The next generation of video game consoles is only four months away, at most. The Xbox Series X and the PS5 may have been shown off, as well as a handful of games, but compared to previous generations, what we know about some key aspects of next-gen is very little. How much are these things going to cost? What’s the launch lineup actually going to look like? And when will I be able to get my hands on one? Not knowing these questions this late on is worrying, if not dangerous for Sony and Microsoft.
Firstly, we knew the price of the last generation at the beginning of June 2013, during E3. While we are only a little over a month away from that date this year, there is a worrying trend. Whenever anyone talks about a hypothetical price for a next-gen console, they often say $500. This is becoming the placeholder for a real price. I’ve heard it countless times on podcasts in the last month or so, followed by a “or whatever the price actually is”. This is setting a precedent, as well as showing what people expect.
Those without any expectations are now being given expectations. Every single time we hear a speculative price point, we are being set up to think that it will be the price. The longer Sony and Microsoft wait to tell us what it is for real, the more the audience is going to have a set expectation. If the consoles are more than that, it is going to be a bit of a letdown for anyone whose sights were set on that neat half-grand.
But this expectation isn’t being created by anyone who guesses what the price will be. That is our job, as we write and speculate about video games. The expectation comes from all of us and is then reaffirmed the more we talk about it. We want it to be around $500 or less, and the more time we have to guess about it, the more we will be expectant of it being so. What little we know about next-gen is the cause. Of course, if the price is less or the same, then it doesn’t matter, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to be a lot nearer to the $600 mark for the full-fat next-gen experience.
Secondly, we have no idea what the launch lineup will be. All we firmly know for this year — in terms of new first-party games — is Halo Infinite for Xbox Series X as well as Astro’s Playroom and Spider-Man: Miles Morales for PS5. There are a handful of other third-parties coming to the consoles, sure, but they are somewhat known quantities. We always get some Ubisoft titles, some sports games, and some other indies to fill out the library. But we need to know what other, if any, flagship titles will be there to entice us in.
And I know, sometimes you don’t need a lot of first-party games to make a console a must-buy. Sometimes you just need one killer app. Nintendo proved this with the launch of the Switch, as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild proved to be one of the best games ever. But those sorts of games are rare, and, even though it’s early, both Halo: Infinite and Spider-Man: Miles Morales don’t look like they are going to be decade-defining masterpieces; they’re just there for people who are fans already. I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong, however.
Finally, we need some firm dates on when these consoles will release. For a lot of people, this won’t seem important, but for me, it is a very big deal. I need to know the price and when it will come out so I can save up some money to buy one of them. If I don’t know for another two months, I probably won’t be able to afford one. It may seem like it’s not a big deal, but without a price and a date, it is really difficult to save, both in finding the motivation to and in working out how much to.
What little we know is dangerous for both Microsoft and Sony going into next-gen. I doubt it will make a difference to overall sales — that stuff happens for bigger, long-term reasons — but it could affect the launch. A lot of people speculate that a console lives and dies by its performance at launch, which I’m not too sure about. But one thing is definitely true: the console that sells more at launch is the one that has a better chance of good word-of-mouth.
This is a key aspect of launch marketing, especially among younger players. If I hadn’t been told to get an Xbox 360 by a friend of mine, I wouldn’t have. But back then, he had one, and he said it was great, so I got one too. Even with cross-play breaking down barriers, those of us who can only buy one console are much more likely to go with the one a friend has. For such a big investment, you’re likely to follow recommendations rather than whims. And if people don’t care about these consoles at launch, what’s going to happen?
I don’t really know, and if I try and predict that, I am sure to be wrong. But right now, I don’t care about buying a console on day one, because no-one has really told me why I should. I don’t need to play the new Spider-Man straight away, and my Xbox One will play Halo, so I’m fine. Maybe that’s just myself, or maybe I’m similar to a large number of people; I don’t know. What I do know is that the only way PlayStation or Xbox could encourage me to buy a next-gen console is with more information. And it’s getting a bit late in the day.