I had no troubles in believing that SONY was to release an upgraded version of PlayStation 4. After all, with the further changing in making consoles just dumbed down PCs, it was more than natural. That, and the fact that this is nothing new to the industry overall.
If we go back the history lane, we’ll remember that Atari pushed out Atari 5200 to compete with more well equipped competitors. We all remember how that turned out, but it set a precedent for all future companies from the second generation onwards, where they would push out a new refined version of their machine later down the generation’s life cycle. Sometimes they’d see less drastic changes, sometimes a company would revamp the console drastically. An example of slight upgrades to the hardware could be e.g. the Famicom and the New (AV) Famicom, where the basic hardware was the same but with new input and output jacks. More hidden upgrades would be SONY’s PlayStation being overclocked in its later iterations to run smoother. NEC constantly added new options to PC-Engine, much like how SEGA came out with 32X and MEGA-CD, not to mention their constant tweaking of the base Mega Drive. Game Boy would be another example of a console that saw numerous versions, ending with Game Boy Colour.
The PlayStation 4 Neo is an upgrade that seems to make the games run better, nothing more or less. If the news are to be believed, SONY would not allow games to be solely for the Neo. That’s a contrast to what Nintendo did with the N3DS and its exclusives, which didn’t really go anywhere.
That is not to say that consoles should last as long as they can. Five years cycle is bullshit through and through, and if consoles increase to become more like dumbed down PCs, we might soon end up like them and smartphones, having to upgrade every other year. Consoles have always been about utility and comfort, the fact that the box you play doesn’t mean jack shit. Hardware with consoles should be the last thing in the mind of developers, as a console’s life is completely dependant on the software. The Second generation lasted from 1976 to 1992 and during that time the Atari 2600 collected an incredible library of games, which a lot of people don’t seem to appreciate these days.
It would be suicide for console to follow PC and smartphone’s model of needing an upgrade every other year or so to keep up with the available software and hardware for whatever reason, as it would go against the very notion of ease of use and mean further money down the drain. People would give the companies the finger and move to Steam on PC. At least upgrades in that are automatic updates to the (digital) console.
So, what does the PS4 Neo do? From the looks of it, it seems to be just a clocked up version of the base PS4. The Neo enabled games simply run better on the hardware rather than being a next step up. Basically, it’s the Deluxe version of the PS4, if it is going to exist next to its older brother. There really shouldn’t be any need for keeping the base version in production over the PS4 Neo, unless they have agreement quotas to fill. That, and a budget model at hand is always a nice thing to have.
However, I have heard many echo the same sentiment they had with N3DS; this should’ve been the PS4 we got from the start. Maybe it should have been. Maybe we didn’t need a new generation just yet altogether. The question why would we need better hardware is usually answered with Because then we can make better games, which is more a hopeful wish than anything else. During the last generation, game development saw higher amounts of money spend on them with each year, and the results were mediocre at best. Time, money and resources have always kept climbing with the higher end hardware, and the closer consoles have gotten to the cutting edge technology, the worse the games have been.
Gunpei Yokoi had a philosophy that each and every console company should learn from; take what is, and repurpose it to your own needs. The NES was laughed out when it was released, the SNES was seen backwards machine and Game Boy was seen a step backwards from what the technology could offer. Even the Wii and the DS used older technology in them, yet all the mentioned have been Nintendo’s biggest and best consoles. Yokoi’s Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology shows that the obsession of cutting edge technology in video games is the wrong approach. It may work with computer games, but seeing that market is now controlled by a digital console, there’s no hope in there.
One could even go as far as to say that the more cutting edge technology we see in our game consoles, the worst the games are. They cost too much to make, they take too long to develop and they are far too resource intensive. Games’ designs have suffered because it needs to be more about the tech rather than about the core design. Not only that, but the more games share the same engine, the less unique they are. The game industry has moved further away from crafting games and have almost moved to use game equivalents of ClipArts. Most of these engines are not even properly optimised, but who has time to finish a product during production nowadays? Everything’s released half-finished, riddled with bugs that may be fixed later on with patches.
But nobody should be surprised about PS4 Neo. It’s just following a long time trend.