By: Patrick Morris
Alright…You're about to think that I've gone off the deep end, and maybe I have. But stick with me on this one because I think I think I'm onto something. After the sixth generation of consoles Sony had firmly cemented themselves as the top dog in the console market with the unprecedented success of the PlayStation 2. The hubris that ensued resulted in Sony's Ken Kutaragi literally telling an interviewer when asked about the PlayStation 3 "for consumers to think to themselves 'I will work more hours to buy one'. We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else." And well, history tends to repeat itself; the PlayStation 4 has been and continues to be a huge success story having sold north of 115 million units at the time of writing, and as a result cocky Sony is back. Before the start of the ninth generation of consoles Sony had already found themselves in a difficult position offering less power for the same price as their main competitor, based off third party sales figures my theory is that the digital version of the PlayStation 5 was developed in the final hour as a marketing asset then under produced effectively allowing Sony to have their cake and eat it too.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLaw Morris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. This week we will be talking about the PlayStation 5 but more specifically the digital PlayStation 5 and my conspiracy theory as to why it exists. So put on your tin foil hat's and lets go down this rabbit hole that to be completely honest with you even I'm not sure I believe.
The ninth generation of consoles was different from previous generations in the sense that both companies launched with two substantially different versions of their product. Microsoft released the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S and Sony of course released the PlayStation 5 and the PlayStation 5 digital edition. We'lll be discussing the digital edition PS5 later on but before we do we have to take a closer look at not the Series S and X but more the lead up to the announcement of both the series S and X.
When discussing what the next generation Xbox was going to be everyone expected a significantly more powerful console with a blu-ray drive that would retail for somewhere around $400 to $600. Essentially what we all expected is what would eventually be called the Xbox Series X. But in spring of 2019 the code names for the Xbox consoles in development were leaked, now this in itself isnt surprising as this happens all the time. The gamecube was codenamed Dolphin, the Wii was Revolution, the PS4 was Orbis, the PS4 pro was Neo, the PSVR was morpheus, you get the idea. What made the leaked Xbox codename's interesting was the fact that there were two of them, anaconda and lockhart. Now at the time of this leak the current generation Xbox One was actually split into two different price and power tiers, the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X. So when combined with the existence of two different codename's it wasn’t a huge leap to assume that Microsoft was actually developing two different next generation Xbox's.
The Series S was essentially the industry's worst kept secret for a long time as more and more frequently references to a second less powerful console were coming to light. When they finally detailed the spec's and price of the Xbox Series X Microsoft confirmed that it was essentially what we all thought it would be, a high powered premium console at a premium $500 price. But there was still no word on the rumored lower powered Xbox, we all knew it existed but Microsoft was choosing to not show it off until the last possible minute.
On June 11, 2020 Sony had their PlayStation 5 reveal event stream at the end of which they revealed not only the ugliest PlayStation of all time but also the second ugliest PlayStation of all time. Now keep in mind that at this point the existence of the Series S was yet to be confirmed by Microsoft but still well known to essentially anyone that paid even the slightest bit of attention to the news in the industry. And despite all the major announcement's and the big reveal Sony didn’t say anythign about price at this event. But this was also to be expected as they had the upper hand after winning the last generation in a landslide affording them the opportunity to wait for Microsoft to announce the Xbox price first and risk Sony undercutting them. Finally on September 8th Microsoft confirmed the existence of the Series S and then on the 9th they revealed that the Series X would launch at $499 and the Series S would cost $299.
Exactly as expected just seven days later Sony announced that the PlayStation 5 would launch on November 12, 2020 starting at $399. And that was and is the key phrase "starting at $399." It's the marketing slogan that has been seen at the end of nearly every PlayStation 5 advertisement since prices were announced. To the consumer that doesn’t take the time to educate themselves on the product (parents of kids asking for a PS5 for Christmas) hear or see "starting at $399" and immediately assume this is a quick and easy way for them to save $100 instead of buying and Xbox this holiday season. And to be extremely clear, if your immediate thought on this is that no consumer would fall for that then I want you to think about this: you are so into video games that you're here several minutes into a conspiracy theory video about PlayStation 5 pricing on a YouTube channel with less than 500 subscribers, you are not the person that would fall for that simple marketing tactic but those people do exist.
So far this has just been a statement of facts, so where does the conspiracy theory come in? Well here it is: the PS5 digital edition exists solely as a way of making it possible for Sony to advertise the PlayStation 5 as "starting at $399." influencer's, promoter's, and news outlets often are able to link to means of ordering products and as a part of that arrangement those influencer's, promoters, and news outlets are privy to sales data showing what product's were purchased or ordered using their affiliate link's. The reason they have to have access to this data is to demonstrate to advertisers that ad's on their sites can be converted into sales. Now in the case of the PlayStation 5 it wasn’t as much of the site itself doing the advertising work as it was the fact that everyone and their brother wanted to buy a PlayStation 5. And shortly after the disaster that was the PS5 preorder process the director of commerce at IGN Justin Davis stated on the long running podcast GameScoop that their internal data showed that the number of digital edition PS5 preorder's accounted for roughly 5% of total sales.
The reason that this IGN data is credible and a good sample to base a theory off of is three fold. First IGN is a giant in the industry of games journalism and therefore one can expect them to have a reasonable sample size that would result in a very small standard deviation from the actual mean. Second the sheer demand for the PS5 and the fact that it has been sold out everywhere since launch more than five months ago negates any theory that the IGN audience would have a preference for one console over the other that would differentiate them from the wider consumer base in any statistically significant way. And third IGN is a large company that has been operating for nearly three decades and since their own revenue depends on the accuracy of tracking this data one can assume the data collected is accurate.
So considering IGN's data as referenced by Justin Davis that would indicate that one out of every twenty PlayStation 5's being produced or at the very least produced prior to launch was a digital edition. And there were even people who had reportedly successfully placed an order for the digital edition and even received a digital edition box with a physical PS5 inside. All this leads me to believe that Sony has no interest in selling the digital edition at all. Which is understandable as new consoles are almost always sold at a loss then that loss is subsidized by selling games. So after seeing that the Series X was allegedly more powerful than the PS5 Sony had to do something that would make it possible for them to advertise a lower price than Microsoft while also selling the vast majority of PS5's at the higher tier price point. So they ripped the blu-ray drive out, cut the price by a hundred dollars then under produced the thing allowing them to put "starting at $399" at the end of every ad then sell 80-90% of their consoles at the $499 price point.
Alright, if youre still with me thank you for sticking it out. Do you think the PS5 digital edition exists solely as a marketing device for the standard PS5? Let me know in the comments down below. You can see everything I do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next time talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!