PlayStation5 stock issues: a curse as well as a blessing
Sony's system will remain hard to find throughout 2021... but the company can focus elsewhere for now
As we're slowly approaching the sixth month of 2021 it's becoming apparent that the semiconductor shortage the tech industry is going through will not be over soon, despite what many had hoped during the last few weeks of 2020. Every major chip manufacturer's facility in the world is working at 130% capacity right now and new facilities are being built in the Far East and the US, but the tech market as a whole - from PCs to tablets to smartphones to consoles to whathaveyou - is facing demand that far outstrips supply. Even other industries only relying on comparatively simple microchips - such as the automotive, appliances or construction ones - are greatly affected by this shortage. It's only to be expected, then, that a tech product as complex as the PlayStation5 would still be facing severe availability problems. We just hadn't realized how severe.
Sony's chief financial officer, Hiroki Totoki, was reported to admit - via Bloomberg - that the PS5 will not be easy to purchase for the remainder of 2021. Totoki, when asked about the matter during a briefing, answered "I don't think demand is calming down this year and even if we secure a lot more devices and produce many more units of the PS5, our supply wouldn't be able to catch up with demand". Sony is still targeting 15 million PS5 systems sold by March 2022 but clearly believes that it would have sold more, were it able to deliver them in the hands of consumers worldwide.
No company, tech or otherwise, can be too happy about losing practically guaranteed sales of its product because of availability issues. But Sony can at least try to make the most out of the next 12 months or so in a number of ways that will help the PS5 not lose momentum when, eventually, production does ramp up. The company could, for instance, focus on making the system as capable and as feature-complete as possible via firmware updates: there are a few important - and promised - functions still missing from the PS5's arsenal, such as storage expansion and VRR support, as well as some extremely desirable ones, such as a Quick Resume-like function or Dolby Vision support. Here are a few more ideas about how Sony could make a perfect home entertainment system out of the PS5, by the way!
Then it's the content side of things. Sony could use this year, during which new hardware sales will not be what they could have been, to support the vast user base of the PS4 as well as ease the transition from the PS4 to the PS5. It had plans to do so already and it might as well lean on those for the time being. The pandemic has affected the development of many "next-gen" AAA games anyway - including some of Sony's own productions, such as the next Gran Turismo or God of War - so the Japanese giant could focus on "cross-gen" titles and smaller productions now in order to come out with the "big guns" after Q3 2022. It's not the ideal way to champion new video games, but it's the one that makes sense given the circumstances. The same applies to the new PlayStation VR peripheral: since it will have to be released for as broad a PS5 user base as possible, Sony could delay its launch and focus on its first wave of games instead.
Last but not least, Sony could use those "interim" 12-18 months before PS5 production normalizes in order to finally figure out its services strategy going forward. It's no secret that Microsoft's Game Pass has proven to be quite popular and the Japanese will have to balance that with a competitive advantage of their own sooner or later, even if it's not necessarily the same kind of service. Sony's cloud gaming offer will also have to become a part of the equation at some point instead of being the "side gig" PS Now is currently considered to be. With so many different areas of the PlayStation business, it can focus on while the world slowly recovers from the pandemic and semiconductor manufacturing stabilizes, Sony may very well come to consider this first constrained year of the PS5 as the one that contributed most to its success in the future. Not an oxymoron!