EA games on PS4 and Xbox One could be ‘upgraded free’ to next-gen console versions

2020 and 2021 will be one of the periodic transitional eras in gaming as Sony and Microsoft debut their shiny new consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. To ease the process (and spur adoption of the next generation), EA may make its upcoming titles free to “upgrade” to your chosen console.

On an earnings call last night, EA COO Blake Jorgensen at the end of his remarks noted a possible effect on revenue “from the games we are launching for the current generation of consoles that can also be upgraded free for the next generation.”

EA declined to comment on the comment, but the meaning seems obvious enough. It likely refers to “cross-gen” games that will appear on both existing consoles and those set to debut later in the year. If you buy the next, say, “Battlefield” game on PlayStation 4, you will have the option to transfer it somehow to the PlayStation 5.

Exactly how this would work is not clear — there will almost certainly be some rigmarole involving deactivating the license on your old copy — but the effect is a positive and consumer-friendly one. People can buy a game, from EA anyway, safe in the knowledge that they can continue to play it even if they buy a new console. That hasn’t been the case, in general, before.

In fact, the whole transition is looking to be a relatively easy one: The new consoles will be backward-compatible with many games from the previous generation; services like online access and monthly free games will cross over; some hardware and accessories will be shared; built-in streaming options mean improved portability.

EA’s apparent commitment to cross-gen upgrades is among the first, though some publishers and developers have floated the idea or declared support for it, pending approval from the console makers themselves. The confirmation could trigger an avalanche of announcements as others hurry to assure gamers that they, too, will provide this option.

Sony and Microsoft are the ones left holding the bag here: While a sale is a sale for EA or Ubisoft, the console makers are under tremendous pressure to show their console launches are successful. (Nintendo, as usual, is pursuing its own agenda independent from the cadence of its rivals.)

Part of that strategy is high-profile next-gen exclusives that people save up to buy alongside the new consoles, providing revenue spikes and platform lock-ins. When a large amount of those sales occur earlier in the year, and technically for the previous consoles, it’s not a good look.

These policies have a way of evolving right up to and beyond the moment of release. Sony clowned so devastatingly on Microsoft’s confusing and limited game transfer policies at E3 2013, the outset of this console generation, that it affected the whole zeitgeist, boosting PS4 sales and forcing Microsoft to reconsider. (You can see me in the video of it; I’ve rarely heard a crowd so excited about something.)

It’s better to err on the side of liberality, it turns out. EA, which has routinely erred in the other direction over the last few years, hopes perhaps to curry favor in advance of a gaming market opening up in new directions. We’ll see if other companies follow suit.

Need more buttons for your PS4 controller? This gadget adds two on the caboose

When you play games on your PS4, it’s fair to say that your thumbs and index fingers are generally doing most of the work. Why not put the rest of your lazy digits to work with this accessory that puts two programmable buttons on the rear of the DualShock 4 controller?

Called, imaginatively, the Back Button Attachment, the gadget plugs into the PS4’s accessory port and adds three interactive items to the back end of the controller. There are two paddle-style buttons that seem suited for middle fingers to hit easily, each of which can be programmed to be any of the ordinary buttons.

There’s also a little OLED screen that provides “real-time” information on what the buttons are set to. It doesn’t seem like there’s ever much urgency to find that information out or show others, but hey. The screen also doubles as a button for switching between configurations or changing the settings on the fly.

Great idea from Sony, right? Wrong! The rear button thing has been done for some time by high-end third-party controller makers like Scuf and Astro, which with their customizable sticks and buttons have been adopted widely by pro gamers. (Microsoft, for its part, has a patent for a Braille display and input on the back.)

It doesn’t look good to have all the performance-oriented gamers using third party gear, but with the PS5 around the corner and a new controller coming with it, it doesn’t make much sense to put out a stopgap “DualShock 4.5” with extra buttons. So this accessory makes a lot of sense. (Don’t worry, it has a 3.5mm headphone jack pass-through, so you can still use a headset.)

