The rumors of the Playstation 4 Neo, an upgraded well Playstation 4, are running rampant around the net now. There are people on the other side of the next generation of gaming, the Xbox supporters that are split on the chance that Microsoft could be planning an upgrade too. Some Xbox fans think it would be a great idea while others think it would be the demise of the brand for Microsoft to do so. Please keep in mind that the Playstation 4 Neo has not been confirmed by Sony (as of this writing) so it is still firmly set in “rumor” status. There is one thing that console gamers are missing and these rumors just lend credence to this glaring upgrade option we may see in the next generation. Consumer upgrades to consoles.
On the personal computer side of things consumers have been able to upgrade their computers longer than the general user had the money to do it. Want better graphics? Buy a better video card. Want surround sound with 5.1 or 7.1, or more, Dolby Digital? Hit Newegg.com and buy a new sound card. Computer running a bit slow? Install some faster ram or a faster CPU and off you go. On the console side of things this has not been an option. There was one attempt at this in the console world and that was the Colecovision console and the “Super Game Module” that offered many additional features. I am ignoring the whole Super FX chip, DSP chips and other cartridge solutions that only worked with the cartridge they were installed in.
On the console side of the situation it has pretty much been “buy the next console” for an upgrade over the current one. There have been no real upgrades available to gamers. This is also one of the strengths of console gaming- no having to deal with inconsistencies caused by the developer has to program for a million plus one combinations of the hardware. The thing that holds back gamers from playing their games with the latest greatest hardware is also one of the reasons developers can get so much out of a console.
Upgraded consoles being the “new” console are nothing new as “add-on” attempts have failed horribly in the past. We saw Sega attempt to offer a slight upgrade to the Sega Genesis with the 32X add-on, and again with the Sega CD. The problem is, neither of these add-ons offered any kind of benefit to you when playing your Genesis cartridge collection- no improved music when using the CD add-on, no increased color palette when using the 32X. That is unless you were playing games made specifically for those add-ons at which point you received quite a few niceties. Both of these add-ons would probably have been better received had they improved your already available cartridge collection in some way.
Sega was the last company to attempt any major add-on for their console and it was with the Genesis that they ended the add-on train there.
Pretty much without opposition since, console gamers had to purchase the follow-up console when the current one just didn’t cut it graphically and aurally. The problem is, backwards compatibility is rare thanks to company’s constantly changing hardware architecture under the plastic.
That changing of hardware is usually not a problem for PC gamers today. Back in the 90’s though it was. Back then if you had a Voodoo card then you could play a certain set of games quite well, but if you had a Riva 128 you were hosed with some of those same games. Think of it like owning a Playstation 3 versus the Xbox 360 but you didn’t have to buy two copies of the game (I know, mind blown).
Anyhow, it seems like the next generation of console may continue their turn to being PC’s in a plastic case minus the keyboard. With this continued transition it just makes sense to make the consoles consumer upgradeable. Isn’t it time the consumer is given the option to upgrade their console as they see fit? Imagine if Sony and Microsoft offered a base unit that is great and dandy but left open removing the graphics card, sound card, CPU, adding more RAM as you see fit, etc. 4K taking over and now you want to enjoy your games, all of them for that shiny new console, in the upgraded format? Just order the proper video card that features the better video output, maybe upgrade the CPU while you are at it to get better performance at the higher video quality.
I know, you are probably thinking there is no way that Sony or Microsoft would do that. That it would cut into their profits too much, after all consoles usually lose money early on and then improve margins as costs come down later in the life cycle. Actually, this consumer upgrading could be an untapped boon for console manufacturers. With online requirements becoming commonplace even in the console world, it would be no problem to tie upgrades into some kind of verification process via the Internet.
Companies could be required to sign agreements before they are allowed to release upgrades to each console. With these agreements, just like 3rd party game publishing, comes licensing fees. By using online verification of components the manufacturer of the console can ensure hardware makers are not circumventing their license agreements.
Will this happen with the next generation of consoles? Who knows but it is clear console gaming is moving towards becoming a PC again. This is happening faster with each new generation of hardware as console makers are looking to save money at every opportunity.