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Sony's PS4 to PS5 game upgrade path is a mess

Horizon Forbidden West
(Image credit: SIE)

It's taken Sony 10 months to outline an upgrade path between PS4 and PS5 with any clarity or consistency. The platform holder has confirmed that, moving forward, it will now charge $10 to upgrade from PS4 to PS5 editions of first-party exclusive cross-gen titles, a shift from the scattershot approach that has marred the first year of the PlayStation 5. Horizon Forbidden West will be exempt from this new policy when it launches February 22, 2022 – a concession born out of controversy. 

Guerrilla Games' upcoming cross-generational release will now receive a free upgrade. That needn't have been news this past weekend, given that it was confirmed by Sony back in September 2020 and later reaffirmed by PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan. And still Horizon Forbidden West made headlines, as the company revealed that players who purchased the Standard or Special editions of Forbidden West on PS4 would have no path to upgrade to a PS5 edition in the future – necessitating a second purchase of the game should you wish to continue playing into the next generation. If players wanted to guarantee access to the PS4 and PS5 version of the game, they'd need to purchase the Digital Deluxe, Collector's, or Regalla editions – the least expensive of these options being $80/£80 and the most expensive $260/£229. 

Sony has since walked this policy back after receiving widespread criticism. "It's abundantly clear that the offerings we confirmed in our pre-order kickoff missed the mark," Jim Ryan explained, president and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment. "While the pandemic's profound impact pushed Forbidden West out of the launch window we initially envisioned, we will stand by our offer: Players who purchase Horizon Forbidden West on PlayStation 4 will be able to upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version for free."

Cross-gen clarity

Gran Turismo

(Image credit: Sony)

Suffice to say, this has been a mess that could – and should – have been easily avoided. This isn't the first time something like this has happened either. Sony's decision to make select PS5 exclusives available on PS4 was met with confusion, following the platform holder's attempts to vigorously differentiate the PlayStation 5 from the Xbox Series X on the road to release – taking aim at Microsoft's policy of supporting backwards compatibility and a more open console ecosystem. Ryan's statement to GiBiz from last May that "we have always said that we believe in generations" seems absurd now, in light of Horizon Forbidden West and God of War Ragnarok crossing the generational divide and the persisting rumors that Gran Turismo 7 will do the same. 

Earlier this year, as PlayStation Studios head Herman Hulst attempted to justify Sony's recommitment to the last generation, he made a good point that is worth remembering now: "You can't build a community of over 110 million PS4 owners and then just walk away from it, right? I think that'd be bad news for fans of PS4, and frankly not very good business." 

Here's something else that isn't all that good for business: trying to deny the millions of PS4 players who are currently unable to purchase a PS5 system through legitimate means an easy or affordable way to take the purchase of a new PlayStation exclusive like Horizon Forbidden West from one generation into the next. The ongoing shortage of semiconductors has restricted supply of both the PS5 and Xbox Series X, with manufacturers now advising that the console shortage could last until 2023. PS5 stock is disappearing near-instantaneously and the market's inability to combat scalpers has certainly exacerbated these frustrations too. Many players are having to continue playing the latest PlayStation Studios releases on PS4 out of necessity – that Sony would even consider not giving players a clear and affordable way to bring new purchases forward seems anathema to its "for the players" mantra that dominated the PS4 era.

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: SIE)

Looming over all of the confusion is the knowledge that it needn't be this difficult. Microsoft made a commitment at the outset of this generation that it would make cross-gen upgrades as easy as it possibly could, with no additional effort or cost to the consumer. "Smart Delivery" seemed like an outrageous thing to shout about this time last year, but it's quickly become transformative. Purchasing a first-party Xbox game ensures it'll work on Xbox One and Xbox Series X, and in some cases PC and mobile devices too – thanks to the Cloud Game and Game Pass initiatives for that last one. You make a purchase, the license to access it is tied to your account, and it just works on any of the devices that'll support it. And as an added bonus, all of your saves are in the cloud and transfer over seamlessly. Meanwhile, PS5 owners are still able to accidentally play PS4 versions of cross-gen games on their PS5s.

The PS5 launched 10 months ago and it shouldn't have taken 10 months for Sony to set expectations for first-party, cross-gen exclusives. PS5 launch games Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure were given free upgrades to help PS4 owners keep up-to-date with blockbuster new releases and to offset stock shortages of the new system. PS5 updates to legacy titles like Last of Us 2 and God of War were offered up for free too, a welcomed surprise. Ghost of Tsushima's PS4 to PS5 upgrade cost £15/$20 (more expensive, yes, although the Iki Island expansion helped offset that cost somewhat). Thankfully, we now know that any new first-party cross-gen games will come with a $10 upgrade fee, useful information to players trying to allocate their money between releases. 

Of course, all of this could have been avoided had Sony stuck to its original decision to offer the Horizon Forbidden West PS4 to PS5 upgrade for free. Then again, with no consistent pricing structure in place before the controversy, and with still no firm messaging on the number of cross-gen games coming in the future, it's likely that PlayStation would have run head first into this type of problem eventually.


Horizon Forbidden West pre-orders are live! Follow the link and get the best price on the new PlayStation game

Josh West

Josh West is Features Editor of GamesRadar+. With over 10 years experience in both online and print journalism, Josh has written for a number of gaming, entertainment, music, and tech publications, including 3D Artist, Edge, gamesTM, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. He holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing, has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh plays bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.