And the price is reasonable, too: $30. That makes it a fairly easy impulse buy for anyone who likes the idea of the extra buttons but doesn’t want to drop a bill or more on a Scuf or Astro controller.

The Back Button Attachment won’t be available in time for the holidays, though — not until January 23. Chances are we’ll see it on display at CES before that, though.

‘Death Stranding’ brings back appointment gaming

Game launches these days are frequently the very worst time to play them. Plagued by bugs, server issues, balance problems and a lack of content, many “games as a service” titles are best consumed after a month or two. Not so with Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited Death Stranding, which, if you’re going to play at all… you should probably play now.

This type of game comes out once every year or two: A title where the gradual discovery of mechanics and ideas by the players is part of the adventure. Being part of that vanguard of players who go in unsure of what to expect, learning by doing and sharing that information with others has a special feeling, not of exclusivity exactly, but of a collective experience.

Sure, playing the new Call of Duty on day one can be thrilling, but it’s not exactly a journey of discovery. Furthermore, games like those tend to get better after the first few months as content is added, gameplay is tweaked and so on.

But just as some TV and movies are best seen with friends on the day they’re released, some games beg to be played before they become over-amply documented, their mysteries vivisected and wikified.

The most frequent entries on this list are From Software’s Dark Souls type games, the esoteric workings of which are sometimes never fully revealed even years later. Bloodborne is still yielding up its secrets even now, for instance.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was another one, in which it wasn’t exactly that people were finding hidden things or speculating on lore, but rather finding how open-ended the world really was and demonstrating that in ingenious ways. When someone figured out you can trick an enemy into being struck by lightning by slipping them a metal weapon in a thunderstorm, it was like a million gamers worldwide squinted, said “wait, what?” and ran to their Switch to try it.

Death Stranding is likewise “appointment gaming,” because… well, it’s so weird. But it definitely belongs in the company of those games that are best experienced while steaming hot, like the frequent showers you’ll see Norman Reedus take in it. I’m glad I let a friend of mine convince me to jump in right away.

Don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling anything you don’t learn in the first couple of hours. But there is a mechanic where items like ladders or climbing ropes you lay down to help navigate the terrain get shared with other people for their own use. Just as there is glory in being the first to call down lightning in Zelda, there’s a glory (slightly more obscure admittedly) in being the first to go a certain way and let others follow in your footsteps.

Lay down a bridge to reach a shelter more easily while carrying lots of cargo, and you may find that a day or two later, thousands of people have used it, given it “likes,” and maybe even upgraded or expanded it with their own resources.

The thing about this is that in a year or two, the locations of these bridges will have been optimized and documented for all to know, as if they were part of the game’s landscape to begin with. Where’s the fun in that? It’s a pleasure knowing that the environment around you is being improvised by players all over the world.

Similarly, there are “aha” moments already occurring. You’re told directly that your character’s bodily fluids seem anathema to the ghostly “BTs” that are your most serious enemies. You’re also given the option, once you’ve drunk sufficient quantities from your canteen, to have a wee. Someone made that connection and decided to wee on the horrible ghostly BTs — and it repels them!

And a million gamers squint, say “wait, what?” and run to their PS4 to try it.

That collective experience that we shared when we sat in the same room to watch the Game of Thrones finale or, before that, Lost’s ultimately regrettable but thrilling perambulations, is present here in Death Stranding, as it has been for other games before it.

Is Death Stranding a game for everyone? Hell no. But nor was Dark Souls. Death Stranding is a game that is frequently original and odd and surprising, while also occasionally being heavy-handed, tedious and obtuse. We need more of that in the increasingly cynical and predictable world of AAA gaming.

By its nature Death Stranding is something that, if you don’t give it a hard pass (and I definitely get that), you should be playing today — not next year or even next month. Get it, then be patient, be weird, have fun and send likes.

