Thanks to COVID-19, the gaming industry, like every other industry in the world, has been thrown through a Sonic-style loop and sent flying with no landing in sight. It’s left a lot of unanswered questions and plenty of room for speculation.
Earlier this year, gaming’s biggest event, E3 2020, was cancelled. Gaming companies had to publish their own digital presentations to announce upcoming games. It was rather lackluster, to be honest, but the big players pushed forward nonetheless. Both Sony and Microsoft revealed new details about their upcoming consoles and showcased launch lineups.
But two very important things were missing from both presentations: price and release date.
Why Are Microsoft and Sony Holding Back?
Historically, both Microsoft and Sony have announced the price of their upcoming consoles at E3, which is held in June every year. As such, most everyone watching the 2020 presentations expected more of the same, but no price tag was revealed for either. So what’s going on here? Why are they holding back?
Microsoft and Sony have always held launch prices close to their proverbial chests, because they like to wait and see what the other company will do. It makes sense strategically: The first one to announce price is at a disadvantage, because the other company can mark their price lower after the fact. If one price undercuts the other, it can lead to very positive public reception for the lower price and the opposite for the higher price.
Gamers are also very sensitive to price. They have certain expectations about what a console should cost, especially since there are only slight differences in technology when comparing Sony and Microsoft consoles nowadays. It’s a strange paradigm, because some gamers feel perfectly comfortable paying $1,000+ for a high-end desktop computer for gaming, while others balk at anything higher than $500 for a gaming console.
Not to mention, video game prices have essentially leveled off at $60—they’ve stayed at that amount for the last two decades. If inflation tells us anything, it’s that games should cost more money today, but even though games are longer, more produced, and more visually stunning than ever, prices have stagnated.
The industry has tried to work around this challenge by introducing microtransactions, DLC, season passes, subscriptions, and more. But none of these tactics have been taken kindly by the gaming audience. Even Nintendo gets flack for rarely dropping prices on their first-party titles. Gamers expect certain prices for consoles and games, and they aren’t afraid to yell and shout if they don’t like what they see.
This is a long way of saying: Announcing price is tricky and should be approached cautiously. Price matters, and both companies have stumbled on poor pricing strategies in the past. They likely want to avoid making the same mistakes, but is that all that’s going on here? Is this the usual standoff between two competing giants in the industry? Or is there more to the story?
I believe their hesitance to announce price is closely related to console release dates. To move hardware fast, both companies should aim to release their consoles by the holiday season. Capitalizing on mass-consumer holidays, like Black Friday and Christmas, is vital to achieving a successful and impressive launch.
Even if the launch games aren’t great, they will get consoles into people’s homes, and building an install base is key to a healthy console life cycle. Fans will then be on the lookout for new games, and they will want to keep their investment alive by making fresh purchases.
Naturally, this begs the following question:
Will We See the PS5 and Xbox Series X by the Holiday Season?
If Microsoft and Sony want to drive enough interest for their consoles by the holiday season, they should announce release dates by the end of September at the latest. But here we are: on the edge of Q3 heading into Q4 with no release dates. They’re already running behind compared to usual, and time is quickly running out.
I’m of the opinion that if we don’t hear anything this month, we won’t see any new consoles this year.
This shouldn’t be too surprising—there is a global pandemic wreaking havoc on the world, after all. Heading into the E3 season, no one knew how long the quarantine would go on, so Sony and Microsoft can’t really be blamed for initially planning on a holiday 2020 release. But at this point, it doesn’t look like COVID-19 will miraculously disappear by the end of the year, which has me wondering, what will the holidays look like?
Will we be able to travel en masse to visit our families as usual? Will retail stores be open and ready to handle high capacities? Even if everything went back to “normal,” I’m willing to bet COVID-19 is affecting both Microsoft and Sony’s ability to produce and manufacture their consoles.
The pandemic is already having a negative effect on video game development, too. While all the developers behind the launch titles should have their pedals to the metal until release, they’ve been forced to adjust to working from home and other complexities brought about by the pandemic. Even though it’s seemed much, much longer, COVID-19 has only been around for about half a year, and many developers are still struggling to shift schedules, avoid delays, and maintain productivity.
Again, no one can be blamed for this. Everyone is getting used to the new world, trying to feel a sense of normalcy again. There are just too many unknowns heading into Q4 2020, and even if Sony and Microsoft play their cards right, they likely won’t see the level of sales they would normally expect to see due to COVID-19 conditions.
Even Nintendo has a sparse release schedule for 2020 and beyond. We got the amazing Super Mario Direct celebrating the 35th anniversary of the series, but there’s still not a lot on the horizon in terms of first-party games for the Switch.
It’s a shame that COVID-19 has ruined 2020. But at the end of the day, keeping everyone safe is more important than getting new video games and consoles. I’m sure the industry will bounce back eventually, and we’ll get all those wonderful things one day.
But what do you think? Will Sony and Microsoft delay the release of their consoles due to COVID-19? Or are they just waiting to play their cards at the right time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Updated 9/9/2020, 11:30 am: Less than 24 hours after the posting of this article, Microsoft has announced the price and release date for both the Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X.
Updated 9/17/2020, 11:30 am: And here we are again with another console release date and price reveal! Sony presented a stellar lineup of launch titles yesterday, and at the very end, they announced the following:
Looks like we will be getting new consoles this holiday season! However, the question still stands: How many units will be available? Will it be harder than ever to get your hands on one of these due to COVID-19-related manufacturing shortages?
The preorder launch for PS5 descended into chaos after the presentation yesterday. Retailers started listing preorders at random times, and stock quickly sold out. I managed to grab a PS5 with the disc drive, but I was lucky. Microsoft claims they will be more straightforward with the exact release time of preorders, so we will see how that goes down next week.
If you’re interested in getting a console this year, let us know which one below! And good luck—we’ll all need it this holiday season.