The world has been reeling from the effects of the deadly COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak that has infected over 75,000 people and killed over 2100 since the start of this year. Though spread of the disease appears to be slowing, it’s still the cause of health and safety concerns across the globe. Despite being largely centered in mainland China, we’ve seen a number of tech companies rescind their attendance to US conventions and expos in an abundance of caution, citing concerns for the health and safety of their global workforce. It’s also putting pressure on the Chinese manufacturing of electronics, and there’s some debate about how the current outbreak and subsequent recovery period will impact manufacturing of new 2020 devices, including Sony’s own PlayStation 5.
Now let me be absolutely clear here. The health and safety of people come first, so the speculation in today’s Daily Reaction isn’t meant to levy criticism at Sony for canceling event attendance or lament that the PS5 could be delayed. Coronavirus is a deadly crisis and a tragedy impacting real human lives. However, it is also having an undeniable impact on 2020 plans and operations. For us, that interest lies in Sony’s PlayStation 5 strategy and whether the coronavirus outbreak has caused any internal changes in that plan.
PlayStation 5 Strategy So Far
I specifically say internal changes, because even before coronavirus, Sony’s PS5 strategy was a little odd. We first learned about the console in April 2019. We didn’t get a name, specs, or even a release window, but we learned some of the critical thinking behind the design going into Sony’s “next-generation PlayStation.” Fast loading, ray-tracing, controller refinements. Perhaps weirdest of all, the information was revealed suddenly via a seemingly random interview that Mark Cerny had with Wired.
Just what was Sony’s strategy here? My thought at the time was that it was one of sheer brilliance. By getting ahead of the curve, Sony begins undermining the rumor mill. It controls the messaging of its own system. What we know, we know directly from the mouth of system architect Mark Cerny himself. It sets expectations early on. Though perhaps too early on?
Our next big info dump came in another Wired interview in October 2019. At that time, Sony’s Jim Ryan confirmed the PlayStation 5 name and set a “holiday 2020” release window for the console, essentially putting the PS5 release in either November or December. (October is arguable but unlikely.) We got more information on a new, more reactive and interactive UI.
At this point, looking at history, Sony’s already changing the game for its PS5 marketing strategy, so expecting the PS4 reveal/release timeline to give us any hints almost seems silly in retrospect. In fact, it was exactly seven years ago today that Sony held the PlayStation Meeting and revealed the PS4. Well, they revealed the PS4’s name and the technology behind it, as well as a launch window. We didn’t get a look at the console itself, the price, or a firm release date until E3 2013.
So what could a PlayStation Meeting for PS5 show us that we don’t already know? I mean, sure, there’s plenty. It could iron out some of the details, give us an actual look at the UI, and delve deeper into what the PS5 is, but we effectively already know now about the PS5 what the PlayStation Meeting similarly taught us about the PS4 (name, logo, general design principles, release window). So again, history teaches us that we can’t trust history to tell us about the PS5 strategy. Sony also opted out of E3 this year for the second year in a row. E3 2013 was a major piece of the PS4 puzzle in the lead to release, so E3 2020’s absence from the PS5’s agenda tells us Sony’s doing things very differently this time around.
Coronavirus and the PS5 Reveal, Release
That brings us to today, the seven-year anniversary of the PS4 reveal. “PlayStation Meeting 2020” or whatever hasn’t happened, and there aren’t even any hints of it happening. Sony’s just announced the cancelation of both its attendance at PAX East and GDC due to coronavirus. Now that they’ve got a short-term moratorium on public event attendance for Sony employees in the interest of health and safety, how does that impact whatever they had planned internally for the PS5? In a previous Daily Reaction, I guesstimated a larger PS5 reveal in early March to account for GDC and allow Sony to have it out in the open ahead of the show. After all, GDC is where Sony would court developers and start having more closed-door meetings about getting third parties onboard with the PS5. But now that Sony’s not attending GDC, does a PS5 reveal ahead of it still make sense?
The bigger question here is if Sony was planning a physical PS5 reveal event of some kind, is that off the table due to coronavirus? Does the company delay it indefinitely until the danger passes? Do they opt to hold a digital reveal event of some kind instead? How long do they wait to determine what decision to make? When it announced that PlayStation wouldn’t be at E3, Sony said that it would be focusing on “hundreds of consumer events.” Has the current situation with coronavirus upset any of those plans?
It’s hard to even know which question is the right one to ask since we don’t have any insight into how Sony plans to reveal and market the PS5 throughout 2020. If a reveal event crops up in May, was Sony planning it for then all along? Or was it delayed from an earlier date? If we get a digital reveal of PS5 features via a State of Play broadcast, was that always the intended outlet to reveal the PS5, or did it come in place of a canceled physical presentation?
And that brings us to the manufacturing of the console itself, a process that takes place largely in China. With the industry hit pretty hard due to the nexus of the outbreak centering on where the world’s electronics are manufactured, we’ll see a rippling effect even after the outbreak subsides. There are bound to be shortages, cost increases, and other logistical hiccups as the manufacturing industry gets back on its feet.
Right now, it’s too early to know what the impact on PS5 manufacturing will be. Perhaps Sony changes its internal target date, still making “holiday 2020” publicly, but releasing later than first planned. Maybe there will be shortages at launch, making preorders a bigger necessity to make sure you get your hands on a PS5 at launch. Or it’s entirely possible the PS5 gets delayed outright, pushed into the first quarter of 2021 to allow Sony a little bit of breathing room. Some analysts don’t believe that will happen, and that’s admittedly a worst-case scenario, but it’s important to realize that it’s a possibility nonetheless. We’re still in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, and experts won’t have a better handle on future projections until it subsides further.
Coronavirus is still too unpredictable, and even in a year when Sony is preparing to launch its next-generation console, it’s taking an abundance of caution in the interest of keeping its people healthy and safe. While we know for sure about PAX East and GDC plans changing—including The Last of Us Part II’s first public playable demo being canceled—there are undoubtedly many internal plans that are being reevaluated as Sony maps its road through 2020 to the PS5 release date.
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