For me, the beginning of September has always marked the start of the slow march to the holiday season. It’s the end of the summer holidays, kids return to school, the weather slowly cools, leaves begin to fall, and sunset gets earlier – all signalling that autumn has begun. It’s around this time of year when thoughts turn to the holidays, and to budgeting for big expenses at that time of year. With that in mind, now that we’re into September, it’s a surprise to me that we don’t know how much the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are going to cost.
It’s pretty obvious that both companies are playing a high-stakes game of “chicken” – neither wants to announce first so they’re both holding fast, waiting for the other to make the first move. Looking back at past console launches, the cheaper system has been by far the best-seller. The Xbox 360 undercut the PlayStation 3 and enjoyed great success in that console generation, and the PlayStation 4 came in $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, and while in that case price arguably wasn’t the only factor in the Xbox One’s troubled launch, the fact that the cheaper console sold significantly better is clearly impacting Microsoft and Sony’s decision-making at this critical time.
But in past cycles, prices were announced much earlier. By the middle of June 2013 we knew the prices for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – more than five months ahead of their launches. Microsoft promise the Xbox Series X is coming in November, and it’s assumed that the PlayStation 5 will follow suit. But November is literally in just a couple of months now, and there’s still no price information.
If it were good news, I think it’s fair to assume we’d know by now. If either company were planning to launch a system for less than say £350, they’d have made that abundantly clear and would be using it as a selling point. The fact that they’re keeping their pricing plans secret is in part because of how they’re in competition with each other, but it’s also at least in part because it’s bad news – both consoles are going to launch with a hefty price tag, which is not a good look in 2020 with the economy flailing.
Microsoft has perhaps the most riding on pricing. As I’ve said before, undercutting the PlayStation 5 is perhaps their last good strategy for the already-beleaguered Xbox Series X, which has seen incomprehensibly bad business decisions already hamper its launch. If the Xbox Series X could find a way to be a hundred dollars (or more) cheaper than the PlayStation 5, suddenly it seems a better proposition and Microsoft is back in the game.
Sony seems better-placed than Microsoft right now, with a good lineup of exclusive games that are being built from the ground up for the PlayStation 5 instead of being limited by current-gen hardware. But an excessively high price could see them repeat the problems faced by the PlayStation 3 two generations ago, and even if they don’t end up charging $600-650 as some have suggested, if Xbox is able to undercut them they could still suffer. So while Microsoft has arguably the most to gain from a positive reaction to pricing, Sony certainly has the most to lose from a negative reaction.
At this late stage, though, both companies are going to suffer criticism and negative feedback for as long as they keep their prices covered up. With two months to go until launch, players and parents need to know how much to budget; keeping this information private is incredibly anti-consumer. Both Sony and Microsoft know their prices by now, having worked out how best to break even and turn a profit. They’re staying quiet on purpose, and people are starting to talk about that.
Sooner rather than later, both sides are going to have to rip off the metaphorical bandage. If the prices are high, reaction will be negative, especially from players whose jobs are under threat in a seriously disrupted economy. But going into the launch with that negativity around their necks will be harmful to Sony and Microsoft, and the more time they have after making price announcements means more time for their marketing and PR departments to spin it in a positive way – or at least blunt the edge. In short, if it’s bad news, giving players more time to get used to it rather than going into the launch window with potential buyers still reeling from the shock announcement will be beneficial.
A delay helps no one, and in the end will backfire on both companies and hurt them as they go into their most important sales window in seven years. In the absence of news, people will make their own assumptions – and the assumption right now is that if they had something good to say on pricing, they’d have said it ages ago and built their marketing around it! The conclusion gamers are drawing is that both consoles are going to be expensive – perhaps the most expensive machines ever, even topping the $600 mark. That’s putting people off right now, as in the current economic climate it’s increasingly hard for many people to justify such a large expense on a “luxury item” like a games console.
We need to see both companies make immediate announcements on price and stop messing around. The corporate game of “chicken” has gone on too long, and its anti-consumer nature is already causing both companies and their brands harm. They can’t keep this up any longer – players have a right to know how much they’re going to be expected to fork over for the new consoles.
At this stage I don’t know when we could expect an announcement. It may be imminent from one or both companies… or it may not be something we’ll get for weeks or even until next month. That would be a mistake for the reasons I’ve already given, and at a time like this, consumers need clarity. Both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are going to be expensive pieces of kit. We get it. But please just tell us how expensive so we can either start saving up or get the disappointment out of the way.
Both companies have been looking at this situation selfishly. Microsoft sees a pathway to a better-than-expected launch, and Sony fears losing the dominance they’ve enjoyed for years. But both companies’ selfishness has crossed a line into being something decidedly anti-consumer, and it needs to stop. At this point, I’d even wager that the company willing to make an announcement will get at least some positive reaction simply by demonstrating they’re not covering up their price. Either of them could even stage an event based around how their competitor is keeping their price a secret – something that could give them at least a temporary boost.
Either way, this has gone on too long. It’s past time that players around the world got to learn how much they’ll have to play for next-gen gaming in a couple of months’ time. We shouldn’t be in this position of having to ask and ask and ask – this information should have been available ages ago. From this point on, every day that Microsoft and Sony continue this cover-up is going to hurt them – and hopefully when they see that, they’ll finally come clean.
The Xbox Series X is the property of Microsoft, and the PlayStation 5 is the property of Sony. Both consoles are due for launch before the end of 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.