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The reasons behind the video game console shortage

By Niall Smith Feb 22, 2021
An image of both the Xbox Series X and PS5 on a home shelfPhil Barker/Future/Shutterstock

Since launching in the fourth quarter of 2020, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S has been almost impossible to buy, here’s why.

The average console lifespan is around 10 years. Despite a new gaming generation on the horizon every six or seven years, the previous generation console ends up living on a few years into its successor’s lifetime.

A driving force behind this phenomenon is the high launch prices of new gaming systems. The average consumer is not likely to fork out the best part of £1000 for a new console, plus games and accessories.

In November 2020, the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S launched globally. After years of hype and speculation, it landed on store shelves worldwide to much fanfare. Thanks to anticipation before their release, all four variants of the next-gen consoles sold out instantly.

So, why is this?

When the PlayStation 3 launched back in 2006, it was met with controversy due to its price, set at $600 for the 60GB model. This unfortunately caused PlayStation’s parent company Sony to lose the popularity race to Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Sony did not recover until the end of the PS3’s lifecycle and the transition to the PS4 where they re-established their dominance.

Thanks to years of exclusive games and console-specific services like PlayStation’s Uncharted and Spider-Man series and Xbox’s Game Pass, both parties have been vying for the consumer’s attention.

Outside of the console wars, the gaming industry has grown exponentially in the past few years. It was valued at over $90 billion at the end of 2020. Thanks to services like Twitch and YouTube, gamers can stream content and establish a fanbase.

Popular streamers like Ninja have a current net worth of £22 million. This points to gaming being a more profitable industry than both video and music.

Factors such as the global pandemic, bundling deals as well as better marketing, have made gaming more appealing. Look no further than the Travis Scott x Sony/PlayStation x Nike Dunk sneaker for proof.

With this context in mind, when it came to launching the PS5 and new Xbox, weeks before their launch, many retailers in the UK like Currys/PC World and Game offered raffles and pre-orders. This caused many to miss out on release day due to the overwhelming number of paid-for pre-orders.

Companies like AMD and Qualcomm produce the CPU chips for most of the major technology companies. With the Covid-19 pandemic in full swing, the production rate of the chips has slowed down considerably. These chips are vital for the production of the Xbox Series X/S and PS5. When chip production goes back to normal, we should expect to see more consoles on store shelves.

Another factor contributing to the console shortage is social media hype. In a similar vein to sneaker culture and fashion, the PS5, in particular, has become a trending topic across social media that seems to hold a form of social currency. This newfound exposure did not exist back in 2013 when the Xbox One and PS4 debuted.

The lack of consoles has forced them to be sold on secondary marketplaces like StockX. StockX primarily sells shoes, apparel and “hyped” collectors’ items. The PS5 was readily available on the site, being sold at twice its retail price at around $800 at one point.

For now, social media pages pinpoint restocks of the new consoles. Ideally, as Sony and Microsoft produce more units and hype dies down, the new generation of consoles should be more readily available in the coming months.

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