PS5/XSX: Has it launched if you can't find it?
The new PlayStation and Xbox were never going to have a problem-free start amidst a pandemic, but this is pushing it
So the PlayStation5 and the Xbox Series S|X launched 4 months ago. These powerful systems made a lot of promises and managed to keep many of them, hence the positive impressions posted by journalists and consumers alike. The PS5 and the Xbox Series X offer great value for money, with the discless version of the former and Xbox Series S trailing behind in that regard but offering that all-important lower price point of entry.
Now that the dust has settled, though, a few things have become apparent.
One: the power of the PlayStation brand remains much stronger than that of the Xbox regardless of hardware specs. The PS5 is already in the hands of almost 6 million people (both versions accounted for) whereas the two new Xbox models put together have barely surpassed the 3.8 million mark so far, despite launching a week earlier. Sony’s well-rounded launch line-up of games might have had something to do with that, but the very first consumers getting consoles are usually people who have made up their minds about which one they’d get a long time ago, so… yeah.
Two: despite both Sony’s and Microsoft’s push for digital distribution of games through their respective digital stores, most of these early adopters prefer to have all options available to them and/or still think in a more traditional way. Not only has the Xbox Series X outsold the $200/€200 cheaper, smaller Xbox Series S, but it did so by a wide margin. The difference in processing power between the two models surely played a part there, but what probably tipped the scales was the limited storage of the latter model (and the quite costly upgrade).
Same story with the PS5: despite its "full" edition being $100/€100 pricier than the Digital Edition - and despite the two models being identical save for the optical drive - the former moved more units than the latter did. There’s even the impression that, had there been more "full" PS5 units available, more people would have gone for those instead of the Digital Edition.
This availability matter leads us to number three: both the PS5 and Xbox Series launch was a huge success and a grand failure at the same time. A huge success because, well, both Sony and Microsoft sold all the consoles they made available. Every last one. Commercially speaking, that’s what all manufacturers strive for. A grand failure too, though, because they would have sold many more - probably a lot more than 10 million between them - had there been enough of them available in stores or online.
It is now clear that the preorder schemes of both companies did not work well enough and that scalpers were prepared to take advantage of a bad situation. What is less clear is whether blaming the pandemic for all this - manufacturing problems, unusually high demand - is inevitable or just convenient. Many consoles in recent history sold out at first, sure, and many more people in recent months sit in front of their TVs due to lockdowns worldwide. But was better handling of the PS5 and Xbox Series launches always out of the question?
Judging from what's happening in the same timeframe with nVidia and AMD - both launched new series of PC graphics cards in such pitiful numbers that demand is not expected to be met earlier than Q3 2021 - it seems that yes, it was. It was almost certainly out of the question. A "normal" launch of a new PlayStation or Xbox was never possible in 2020 (whatever "normal" means these days) regardless of their specs, price or game line-ups.
What is more, with their availability not improving any time soon - Sony and Microsoft have suggested that the consoles they’ll be manufacturing in the coming months won’t be enough to satisfy backorders - one can’t shake the feeling that launching a new PlayStation and Xbox during a pandemic may not have been the smartest thing to do after all.
This was as much an impressive launch as it was a botched one, then. One could even wonder whether we actually had a next-generation home entertainment system launch or just a smaller scale preview of it, as it is still almost impossible to get the new PlayStation or Xbox in physical stores or online.
Has a product actually launched if hardly anyone can buy it? For months? It’s debatable, to say the least - and it’ll be interesting to see whether the frustration consumers feel these past 4 months, because of this situation, will affect how the PS5 and the Xbox Series fare in the long run. Quite interesting indeed.