As August turns into September, both Sony and Microsoft are continuing their marketing push for new high-end game consoles promised by the end of the year. But with only 90 days to go until Thanksgiving, the general public is still waiting for both companies to reveal key pricing details and specific launch dates for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
While this situation is not unprecedented in recent history, it is unusual. And if we don’t get any public pricing and launch date announcements by the end of September, we’ll be in largely uncharted territory for modern console releases.
An above-average waiting time
As can be seen from the images above and the chart below, console makers have usually warned the public about their launch plans more than they expect this year. In the 12 console launches since 2000, all-important price and release date announcements have averaged 128 days before the actual console launch, or a median of about 153 days (before launch in North America).
Given the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X in early November, that would mean we could have expected this information to be released in June or early July on average.
This console cycle looks even weirder when you separate recent console launches by company. That’s because Nintendo is bringing down the overall average by generally keeping its launch plans close to the chest for as long as possible. For example, the price and release date for the Switch were revealed just 50 days before the system’s launch in March 2017, the shortest lead time in the past two decades.
|Company||To console||AFTER release date||Launch Details Announced||Difference (days)|
|Microsoft||Xbox One X||7-11-2017||6/11/2017||149|
(We’re disregarding console launches from the ’90s and earlier because the largely pre-Internet media environment of the time was different enough to make modern comparisons a bit tricky. Still, Sega’s surprising early launch of the Saturn was similar day as the availability and pricing announced at E3 1995 certainly deserve a special mention here.)
For Sony and Microsoft, however, it’s practically unheard of to keep key launch details secret for less than three months. The one exception is the PS4 Pro, which was fully unveiled to the press and public just 64 days before its launch in November 2016. If the PS5 launches before Black Friday, Sony will be running out of time to avoid setting a new business record with this year’s announcement timing.
Why is there a delay?
So why does the timing of console marketing for 2020 not match historical standards? The lack of a physical electronic Entertainment Expo this year may have something to do with that. Microsoft and Sony are massively taking advantage of E3 press conferences in May or June to fully reveal the details of upcoming October or November launches, in order to maximize public attention.
Without a centralized press conference this year, both companies have struggled a bit with remote technical presentations and sizzle reel trailers. The coronavirus pandemic also means neither company has been able to host demo events where the press can get hands-on time with new hardware before launch, further complicating marketing plans and schedules.
There may also be a bit of a gamble going on with price announcements this year. Neither Sony nor Microsoft want to announce a launch price for their console, only to be immediately undermined by the competition. The unveiling of a $400 PS4, which came just hours after the Xbox One’s $500 unveiling in June 2013, shows how significant that kind of price difference can be. And with reports suggesting new consoles may sell for $500 or more at launch this year, neither Sony nor Microsoft want to be seen as the more unaffordable choice during a pandemic-induced recession.
The other possibility, of course, is that Sony and Microsoft are not going to meet their console launch targets for the end of 2020 after all. Both companies are publicly confident they can still launch this year, despite pandemic-induced disruptions to the global supply chain. Sony even started registering early customer interest in PS5 pre-orders for the PS5, suggesting launch details are imminent.
Still, console launch delays are not unprecedented; the Nintendo 64 famously bounced from a scheduled launch at Christmas 1995 to a target in April 1996 before finally stumbling into North America in September 1996. And Sony has reportedly cut all of its PS5 production plans due to expected cuts in consumer spending this year.
With delays for high-profile next-generation console games like Halo Infinite† death loopand Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2it might not be the worst idea to push the new consoles to next year.
However, if Sony and Microsoft release new consoles this year, both companies will run out of time to tell consumers when they’ll be available and how much they’ll cost. If those announcements don’t come before the end of September, we really have to wonder what goes on behind the scenes.
List image by Barone Firenze | Shutterstock.com