From games to price to marketing, everything sounds like it will be affected adversely.
For a while now, I’ve been talking about how much disruption the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might cause to the video games industry. We’ve already started to see it, with ongoing hardware shortages (primarily for the Nintendo Switch), or the delay for the upcoming The Last of Us Part 2. One very important facet to this discussion, however, and the overriding concern for many, has been the impending launch of the next generation consoles: the PS5 and the Xbox Series X.
There are so many dimensions to consider when talking about a console launch. You want a coordinated marketing campaign that has controlled messaging, and a build up over a period of weeks or months, you are talking about the manufacture of millions of high tech, custom designs (using smaller fab processes, and silicon chips that have extremely low yield rates in manufacturing), and the logistics of shipping those completed products across the world to launch all on the same day. This is without also considering the coordination that goes into the accompanying launches that come with a new console, including new games, controllers, and accessories. A console launch is a million moving pieces at once, which is also why we have never had one that went off without a hitch – there is always some trouble or the other.
Literally every single part of that process is currently effected by the ongoing pandemic. Social distancing and ongoing quarantine practices, as well as enforced lockdowns in view of public health and safety, means that no one is going outside, factories aren’t running (though China’s manufacturing capabilities are slowly coming back online), and global shipments are slow, expensive, and potential public health threats. It’s hard to imagine people lining up for a new console, after all, at a time when the economy is completely stalled, and people are supposed to stay indoors, and at a distance of 6 feet from each other at all times.
Based on a recent report from Bloomberg, Sony (and Microsoft) do currently plan to proceed with a launch this year regardless. However, the report also does talk about the impact that the coronavirus outbreak has already had on their plans for the rollout of the next generation.
Among other things, Sony expects to ship far fewer units of the PS5 – obviously, because manufacturing is expected to be at least somewhat disrupted. The other consideration is that the PS5, which Sony already expected to be an expensive console (owing to the cost of custom parts, such as that much vaunted SSD), is effectively even costlier now: the lower manufacturing runs means higher cost per average per unit (economies of scale are what bring production costs down), plus the fact that very few people are probably looking to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive new tech right now, when they are losing their jobs, their income, and the very future of the global economy looks so uncertain right now. $499 right now is far more expensive, psychologically speaking, than $499 would have been in, say, 2018.
There are other ways the virus has impacted Sony’s plans too: the rollout of information for the console has been effected, with the talk that was originally going to be delivered at GDC randomly dropped one week, and information about the PS5 controller similarly randomly shared one Tuesday without warning, reportedly to ward off leaks.
The final, and probably the most important, way that the virus has upset the plans for the PS5 launch, is in terms of games. According to the Bloomberg report, Sony isn’t sure if it will be able to have the full lineup of games it expected to have at launch – games may be delayed, owing to development being disrupted (again, because of the virus), which means there is a high chance that the PS5 (and presumably the Series X) launches with very few meaningful games. This is going to make the higher cost (effective and literal) hurt that much harder too – while a $500 purchase is irresponsible in the current economic climate no matter what, it’s at least somewhat defensible if you point to a bunch of entertainment options that will be available to you only with it. If there aren’t any meaningful games on the PS5 and Series X around launch, then why exactly is anyone supposed to buy them?
The idea of launching a new, expensive console in an economic climate as dire as the current one is terrible at the best of times; when you throw a global health crisis on top, as well as disrupted manufacturing, logistics, and marketing potential, it becomes even worse. Then you throw on delays in game development, and you have to wonder exactly why these new consoles are launching right now, and who for. What is the hurry, and why not delay the launch, maybe into early next year, and have a proper one in good circumstances? Sony was willing to delay a game because it felt it wouldn’t be able to get the launch it deserves under the current circumstances. A console is infinitely more important (and far more complex in terms of coordinating the launch). Why not delay it? And not just Sony, incidentally, Microsoft too. Whatever makes either of them think that expensive new consoles are going to sell?
The smart thing to do would be to leverage their existing platforms for revenue. People are stuck at home, offering cheap SKUs of the Xbox One or PS4, as well as cheap games or subscription plans, are going to be far more effective in terms of generating money right now than releasing a brand new expensive console will be.
You only get to launch a new console once – after that, the initial narrative and perception sets in, and it’s hard to counter that for the rest of the generation. Microsoft and Sony would be well advised to wait for the opportune time before launching their next consoles, rather than rushing into their release prematurely, and sullying the next gen waters before the ships have had a chance to leave the port.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.