PS4 Boss: Catering To The Lowest Common Denominator Is Perfectly Rational for Publishers

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Jun 14, 2017
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Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe’s boss Jim Ryan made a controversial statement recently, regarding the supposed lack of appeal that backward compatibility really holds for gamers. This led to a significant backlash on forums and social media from fans who are very happy with Microsoft’s backward compatibility program.

We may be about to witness another similar ruckus. Speaking to Eurogamer, Ryan was asked whether he expects games that have a marketing deal with Sony such as Destiny 2, Call of Duty: WWII, Battlefront, and FIFA will have a significant performance and/or image quality difference between PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X.

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In his reply, he pointed out that it’s a “perfectly commercially rational approach” for game publishers to cater to the lowest common denominator like they did with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the past console generation.

I’m not going to go into the detail of what’s embedded into individual contracts with publishing partners. What I would do is cast our minds back to the PS3 generation, where we had on paper more impressive specifications than our competition, and in some areas by quite a considerable margin. Now, that didn’t play out the way we had anticipated it would – and this is nothing to do with co-marketing deals, this is just general developer and publisher dynamics. What happened was that developers, maybe at the behest of publishers, developed up to the lowest common denominator and stopped there. And in very few cases took advantage of the additional horsepower of the PS3.

Now, I’m a big believer of learning lessons from history. History doesn’t always repeat itself. But if you’re a publisher of video games, that is a perfectly commercially rational approach for you to take.

Because you only do one set of work. You don’t do one set of work to get up to one level and then a different amount of work and consequently may need to go further.

However, this is a completely different situation. Back then, Microsoft had a one-year launch date advantage with the Xbox 360 that consolidate a long-lasting lead in sales. Sony’s PlayStation 3, on the other hand, had an insanely high price at launch and most importantly its hardware architecture was so complex that many developers had troubles with it.

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Now, though, PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X are very similar in terms of architecture (just like the base PS4 and XB1 systems), which means that developers shouldn’t have a hard time pushing the respective hardware to the limits.

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