Sony's PS5 Digital Edition Is Complicating Free Next-Gen Game Upgrades

The disc-free console means you won't be able to upgrade from Madden 21 on PS4 to PS5 for free.

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Exactly how Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 handle the process of facilitating upgrades from current-gen versions of games to next-gen ones could be a key factor for some who are deciding between the two platforms. But with the introduction of a disc-less version of the PlayStation 5, known as the PS5 digital edition, the already-confusing situation may now prove to be even more complicated.

Microsoft has spoken a great deal about Smart Delivery, which--assuming publishers enable it for their games--will allow you to download a native Series X version of a game you buy on Xbox One. Sony has been less clear about how this process may work on PS5, although we do know it will be available in at least some cases, such as Destiny 2 and Madden NFL 21. However, in the latter case, EA has opted not to use Smart Delivery on Xbox Series X, instead implementing its own upgrade path for those who buy a current-gen version of its football game.

As part of the Madden 21 reveal, EA reiterated that you will be able to upgrade from Madden 21 on Xbox One or PS4 to the Xbox Series X or PS5 version, provided you meet certain requirements. Since the upgrade plan was first announced, this has been simplified somewhat--now, you merely need to buy Madden 21 on console before the launch of Madden 22 to qualify for the free upgrade.

But if you buy Madden 21 on disc for PS4, you'll apparently run into an issue if you opt for the PS5 digital edition. EA's press release notes, "Physical discs cannot currently be used to upgrade to discless consoles." We don't yet know if there will be a new Xbox without a disc drive--it could be the rumored Xbox Lockhart--but at the very least, those who don't care about a PS5 disc drive (or simply opt for one because it's the only model they can find in stock) could be locked out of this free upgrade.

If you plan ahead, you can avoid this headache by simply buying Madden 21 on PS4 digitally. But this small footnote is sure to go unnoticed by at least some portion of the audience that might hear they can upgrade to the PS5 version for free and find themselves frustrated by reality. And people may specifically want both versions, as EA says it will offer "distinct" experiences across current- and next-gen consoles, suggesting the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions won't be exactly the same game with prettier graphics. More information will be shared during EA Play on Thursday.

That a disc-free model of PS5 exists isn't a huge surprise, and ultimately that choice will be good for those who are interested in saving some money (as it will undoubtedly sell for less than the disc drive-equipped model). But as companies navigate this somewhat unprecedented transition to a new set of consoles, where Microsoft in particular is attempting to blur the lines between generations, there are sure to be some road bumps.

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