There was a reason that we waited until mid-September to learn the price of two consoles that come out in two months. Both Sony and Microsoft were waiting for the other to blink, to go first so that whatever price they revealed for their unit, it would match it, or be lower.
Microsoft’s Xbox Series S and X prices leaked out last week, essentially forcing them to go first when otherwise, they had planned to reveal them some time this week instead. They tried to hedge and force Sony into an awkward spot with a $300 Series S that the PS5 couldn’t hope to match, and a $500 Series X, which was still less than the $600 some were predicting, given its horsepower.
But once again, Sony walks away winning the next gen launch narrative. Rumored/leaked prices for them turned out to be true as well, a digital PS5 at $400 and a disc-drive one at $500. But since there’s no power disparity between them, the narrative is of course that yet again, like PS4 and Xbox One before it, Sony undercut Microsoft by $100, only giving up an increasingly irrelevant disc drive to do so.
I agree with speculators that the PS5 probably would have been priced higher if Microsoft had gone higher, but Sony wanted that crown, and they got it. I have no idea how much money they’re losing on $400 digital PS5s, but they have agreed it’s an acceptable loss.
The Maverick Myth
They also get to have it both ways too. In the mess of preorders that went up last night, it quickly became clear that there sure is a lot more stock of the $500 disc PS5s than the $400 digital ones, and we’re likely in a situation where the majority of early PS5 adopters are going to end up paying $500 anyway, even if they didn’t want the disc version, just to ensure they have any version of the PS5 this holiday.
Sony did not escape last night’s reveal unscathed, of course. The PS5 pre-order situation was, and continues to be, a disaster, with Sony saying they would not go live until today, but every major retailer went up last night, and pretty much all are sold out this morning. Sony also caught flak for going back on their whole “we believe in generations” idea when it was revealed that big name exclusives like Spider-Man Miles Morales and Horizon Forbidden West would also be released on PS4 as well, something Sony fans have previously criticized Xbox for doing, “holding back” Halo Infinite by developing it for last gen too. But Sony’s done the same thing.
Finally, they revealed that some first party Sony games are going to be straight-up priced at $70, raising video game prices for the first time in almost two decades. Microsoft’s exclusives, meanwhile, will be rolled into Game Pass.
But fundamentally, it doesn’t matter. They got the headline they wanted which is a $400 PS5 versus a $500 Series X. There’s nuance here, as we can now debate whether a $300 Series S is still powerful enough to be worth it, and I expect that system to do well for Microsoft. But between the price and seemingly more exclusives in 2020-2021 (including God of War, as of last night) Sony retains a position of strength.
It is somewhat ironic because there is no clear reason you need either console exactly at launch, with pretty much all games still being released for last gen, and you’re essentially paying for framerate and load time upgrades to existing games, and little else. But this is how gamers operate, myself included. We need that new console first, and during the pandemic, when gaming spending has only increased, that’s going to be more true than ever.