Mounting consoles release date concerns should be hushed, at least for a moment. Speculation has pointed towards their big next-gen console getting pushed further back due to the coronavirus pandemic — possibly into 2021.
Video game console launches are always somewhat chaotic affairs, but the ongoing coronavirus outbreak could make the planned blockbuster premieres of Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X especially complicated.
A Sony rep told Bloomberg that the company does see a “notable impact” on the release of the PS5, which was expected during Holiday 2020.
That quote isn’t exactly firm, we hope, as we don’t know what Sony considers to be a “notable impact.”
Folks wondering about release dates aren’t just concerned over which will come out in time for the 2020 holiday season. There’s also a bit of horse-race prognostication going on, as the system that launches first could end up securing a lead in this generation of the console war.
Analysts say factory closures because of the coronavirus outbreak could result in either delayed releases or smaller initial stocks that cause retail shortages.
“My gut says we’re still going to see PS5 and Xbox Series X in North America in limited quantities before Black Friday, but the concept of a global launch is out the window now,” says P.J. McNealy, CEO of Digital World Research, referring to the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving.
Both companies declined to comment about any impact coronavirus may have on their launch timelines. Typically, in the months leading up to a launch, though, the first consoles come off the assembly line and multiple rounds of testing begin. Large-scale manufacturing doesn’t usually start until May or June.
“With COVID-19, factories are shut down right now,” says McNealy. “That means testing and supplies will be constrained, which starts backing up and starts lowering the number of consumer-ready consoles, even seven or eight months out.”
The China factor
Virtually every video game console is made in China. In 2019, nearly 90% of consoles imported to the U.S. were made there, according to Daniel Ahmad, the senior analyst at video game market research firm Niko Partners.
The recent U.S.-China trade war and increased tariffs on Chinese imports may have prompted Sony and Microsoft to shift some of their manufacturing to other countries. If so, there would be less of a shortage in consoles than there would otherwise be.
“I think each of the console manufacturers is looking to Vietnam or South Korea or Taiwan for production,” says Michael Pachter, Managing Director of Equity Research at Wedbush Securities.
Another possibility for console makers is to shift manufacturing to Mexico, which may increase production costs, but at least some of that could be recouped from lower shipping expenses since consoles earmarked for the North American market wouldn’t have to be freighted across the ocean.
Microsoft’s biggest market is in North America, so postponing a simultaneous global launch wouldn’t impact that company as much as it would Sony, which also relies heavily on Europe and its home country of Japan for sales.
One possibility, McNealy says, is the PS5 could debut in North America by Black Friday (in limited supplies), Japan sometime in December, and Europe in the first quarter of 2021.
All analysts agree that it’s too early to know the full impact of coronavirus on the next console cycle since the disease’s impact is still in flux. So all we can do is hope that this pandemic doesn’t affect the release date of our beloved consoles.