, the PS5’s lead architect, spoke at length during Sony’s first-ever official PS5 presentation about the console’s literal game-changing SSD.

“The primary reason for an ultra-fast SSD is that it gives the game designer freedom,” Cerny said. “Or to put that differently, with a hard drive, the 20 seconds that it takes to load a gigabyte can sabotage the game that the developer is trying to create.”

Eric Lempel, PlayStation’s global marketing head, echoed these statements in an interview with The Game Awards creator Geoff Keighley last July. “In many cases, we can’t take everybody with us from previous consoles into [next-gen],” Lempel said. “You need new hardware, you need new devices to experience what these developers want you to experience.”

“…it’s a different matter entirely when Jim Ryan was asked directly about whether God of War 2 would come to PS4 and flat out refused to comment”

And, of course, there’s the infamous “we believe in generations” quote from none other than Jim Ryan, PlayStation’s head honcho himself. Ryan made the statement to rather derisively contrast PlayStation’s then-apparent focus on new-gen exclusives from Xbox’s cross-gen approach, which is hypocritical and misleading in hindsight.

In the following months, Sackboy: A Big AdventureMarvel’s Spider-Man: Miles MoralesHorizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7 and the God of War sequel have all been confirmed as PS4 and PS5 titles. Of course, there are roughly 116 million PS4s in the wild, so it makes sense from a business standpoint to continue to appeal to that market. But it’s the ostensible bait-and-switch — the “well, actually, these games are coming to PS4!” after the fact — that I take issue with.

To be sure, early adopters of a console buy into that platform on the promise of bigger and greater experiences to come, usually without even knowing exactly what they will be. But it’s a different matter entirely when Ryan is asked directly about whether God of War 2 will come to PS4 and flat out refuses to comment. Per credible journalist Jason Schreier, Sony also reportedly decided to delay the game months ago (which fans have assumed would happen for a while), so it’s notable that it waited until now — especially after months of strong PS5 sales — to say anything. Hell, the company won’t even confirm the game’s official title, despite the reveal trailer teasing “Ragnarok” and fans just calling it that anyway. (To be clear, the delay itself is completely understandable and nobody should send any abuse to the wonderful developers at Sony Santa Monica).

God of War Kratos

But spotty messaging surrounding the delay and title is more of a nitpick; it’s Sony’s run-around about which games are even cross-gen that’s problematic. To be fair, game development is beyond complicated and things can absolutely change, which VideoGamesChronicle noted actually happened with Gran Turismo 7. Earlier this week, we learned the racing game was coming to PS4 as well as PS5, a decision VGC says Sony only “fairly recently” made. But that doesn’t change the fact that a still-live December sizzle reel says GT7 is a “PS5 exclusive,” while cross-gen games like Sackboy and Miles Morales are explicitly listed for PS4 and PS5.

Moreover, we found out about cross-gen plans for God of War 2 and GT7 several months after millions of people had already bought a PS5 thinking that these games were only coming to the new console. And in both instances, Sony actually buried the cross-gen announcements in an unrelated blog post featuring a general Q&A with PlayStation Studios boss Hermen Hulst. While GT7 on PS4 is seemingly a recent shift, VGC‘s sources claim Sony always intended to bring God of War 2 to PS5 — why, then, are we finding out all this time later? This is also much-needed context that my otherwise positive review of the PS5 — as well as others — would have benefited from.

“PlayStation’s overall lack of transparency makes it harder to trust when the company’s talented lineup of first-party studios will come out with games exclusively for PS5 beyond next week’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.” 

Contrast all of this to what Microsoft’s done with its own new consoles. The company has received a lot of flack for committing to releasing games on Xbox One and the Series S compared to the much more powerful Xbox Series X, but the key difference is that it was at least completely upfront about this. We knew for months leading up to the Series X/S launch that Microsoft would continue to bring first-party games like Halo Infinite to Xbox One for a couple of years.

That’s not to say that Microsoft hasn’t slipped up in its messaging. Last summer, the company’s website mentioned that some Xbox games that were expected to come to both Xbox One and Series X/S would be new-gen only, seemingly contradicting Xbox’s promise for multi-year cross-gen support. However, Xbox marketing GM Aaron Greenberg quickly addressed the confusion and the websites were adjusted accordingly, letting people know that developers of games that are farther out — like the new Fable or Obsidian’s new RPG Avowed — were targeting Xbox Series X/S and PC first and foremost.

While he did leave the possibility open for developers to bring these games to Xbox One — “each studio will decide what’s best for their game/community when they launch” — his candour does go a long way, versus Ryan’s complete silence on a similar cross-gen release for games like God of War. Xbox has its own major problem regarding an overall lack of first-party titles at the moment, but that’s a different discussion entirely (and one that will hopefully be enlightened somewhat at E3).

Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5

PlayStation’s overall lack of transparency makes it harder to trust when the company’s talented lineup of first-party studios will come out with games exclusively for PS5, beyond next week’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift ApartWill PlayStation shift to PS5-only games after 2022’s God of War sequel, or will it reveal that other first-party games that year (or even beyond) will be cross-gen as well? Given the company’s mixed messaging so far, I really can’t say.

Let me be clear, though: there’s no reason to think that the PS5’s library won’t ultimately be all-around great, both on the first-party front (like the inevitable numbered Spider-Man sequel or whatever Naughty Dog’s next game ends up being) and from third parties (such as Final Fantasy XVI and the inevitable Final Fantasy VII Remake sequels). Even the cross-gen games like Horizon Forbidden West and God of War 2 will undoubtedly look and run a lot better on PS5. The PS5’s future has a lot of potential, no question.

I just wish Sony did a better job talking about it.