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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Buy an Old PlayStation 4 If You Want. Seriously, It's Fine

It's been more than a year since the PlayStation 5 came out, and it's still one of the hardest gadgets to find. Sony plans to make up for the limited stock by continuing to produce the PlayStation 4, despite originally planning to discontinue the console at the end of 2021, according to a recent report in Bloomberg. At first glance, this feels like making up for a low supply of cars by building more bicycles. Except … is it really that absurd?

Responses to the report were about what you'd expect—equal parts laughter and scorn. Meanwhile, in the same Bloomberg report, Sony says that continuing PS4 production was the plan all along. Older consoles do traditionally continue selling even after new ones come out. (Though, for comparison, Microsoft has officially discontinued the Xbox One.)

But this situation is a little different. Between the persistent supply chain issues, the continuous string of game delays, and the already impressive state of the previous console generation, there might be more reason than usual to buy an older console.

The Chip Shortage Problem Is Still Here

Back in the summer of 2021, what feels like a million years ago, I wrote about how a chip shortage has made it difficult to find nearly every kind of gadget. Not much has changed. The global supply chain is still feeling the residual effects of the initial crisis in 2020. When manufacturing facilities shut down right as demand for new gadgets skyrocketed, it was a bit like dropping a giant boulder into a lake. Even after the initial splash dies down, the ripple effects will continue for a while.

This is a huge part of why it was so difficult to find PS5s this past holiday season. Yes, scalpers are also a problem, but these problems compound. Fewer consoles on shelves means more competition to buy them, which drives up demand for auto-buy bots, which makes it harder for the average person to get their hands on a console.

PS4s, on the other hand, are cheaper to manufacture than PS5s and are therefore cheaper to buy. Also, because they use older chip models, their components are more readily available—meaning they can be produced at scale quickly. Having more PS4s on shelves could offload some of the pressure on PS5 sales, which could benefit everyone. Sure, the people dunking on Sony want a PS5, and offering them a PS4 instead doesn't really solve their problem. But there are still amazing games for the PS4, and a Dad Gamer who just needs any PlayStation, or the parent buying a console for their 8-year-old, might not care as much. 

If everyone who wants a PlayStation has to buy a PS5, it makes the demand problem worse. But if the portion of the market that doesn't care which model they get can buys a cheaper or more available console, then there's more room for the people who are committed to the PS5, bots notwithstanding. That's reason enough to keep making and selling PS4s right now. But it's not just hardware that's getting delayed.

There Aren't Many Games Built for the PS5 Yet

It's not uncommon for there to be only a handful of games exclusive to a new console when it first comes out. When the Switch was released, for example, it was little more than a Breath of the Wild machine. It's OK, to an extent, if games that take advantage of the new hardware take some time to arrive.

However, game delays have plagued the entire industry. There are but a handful of titles that truly utilize the power of the PS5. There are a few true exclusives, like Returnal and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, which aren't available on the PS4. And then there are only a few soft-exclusives, like Deathloop (also available on PC) and the Demon's Souls remake (technically exclusive to the PS5, but the original came out on PS3).

Several PS5 titles are remastered or rereleased versions of PS4 games. Spider-Man: Miles Morales Ultimate Edition, Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Intergrade, and Death Stranding: Director's Cut are all variations of PS4 games that have been given modest improvements and unnecessarily long names to make them stand out as PS5 releases. 

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That's all well and good—Death Stranding: Director's Cut was still one of my favorite games of 2021—but with so much focus on cross-generation releases, it may be a while before there's a big game you can't play on the PS4. Even the upcoming Horizon Forbidden West and the much-delayed God of War: Ragnarok will be playable on the PS4.

If 90 percent of the games you want to play are on the older console, and new ones are still coming out, it's not really that outdated, is it?

Consoles Are Already Really Good

A perfectly understandable reaction to the section above might be, “Yeah, sure, you can play those games on a PS4, but they'll look and sound so much better on a PS5!” That's both technically true and, as someone who loves getting the best experience I can out of my home theater, an argument that deeply appeals to me.

At the same time … it's not that true. The PS5 has some pretty killer tech behind it. Sony's 3D Audio system is an immersion maker, and I'm genuinely in awe of how vibrant and detailed the landscapes in Horizon Forbidden West are. But we've reached a stage in console development where visual upgrades are increasingly minute, and the benefit of more processing power isn't necessarily in how many pixels the hardware can push, but in what artists can do with it. Put simply, the days of mind-blowing console upgrades are over.

Does that mean that we should give up, stop developing new hardware, and make the PS4 the last console humanity ever develops? Of course not. But it does mean that there's less urgency to upgrade to a console that's difficult to get your hands on anyway.

If you're in the market for a PlayStation right now, you can hold onto your cash, try to beat the bots, or stand outside a store and wait for the next shipment to come in. It wouldn't be a bad decision. But if you just want something to play the new Horizon game on, and you'd rather take the easier route to get it, there's nothing wrong with buying a PS4 right now.

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