It should come as no surprise that as the world sees itself facing a possible pandemic, courtesy of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, we are starting to contemplate a very real possibility that the next generation console launches – which are officially still slated for this Holiday season – may find themselves slipping into next year.
You may be tempted to dismiss this as media fueled hysteria and panic – and believe me when I say that has been my reaction for the better part of the last few weeks, as such thinkpieces have grown increasingly common – but at this point, I think the time has come to admit that this is a very real possibility.
There are many, many, many moving pieces that go into a console launch, and just one being disrupted can have catastrophic ripple effects for everything else (an easy example: as a result of having to move the Saturn launch up by four months, Sega could not stock all retailers with the console at first, which caused many of the spurned retailers to blacklist Sega and refuse to stock the console at all, further perpetuating the insurmountable lead the PlayStation was already gathering at the time). The existence of the Coronavirus is throwing such a wrench in many, many, many of those moving pieces.
The most obvious impact it is having is on manufacturing and shipping. Given that the virus is highly contagious (and may also be communicable by surfaces), there is a chance of it spreading through simple electronics shipments. Essentially, at any point, if anyone with the Coronavirus handles the console shipments, there is a chance that the virus lives on on the surface of the console boxes (or whatever part was touched), and is then transmitted to a healthy person when they touch it next.
Even not accounting for the possibility of remote transmissions through surface contact, however, the simple fact that the virus exists, is highly communicable, and that there are multiple incidences of it in China, which is also where most electronics in the world, including consoles, are manufactured, means that those factories and production lines have to shut down now. They have to, because otherwise one unwitting victim could pass it on to everyone else who works there. And that worker could also, conceivably, lead to the virus spreading far beyond just that factory, through the possibility of surface transmission.
This isn’t just me performatively clutching at straws either, mind you. We have already started to see real, tangible effects of electronics shortages caused by Coronavirus induced disruptions. The Samsung Galaxy S20 is all but impossible to find in stores, and closer to the gaming sphere, Nintendo has confirmed that Switch supplies, at least in Asia and Japan, are going to be severely constrained as a result of production being impacted. Meanwhile, fitness game Ring Fit Adventure has seen similar shortages in the west.
If the situation with this virus doesn’t improve soon – and it must be soon, because if the consoles are to launch this November, production of the final models has to start in a few weeks at the latest – then we are faced with the very real prospect of them slipping into next year.
The counterpoint to this line of thinking is, Microsoft, Sony, and AMD have all confirmed that the consoles are currently on track for a launch later this year. And of course, that is the official word – they aren’t delayed until they are. But of course no corporation will even consider having to delay a carefully planned launch worth hundreds of millions of dollars, causing a massive hit to their bottom line in the process, until they have absolutely no other option. So until it becomes absolutely clear that there is no way the PS5 and Series X will meet their intended release date, we will keep hearing things are on track – even if they aren’t, necessarily.
There are other ways we are starting to see the Coronavirus impact the rollout of the next generation consoles. The most obvious of these is the cancellation of several events (GDC got pushed into summer, Emerald City Comic Con is delayed, Sony pulled out of PAX East, and even the ESA has announced that it is looking into possibly delaying E3 this year if the situation does not improve). Sony themselves have been at the forefront of being cautious with the Coronavirus, with the aforementioned cancellation of their PAX East appearance (and, outside of the gaming sphere, Sony was also the first manufacturer to pull out of the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, back in January).
A console launch needs a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign – even Nintendo, who pushed the limits of how short the lead up time can be to a console launch with the Switch (nee NX), announced it five months before launch, opening pre-orders two months prior. And if we take that as our upper limit, then Sony (especially) need to properly announce the PS5 by June – which is hard to do if they (justifiably) keep pulling out of events out of valid public health concerns.
This is not an attempt at fearmongering, nor is it doomsaying. There is a far greater chance that these consoles come out this year, as planned, than not. My intent here is not to convince you that they won’t – it’s to raise the possibility that they might not, and ask you to at least treat the prospect of that happening seriously, and start to prepare yourself for it. Because in the end, people’s lives are far more important than video games, and if Sony and Microsoft have to prioritize the former over the latter, we should all support that decision, not criticize it. It’s not like there is any shortage of great games to play on our existing consoles in the meanwhile anyway.
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.