Microsoft is building low-cost, streaming-only Xbox, says report

It was revealed at E3 last month that Microsoft was building a cloud gaming system. A report today calls that system Scarlett Cloud and it’s only part of Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox strategy. And it makes a lot of sense, too.

According to Thurrott.com, noted site for all things Microsoft, the next Xbox will come in two flavors. One will be a traditional gaming console where games are processed locally. You know, like how it works on game systems right now. The other system will be a lower-powered system that will stream games from the cloud — most likely, Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

This streaming system will still have some processing power, which is in part to counter latency traditionally associated with streaming games. Apparently part of the game will run locally while the rest is streamed to the system.

The streaming Xbox will likely be available at a much lower cost than the traditional Xbox. And why not. Microsoft has sold Xbox systems with a slim profit margin, relying on sales of games and online services to make up the difference. A streaming service that’s talked about on Thurrott would further take advantage of this model while tapping into Microsoft’s deep understanding of cloud computing.

A few companies have tried streaming full video games. Onlive was one of the first; while successful for a time, it eventually went through a dramatic round of layoffs before a surprise sale for $4.8 million in 2012. Sony offers an extensive library of PS2, PS3 and PS4 games for streaming through its PlayStation Now service. Nvidia got into the streaming game this year and offers a small selection of streaming through GeForce Now. But these are all side projects for the companies.

Sony and Nintendo do not have the global cloud computing platform of Microsoft, and if Microsoft’s streaming service hits, it could change the landscape and force competitors to reevaluate everything.

This ultra-cute tiny PS4 controller is a great option for children and the small-handed

 If you like playing console games with the younger generation, you may have come across the issue of their tiny hands being unable to perform certain combos, reach certain buttons easily, and so on. While this makes them satisfying opponents, it might be better if they had a controller more suited to their physiology. Well, good thing there is one! Read More

PlayStation 4’s 4.50 software update adds HDD support, 3D Blu-ray capability for PS VR

32622930126_3d50cf55c4_b PlayStation 4’s next big software update is going out now to beta testers, and it adds a lot for owners of the console to get excited about. There’s support for external USB HDDs, which means regardless of how much internal storage you have on your PS4, you can add up to 8TB of additional space via external drives, ensuring you’ll never run out of room for games and saves.… Read More

Watch Sony’s PlayStation 4 ‘Neo’ event live right here

A visitor wears a Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. PlayStation VR as he tries a virtual reality (VR) game during a demonstration by Tokyo VR Startups in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, June 29, 2016. Tokyo VR Startups has launched the first Japanese incubation program focused on the virtual reality market, says the company website. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images Sony is holding a PlayStation Meeting in New York to unveil the PlayStation 4 ‘Neo’, and maybe also a PS4 Slim because why not. In case you don’t care about Apple’s iPhone event today, you can watch Sony’s conference live stream right here on this page. The conference starts at 3 PM ET (12 PM on the West coast, 8 PM in London, 4 AM in Tokyo). What’s the… Read More

Sony will likely unveil the PlayStation 4 ‘Neo’ on September 7

PlayStation 4 September 7 is going to be a busy day. Sony sent out invites for a press event in New York. The company will likely unveil the successor to the PlayStation 4. On the same day, Apple could also hold its usual iPhone launch event for the rumored iPhone 7. The event is called “PlayStation Meeting,” and the company plans to “share details about the PlayStation business.”… Read More

Microsoft slashes Xbox One price to $250 ahead of Slim launch

XboxOne_1TBConsole This weekend, Microsoft dropped the price of the Xbox One for the third time since May, giving users access to the Xbox 360 successor for a mere $250. Remember, the Xbox One originally launched with a 500GB drive and a Kinect sensor for $499, all the way back in November of 2013. In the years since, the console has dropped dramatically in price, going to $399 in June of 2014. Since May of… Read More