PS5 and Xbox Series X restock drama shows consoles should not have launched in 2020

We’re now three months past the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S launch, but finding a new console hasn’t gotten any easier. Restocks remain sporadic, forcing players to stalk retailers in hopes that they can grab a system in the one-minute time window that it’s available.

The situation isn’t much better for those who actually have managed to snag one. The day one honeymoon has slowly faded away and a harsh reality is starting to set in. As more and more games get delayed, PS5 owners are left wondering when they’ll even play a Sony exclusive again. The pickings are even slimmer for Xbox Series X owners.

All of that adds up to one takeaway that’s becoming increasingly clear: Neither console should have launched in 2020.

Restock options

There’s no better indication of how unprepared Sony and Microsoft were for this console cycle than the ongoing restock drama. Consoles have been nearly impossible to come by since they launched in November. Securing one involves being online at exactly the right second and beating everyone else to the punch. Fans were hopeful that the free-for-all would die down after the holiday season, but it’s still as challenging as Demon’s Souls.

Relief isn’t on the way either. Microsoft says that it expects console shortages to continue until at least June. Players who want an Xbox Series X could be doing this same song and dance through most of 2021, which is a retail nightmare.

Sony and Microsoft have both stated that demand was “unprecedented,” but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The video game industry got a major boost in 2020 as players turned to video games during the COVID-19 pandemic. Market analysts predict that the industry will have made upwards of $179 billion once the final tally is complete.

PS5 logo

Both companies should have been prepared for high demand, but the pandemic presented unique challenges. While it’s hard to know the extent of COVID-19’s effect on Sony and Microsoft’s supply chain, the health crisis has caused component shortages across the industry.

Despite the manufacturing issues, both companies decided to release their consoles two days apart following several months of release date chicken. But the reality is that neither console should even be out today. The shortages don’t just mean that players can’t get a shiny new toy. It means that scalpers are able to buy up stock and manipulate the resale market, leaving desperate fans to mull whether or not spending hundreds of extra dollars is worth it.

It doesn’t help that buyers are at the mercy of internet retailers, since going out to a local store continues to present a health risk as the pandemic has only gotten worse since November. Considering how difficult, and perhaps irresponsible, it is to actually get one, Sony and Microsoft would have better served fans by waiting a few months and building up an adequate supply of stock that could keep up with demand.

The software slump

What makes the rush to put out new consoles particularly puzzling is that it doesn’t seem like game studios were even prepared for them to launch at all. Next-gen versions of games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Marvel’s Avengers had to delay their next-gen upgrades, while the industry at large has failed to put together a consistent upgrade path for last-gen games.

The big story of the year comes in the form of AAA game delays. At this point, most of 2021’s biggest games have shifted around, while others like Ratchet & Clank: Drift Apart don’t have set release dates at all. Sony’s next big game, Returnal, just got pushed back to late April, meaning that PS5 owners won’t have had a major exclusive for months at this point. Third-party games aren’t likely to fill the gap either, as the next few months are desolate beyond two or three highlights.

The situation is even more dire for Xbox Series X owners. Halo Infinite was set to be the console’s big launch game before getting delayed an entire year. The system ended up launching with few real exclusives, only getting its first in January with The Medium. Granted, Microsoft is more focused on creating a strong ecosystem with Xbox Game Pass, but the Xbox One currently accomplishes that task well.

Players are left in a situation where they’re struggling to get consoles that won’t be able to do much until … who knows how long. April? July? November? The timeline is entirely unpredictable as games and next-gen upgrades continue to drift into the horizon. That’s leaving players scrambling to make expensive hardware investments at a time when money is particularly tight for many. While I’ve enjoyed my time with both consoles — and even love the Xbox Series X so far — it’s hard to recommend them to anyone when it still doesn’t seem like the industry is ready to support either system.

The whole situation is reminiscent of the final scene of The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman gets the girl but is left in stunned silence wondering “now what?” It looks like we’re just destined to sit out the drama and wait until November.

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