Less than six months out from the supposed release date of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, we still don’t know the price of either console.
Many suspect they’ll cost around $500 each, and Microsoft is rumored to be developing a lower-priced box – code-named Lockhart – as well.
Given current economic headwinds – a recession officially began in February – you might be hoping Sony and Microsoft will launch their consoles at a discount to spur adoption even if there’s a pullback in consumer spending.
But a new interview with Xbox Game Studios boss Phil Spencer suggests you shouldn’t hold your breath.
The BBC asked Spencer how the pandemic has altered the company’s plans for launching the Xbox Series X.
He confessed the obvious – that production had been affected. But he said the team adapted well and that testing is proceeding according to plan.
Then the conversation turned the Series X price.
Spencer conceded that a new video game console isn’t a priority purchase for many people this year, especially with unemployment rates skyrocketing to levels not seen since the Great Depression.
We see the impact of people getting furloughed and layoffs. It’s tough. And we are a leisure activity. We’re not a requirement. We’re not food. We’re not shelter.
So we want to be really tuned in to that as we launch. How can we make it as affordable as possible? How can we give buyers choice?
Unfortunately, that’s where the candor ends.
He eschews a direct discussion about price and instead diverts the conversation to delivering choice and accessibility.
Watch him dance around the issue:
We’ve got an Xbox All Access subscription programme that allows people to buy their next console by paying a monthly charge.
And if now is not the time for you to buy a new console, and you’re going to stay with the console you have, we’re going to keep supporting that console.
Instead of hinting at any price drop or even revealing a few details about Lockhart itself, he simply says: buy it on credit or wait until you can foot the bill for admission.
(Fortunately, Microsoft will support the Xbox One family of consoles for at least two years if you can’t afford a new box immediately.)
Spencer defends his non-answer by arguing that people “find real value” in their gaming purchases. And he does have a point.
Gaming pushed through the last recession a decade ago. There’s no reason it can’t do it again.
Further cementing the fact that the Xbox Series X will undoubtedly be too expensive for many consumers, Spencer appeared to preemptively justify a low console sales figure:
Our strategy does not revolve around how many Xboxes I sell this year.
We’re focused on delivering services through Xbox Game Pass, which allows people to build their library for a monthly fee.
When it comes to PlayStation vs. Xbox, the latter certainly provides more for the customer with Game Pass and backward compatibility. But does it matter if the entry fee is higher as a result?
Spencer doesn’t seem to think so. To him, as long as gamers have something to play, they should be fine.
Just expect to pay big when you are ready to pull the trigger on a next-gen upgrade.