It’s too early to talk about which console is selling better — Sony and Microsoft are both shipping every single console they can manufacture, and will be for weeks — but early availability numbers suggest limited supply all across the planet for both platforms.
In Japan, the PS5 moved 118,085 units against the Xbox Series X’s 20,534. Those of you who are familiar with Xbox’s long history of underperforming in Japan won’t find this surprising — Microsoft’s console has never done particularly well in Sony’s native market. What’s a bit more surprising is that Sony’s PlayStation 4 launch outsold the PlayStation 5 launch by a factor of three.
The implication of these numbers is that both Sony and Microsoft are having trouble putting hardware on store shelves. The reason you can’t tell if a console is selling well right out of the gate is that every platform, even the Wii U, has at least a few weeks of pent-up demand in which it sells quite well. Bloomberg reports that Sony’s CFO Hiroki Totoki told investors in October that supply chain bottlenecks had hampered production and that delays could persist into March of next year.
This echoes comments we’ve heard from Microsoft, where the company is also less-than bullish on its ability to push product into the market. Microsoft’s Tim Stuart recently told investors something very similar:
I think we’ll continue to see supply shortages as we head into the post-holiday quarter, so Microsoft’s Q3, calendar Q1. And then when we get to Q4, all of our supply chain continuing to go full speed heading into kind of the pre-summer months.
Stuart is predicting the Xbox shortage won’t let up until
pre-summer spring, which is the same time frame predicted by Sony.
That’s not all, though. Nvidia’s CEO, Jensen Huang, predicted shortages of Nvidia Ampere cards through Q4, but the company hasn’t said anything about the expected situation through the beginning of next year. AMD’s Radeon 6800 and 6800 XT are currently out of stock everywhere. The 5000 series of CPUs has been thin on the ground as well.
In short, welcome to the ultimate example of 2020 in consumer electronics and retail hardware, where everyone launches next-generation hardware, but none of it is actually available to purchase.
It would be interesting to know where exactly these snafus and problems are occurring, and what parts of production are being repeatedly held up. Bots and scalpers are a problem, to be sure, but they aren’t the reason Sony had such a smaller number of PlayStation 5s ready to ship in Japan compared with other locations. High demand explains why you can’t find a new console on store shelves but not why the company can’t seem to ship them. TSMC’s 7nm production lines are reportedly running flat out, but not every product that’s been scarce on store shelves is built at TSMC.
Our best guess is that the situation is a perfect storm: Low yield on new parts combines with inevitable pandemic-related disruption and radical shifts in consumer entertainment habits as people put up with being mostly stuck inside for month after month. Now, on top of that lovely hellstew, ladle some bots and scalpers. The end result is a very 2020-esque outcome: There’s supposed to be lots of exciting new hardware available for sale, but it’s currently harder than it ought to be to lay hands on it.