#46: One step forward...

Last night I restarted Ghost Of Tsushima, a game I played for a few hours at launch but never quite clicked with (I have a 400-word rant in me about dodge-button placement in action games, and the insanity of shipping a modern game without fully remapabble controls, but will save that for another day). Once I abandoned it on PS4, there felt like no point going back until the inevitable PS5 update — and so last night, with the kids in bed and with a big consultancy project finally winding down, I decided the time was right to hop back in.

The PS5 update to this game I was never entirely sure about, including some DLC that history suggests I will never get around to seeing, cost me £25. And that number was ringing in my ears a bit as I strutted, stalked and slashed my way through the opening hour or so. What have I paid for here? It looks sumptuous, yes, but then it did on PS4 Pro too. It runs at 60fps; sure, that’s nice. It has Japanese lip-sync, because PS5 can render cutscenes in realtime. It’s not perfect but I’ll take it. Oh, and I was offered a special horse — a horse that wears clothes — since I apparently own the Digital Deluxe version now. Cool. Still. £25? Really?

That is nothing, however, to how Sony is handling the forthcoming Horizon Forbidden West. Yesterday Sony revealed the game’s special editions, and buried in an FAQ accompanying the announcement is the revelation that the base PS4 versions have no upgrade path to PS5. If you buy either the Standard ($60) or Special ($70) Edition on PS4, and later want to play it on PS5, you’ll have to buy the whole game again. If you want a free upgrade, you’ll need to either buy the Digital Deluxe ($80), Collector’s ($200!) or Regalla ($260!!!) Edition.

This, needless to say, can get in the sea. Last September, with PS5’s launch approaching, PlayStation end boss Jim Ryan defended Sony’s decision to develop the likes of Spider-Man: Miles Morales and (uh-oh!) Horizon Forbidden West for PS4 as well as PS5, despite having previously strongly implied that Horizon, at least, would be exclusive to the new console. “The PS5 versions of those games are built from the ground up to take advantage of the PS5 feature set,” he parped, “and we have an upgrade path for PS4 users to get the PS5 versions for free.” Do we, Jim? Do we really have that? I submit that, in fact, no: we do not have that. We have nothing of the sort.

This is just a spectacularly bad look in and of itself. Add in the ongoing shortage of PS5 supply, and the huge impact on demand of Sony and retail’s collective failure to effectively combat scalpers, and it looks even worse. Factor in the way Microsoft makes the whole cross-generational-upgrade business about as simple as it could possibly be, at no cost whatsoever to the user, and it begins to look like a disaster.

You would’ve thought that some shiny navy suit in the PlayStation HQ boardroom would have seen this coming. That someone would have said, ‘Microsoft have really nailed the whole compatibility thing, particularly when it comes to playing legacy games on their new consoles. We need a counter to that.’ Maybe they did; maybe someone suggested a system that costs the player money, is different for every game and has loads of Numberwang-ish terms and conditions attached, and the boardroom erupted in applause. Maybe Jim Ryan’s strategy for managing the PS4-to-PS5 upgrade path was just writing ‘Calvinball’ in all caps on a whiteboard.

I doubt it went quite like that. But this is a deliberate strategy, make no mistake, because fuck-ups of this kind never happen by accident. Someone is signing off on this stuff, looking at it and going: yes, good, this is exactly what we should do — just be sure to do it slightly differently next time. I suppose I can see the logic in it. PS5s continue to fly off the shelves (and into scalpers’ hands) as fast as Sony can make them. Horizon will sell by the bucketload regardless. And I, a mug, just paid £25 for a gently upgraded version of a game I have already owned for over a year and barely played. So, why stop? Because it’s dumb, I’m afraid, and makes Sony look like it doesn’t care about its customers. Sadly there are no lines on the balance sheet for intelligence, or for kindness. The only metrics that matter reckon Sony is doing just fine.


  • In a news that I am sure is entirely unrelated to the Horizon business, Sony also yesterday announced a PlayStation Showcase broadcast for next week. Classic hey-look-a-squirrel tactics that you almost have to respect. Meanwhile, the following week THQ Nordic will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a livestream hosted by Everywhere’s Geoff Keighley.
  • A follow-up to Wednesday’s Hit Points on the new gaming restrictions in China: I enjoyed this thoughtful, nuanced piece on the matter, which offers a more informed perspective on things than any of the other coverage I’ve seen (mine included).
  • What was I saying the other day about Eastern governments reining in Big Tech? Apple has announced an agreement with Japan’s Federal Trade Commission to allow developers of ‘reader apps’ to swerve the App Store revshare by letting new customers set up accounts on external websites, instead of in-app.
  • UK ratings board PEGI quietly implemented a ruling last year that automatically slaps an 18 certificate on games that teach players how to gamble. The rule is not retrospective (and will not apply to re-releases), which is good news for my eldest’s beloved 51 Worldwide Games, through which he has learned the rules of blackjack and poker, among others. This is an important development, but not quite as important as it could be: PEGI still doesn’t consider loot boxes to be a form of gambling, despite them quite obviously being so.
  • A note on the importance of angles. VGC brings word that embattled Polish studio CD Projekt Red has committed a quarter of its dev staff to the making of Cyberpunk 2077’s first major expansion; The Gamer chooses to lead with the fact that half the studio is still working on fixing bugs in the base game.
  • Paradox Interactive CEO Ebba Ljungerud is stepping down from her role at the Swedish strategy titan “due to differing views on the company’s strategy going forward.” Ah, the old ‘creative differences’ line. You don’t see that too often in games. I suspect we are not quite getting the whole story here, somehow.
  • Developer readers! You may now request a Steam Deck devkit from Valve. Get me one while you’re at it, eh? My pre-order isn’t due until Q1 and I must have it immediately.

You’re all caught up. I closed with a bit of a hard sell for subscriptions on Wednesday, and it prompted one of the best days of new sign-ups and paid subs since launch. There is, I suspect, a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m conscious of not overdoing it. If you’ve not yet joined the club, becoming a paid supporter costs less than £1 a week, and within the next few weeks will grant access to subscriber-exclusive #content. For now there is just the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting something you like and want to see continue; I think that’s worth a quid a week, personally, but I admit I’m biased. Have a cracking weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday.