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COVID-19 to derail next gen console launches?

With Nintendo’s Switch production grinding to a halt in Japan due to global concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, could the upcoming PS5 and Xbox Series X be pushed back too?

As if you even needed telling, Sony and Microsoft are again readying their revolutionary machines to usher in the next generation of console gaming, with both the PS5 and Xbox Series X slated for launch before the holiday season rolls around again. Exciting I know. Now for the ‘fear mongerry’ part.

If everyone and their mother hasn’t already scared you sh*tless with spiel about the recent coronavirus outbreak, gaming ‘in the knows’ and investment bankers are now claiming quarantine procedures in China are ‘likely’ to impact the production of several of the nation’s manufacturing giants. And murmurings that Sony and Microsoft’s flagship consoles are to be pushed back beyond the turn of the year, or at least suffer constrained launch supply, are starting to snowball on social media.

That wouldn’t be very Christmassy.

The reports, and the facts

Health concerns aside (just watch the six O’clock news), the manufacturing capital of the world China is currently having to navigate some real economic challenges. With 28,000 reported cases of infection (as of Wednesday) in China alone, electronics supply chains are being frozen all across the mainland. The leading manufacturer of iPhone Foxconn has been forced to quarantine workers across several warehouses and now the schedule for the release of the next iPhone is likely to be postponed as a result, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

Most games and gaming technologies are developed in North America, Europe, and Japan, but you’d be hard pressed to find a product that hasn’t been outsourced to China at some stage of the build. When talking hardware components, anyone with a whiff of inside knowledge knows they’re almost exclusively created in China.

It doesn’t bode well that Nintendo has had already had to concede and halt shipments of the Switch and many of its new accessories to Japan this week, with The Outer Worlds’ port developer Virtuos also being frozen indefinitely.

Thankfully, it appears Microsoft and Sony have implemented countermeasures should the outbreak escalate and press them to follow suit. Obviously, that’s no consolation to anyone wanting to nab a shiny new Switch this month… soz.

Let’s not panic, for now

While financial services firm Jefferies Group is talking up the likelihood of delays and/or restricted stock when the PS5 and Xbox Series X do eventually bounce onto the market, reliable gaming experts are weighing in on the situation to quiet a lot of the hysteria and separate fact from fiction.

In a recent interview with TechRadar, managing director of Michael Pachter refuted the notion that next gen consoles are likely to suffer the same fate as the iPhone. While he didn’t deny that the virus is responsible for disruptions to the mobile industry, he did highlight that console manufacturers are a whole different kettle of fish. And that hammering home that comparison probably isn’t best advised.

He revealed that while Apple ‘doesn’t really have a realistic manufacturing alternative, because of the complexity of assembly,’ Microsoft and Sony are by no means confined to China for their latest ventures – though it is the most cost-effective option by some margin. They too have manufacturing alternatives in Taiwan and Vietnam, among other places.

Lastly, nobody seems to really be considering the absolute chasm between the two industries in regard to production demand. Pachter estimates that Microsoft and Sony won’t commence actual production on next-gen consoles until June time, and when they do, they’ll be looking to churn out around one million units a month each, compared to Apple’s three or four million units per month.

So, is everything on track?

For now, barring a worst-case scenario where the virus is still rampant around June time, it seems like next gen consoles are unlikely to suffer from any real disruption to production.

While nothing is set in stone, and we can’t yet say with absolute certainty that delays won’t happen, it’s comforting to know that Sony and Microsoft don’t have all their eggs China’s basket.

Keep an eye out for pre-orders. You shouldn’t smash your piggy bank just yet.