With PlayStation 5 Digital Edition confirmed and Xbox's rumored Project Lockhart taking a similar digital-only approach to gaming, the next generation of video game consoles will be the first to embrace a more digitized future with increased backward compatibility and Microsoft's Smart Delivery feature that makes it so gamers can get an upgraded version of current-gen games on next-gen automatically.
A new Madden NFL 21 announcement Tuesday, however, hints at a way that game publishers like Electronic Arts are trying to circumvent Smart Delivery.
As part of a Madden NFL 21 announcement on June 16, EA announced the game would be released for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on August 28, but it is also coming to next-gen consoles later this year with Lamar Jackson on the cover. Because Smart Delivery is optional for developers, EA has chosen to pursue a more unique avenue to upgrade Madden to next-gen consoles, and it's called "Dual Entitlement," and the feature comes with a caveat that'll make it much more challenging for PS5 Digital Edition owners to upgrade.
From the release of next-gen consoles to the launch of Madden NFL 22, those who own Madden NFL 21 on PS4 and Xbox One will be able to upgrade to the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions of the game free of charge. The press release announcing this also confirms that "physical discs cannot currently be used to upgrade to discless consoles."
That means if you purchase a physical copy of Madden NFL 21 for PS4, you will be able to download the upgraded version on a standard PS5, but not on the PS5 Digital Edition. Anyone who starts with a digital version of Madden NFL 21 on PS4 should have no problems upgrading on either version of the PS5.
This exposes a major loophole created by the combination of Smart Delivery-esque systems with digital-only consoles.
While the Xbox Wire post about Smart Delivery claims "it’s not just limited to games that you purchase digitally; physical discs of Xbox games can also support Smart Delivery." In retrospect, that sentence continues with the caveat "if the developer or publisher decides to implement it." Upon EA's announcement, it seems likely that many publishers won't decide to implement it, at least with the digital-only consoles.
The Inverse Analysis — While Smart Delivery is a fantastic and consumer-friendly feature, irksome loopholes are beginning to emerge like this. PS5 doesn't technically have a Smart Delivery system backed by Sony. While many next-gen players will be able to upgrade Madden NFL 21 for free over the next year, whether they're on PlayStation or Xbox, both EA's Dual Entitlement program and Xbox's Smart Delivery come with some major loopholes that could make an otherwise exciting innovation frustrating to most gamers.
If you plan to pick up the PS5 Digital Edition or Xbox's equivalent due to their cheaper price, keep in mind that many of your physical games may not carry over with you into the next generation of consoles. The best way to prepare for this is to only buy digital versions of games between now and the launch of next-gen so you won't run into problems like this. Most gamers are probably already doing that due to social distancing, but now there's another reason to continue doing so for the next six months at least.
Madden NFL 21 will be released for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on August 28, 2020.