We are heading into a strange new console generation, one where it’s not simply one box versus another. But rather it’s shaping up to be more of a 2v2 tag team match.
Sony has already confirmed there will be two different models of the PS5, one with a disc drive, one without one. And while they have not confirmed a price for either, it stands to reason the digital-only one will be cheaper.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has not confirmed a second console to join the Series X, and yet the Xbox Lockhart has been talked about by so many insiders at this point, its existence is supposed to be gospel. Unlike the PS5 split, the Lockhart is supposed to be a less powerful, cheaper Series X (and may be called the Series S), though may retain many of the more expensive console’s advantages like faster load times and high framerates, and what it sacrifices may not be all that problematic (4K gaming).
If we are heading toward a holiday season where four consoles are debuting at the same time, I am starting to wonder if the main face-off is going to be between the two cheaper ones. Obviously, a cheaper console is always more appealing in general, but we are also coming out of a global pandemic that has resulted in catastrophic economic loss for many people. So if consumers are going to scrape together the money for a next-gen console, they are likely going to pick the cheaper one, even if they’re giving up discs or 4K gaming or what have you.
This week, there was a survey going around that showed a potential price difference between the PS5 disc drive and PS5 digital at around $130. Even if it’s not quite that high, a $100 difference would be enormous , though even a $50 one could be significant, and it almost certainly won’t be any less than that.
While there was a big fuss made about discs last generation, most of the last decade has seen a huge shift toward consumers being more likely to purchase digitally. And while the ability to buy games and trade them in for credit toward other games retains appeal for some, it’s unclear if the likes of GameStop are even going to survive this entire next console generation at this point, given the shifting winds of the industry toward digital and away from brick and mortar. And trade-ins. So yes, I absolutely think a digital-only PS5 will have mass appeal and will be the better-selling console, especially if it is in fact $50-100 cheaper.
Lockhart is a bit trickier, given that we still don’t fully know everything we need to about it (I’m not clear on whether it has a disc drive, for instance). But the overall point is that if it will automatically play any next gen game, and the only major sacrifice is something like a bit of fidelity and 4K potential, that’s something that many players will be willing to make. Also, given the power downgrade, it seems likely that the price difference between Series X and Lockhart/Series S should be more substantial than the PS5 models. If that difference is say, $150-200, that’s huge, and I would have to believe at that point that Lockhart would dramatically outsell the Series X. Imagining a $500 Series X and a $350 Lockhart, or a $600 Series X and a $400 Lockhart, I think outside of ultra-hardcore gamers who want the absolute best tech, that would be hugely appealing.
Hence, this is why I think we could be heading to a place where the digital PS5 is the “main” one and the more popular Xbox is the less powerful one (I think that still poses some risks for Microsoft as I’ve said, but this is where we’re heading). Price is going to be an enormous factor for this launch, as it was for the last two generations, and with four consoles in play, this is going to be the most confusing and precarious dance these two companies have ever done.