Launching a console at the best of times can be challenging. These are not the best of times.
Sony and Microsoft have now both launched their next generation consoles, hitting – for most markets – that Holiday 2020 release date that both committed to, and refused to budge from. Inevitably, the next five to seven years of console gaming will be dictated by these two machines, and I think I speak for everyone when I say, we are all excited to see how video games evolve as a medium thanks to the immense new potential for player and creator expression that the PS5 and Xbox Series X | S bring to the table.
But while it’s exciting to look ahead, I do think we should also stop and take stock of where we are right now, and how we got here. Console launches are an extremely complicated process – there are dozens upon dozens of moving pieces, with multiple logistically challenging issues companies must overcome to ensure there are no disruptions to the supply chain. From designing and developing the hardware, to coordinating with third parties (especially for launch games), to coordinating with your own internal studios, marketing, manufacturing, quality assurance and testing, retailer outreach, and shipping millions of units across the world for a coordinated launch – this is truly a very involved and complex process.
That is the reason you never see a “perfect” console launch, why the launch of a new system is always marred by some lapse or the other, whether it be supply shortages, or shortages of accessories and games, or publicized hardware failures, delays of launch games, or even just consoles launching with much more limited functionality than their predecessors had managed to build up to over the course of their lifespans. At the best of times, console launches can be nightmarish to coordinate
2020 is not the best of times. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown an unprecedented wrench into almost every part of the supply chain – manufacturing is affected, shipping is affected, retail is affected, even marketing has had to be hastily improvised on the fly, in the absence of those glitzy, glamorous, and grand launch events that consoles typically have. The challenges of even managing supply for existing hardware in a COVID world are so immense – just look at the ongoing shortages for the Nintendo Switch every single month, in spite of Nintendo manufacturing and providing more units of it than any other console has received in history other than the Wii – that honestly, a delay to next year would have been understandable. People would, of course, have been disappointed, but given COVID, everyone would get why the consoles had been delayed (well, mostly everybody. I’m sure some lunatics somewhere would have taken up their pitchforks and sent death threats to Sony and Microsoft, like the well adjusted individuals that they are).
The truly impressive thing here is that Sony and Microsoft didn’t budge – they launched their consoles in the middle of this pandemic, in the middle of the largest disruption that the global supply chain has ever seen. And to be clear, these console launches are in and of themselves significantly more complex than, say, the Xbox One and PS4 launches. Both consoles have two SKUs each, which means double the coordination needed for R&D, manufacturing, marketing, and retail.
Another thing that deserves a shout out is how generally stable these new machines seem to be at launch. While launch hardware always has more problems than the hardware that follows – remember the wobbling launch PS4s, or the self-scratching Switch docks? – right now, the PS5 and Xbox Series X seem to be remarkably devoid of any large scale issues or errors cropping up. Sure, we’ve had some isolated reports of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles bricking, but there’s no widespread epidemic of hardware or software failures, which has typically been characteristic of every new console launch. That Sony and Microsoft managed to coordinate QA this good, across two SKUs each, in an environment that places significant restrictions on what they can and cannot do, speaks wonders to just how much effort must have gone into ensuring these consoles launch, and that they launch well.
There, obviously, are a few issues – supply is, predictably, extremely limited (meaning scalpers are having a field day, and it’s not even clear if it will be possible for someone to walk into a store and get a new console for themselves this year), for example; Xbox Series X has launched without any major flagship game (or really, any “launch game” in the traditional sense), with COVID having delayed the development of Halo Infinite, which was originally planned to be the big headlining title for the console. PS5 owners are reporting minor bugs, such as their controllers not charging from certain USB ports. But there is nothing even remotely on the same level as, for example, the Switch docks that were scratching their screens.
I know how some of video game audiences are, so I know that expecting people to put their console warring to the side and just enjoy their games and the success of the medium is a long shot. I know in the coming years, Xbox and PlayStation are going to be run through the ringer, and compared on every possible conceivable (and inconceivable) metric there is (with some Nintendo thrown in there for good measure to boot). And, sure, the PS5 and Xbox Series X are going to be the champions of the next round of console wars, because that is a thing, unfortunately – but before we inevitably get to that, I just think we can – and should – take a little bit to put that bias aside, and just appreciate the fact that Sony and Microsoft have both managed to pull off more complex than usual console launches in the middle of an unprecedented global crisis – and that they have managed to do it better than most console launches have been in the past.
So congratulations to PlayStation and Xbox, and thank you for bringing us all a sorely needed respite this year, at a time when it would have been easy, acceptable, and, even expected, that things would get delayed. May this be indicative of an upcoming smooth and successful generation of games, in which all players and platforms thrive alike.
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.