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PS5 fans sorely disappointed over Smart Delivery

Microsoft changed the game (no pun intended) when it announced its Smart Delivery system. Through Smart Delivery, any gamers who purchase a cross-gen title for the Xbox One will be able to play the upgraded version of the game on the Xbox Series X. In other words, you only have to buy a game once to be able to play the best version of it on both consoles. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear as though the PlayStation 5 will be following suit.

According to Japanese gaming publication GameSpark (translation via BlackKite on Twitter), Sony does not exactly have a unified upgrade program like Smart Delivery for the PlayStation 5. Instead, it seems that Sony is leaving up to game publishers to decide when/if upgrades are issued for pre-existing titles.

"Apparently the update program for PS4>PS5 software copies will be done at the publisher's own discretion, but SIE stated that they will flexibly support these upgrades even in Japan as well," wrote BlackKite.

If that sounds pretty difficult to follow, don't worry; it's not just you. Basically, instead of making sure that everyone across the board gets their upgraded cross-gen games, Sony is leaving it up to the publishers to decide how and when to issue those upgrades. It's an important distinction, because it makes things far less instantaneous. It allows the publisher to set its own time frame for the upgrade. 

This isn't necessarily a bad thing for the publisher, but for a customer who was hoping to play a particular game in perpetuity, it's a concerning factor. On the other hand, if a publisher has already agreed to participate in the Smart Delivery program, it stands to reason that it could just go ahead and issue the upgrade to both consoles at the same time. It's the fact that Sony doesn't seem to have a formal plan like Microsoft's implemented across the board that seems to be giving people pause.

In an interesting aside, we are already seeing how some publishers are handling the concept of upgrades. EA recently told customers that they will be able to upgrade the upcoming Madden NFL 21 from PS4 to PS5, but on one condition: EA will not provide upgrades for physical copies of the game to those who purchase the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition. While EA's "Dual Entitlement" program is poised to offer upgrades for PS5 and Series X owners, the company says, "Currently no upgrade pathway exists from 'disc to digital' for those partners who offer a Next Generation discless console."

This is likely a huge disappointment to a section of fans. However, it does make some sense from a logistics standpoint, as it may be difficult to verify ownership of a physical copy for someone with a digital-only console. It will be interesting to see if EA maintains that stance if (or when) Microsoft likewise announces its own console without a disc drive. If the recent rumblings concerning the long-rumored Lockhart console are true, then Microsoft may run into a similar concern from EA when it comes to upgrading games.

It's the idea of "flexibility" mentioned in BlackKite's post that also makes things feel extra muddy. In fact, it has led at least some fans to assume that many publishers will opt out of upgrading games for the PlayStation 5, strictly because they can continue to sell new copies instead.

All of these different factors add up to some unclear messaging from Sony. However, it has been suggested in the past that this isn't entirely Sony's fault. In fact, it has been reported that Sony's overall marketing plans for the PlayStation 5 were negatively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. When faced with a shifting timeline thanks to safety regulations, Sony reportedly revealed the DualSense controller in a bit of a hurry. It could be that Sony is just running behind schedule and will roll out a more consistent and clear plan for game upgrades in the future.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has made it clear that it plans to continue supporting the Xbox One for the foreseeable future. Microsoft's basic plan ahead of the Series X release is to let customers come to the next-gen console whenever they are ready, and to make sure their games are waiting for them when they get there.

Confusing things further on the Sony side of things, it was recently announced that Sony wants all games submitted after July 13 to have forward compatibility with the PS5. This is obviously an exciting development for fans who are hoping to get a new system in the near future. However, it is unclear how this will effect Sony's stance on letting publishers decide when to dole out these upgrades.

Hopefully Sony will clarify its stance on upgrades in the near future. The mixed messaging is going to be difficult for customers who are already wary of the console's likely high price point.