Why has there been a shortage?
Japanese electronics giant Sony launched the latest version of its best-selling PlayStation games console, the PS5, on 19 November last year but was immediately beset with problems relating to supply being unable to keep up with demand.
Coronavirus lockdowns around the world had led to a dramatically increased appetite for home entertainment of all kinds across the world since last March, from streaming services to gaming hardware, which piled pressure onto the already-long-anticipated launch of the new PS5.
When stocks did hit high street shelves, they sold out in seconds - a riot even erupted in Japan as frustrated gamers fought in the aisles to get their hands on the new device.
Online, retailers’ websites crashed due to the unprecedented traffic while those who were successful in acquiring one but subsequently sought to resell it at inflated prices via eBay or other second-hand sites only served to further complicate the situation.
Microsoft’s Xbox Series X also suffered supply issues but it was Sony that bore the brunt of consumer’s annoyance.
“Everything is sold. Absolutely everything is sold,” the company’s interactive entertainment chief executive Jim Ryan told Russian news site TASS in November. “I’ve spent much of the last year trying to be sure that we can generate enough demand for the product. And now in terms of my executive bandwidth I’m spending a lot more time on trying to increase supply to meet that demand.”
Ryan denied at the time that the shortage lay at the manufacturing end of the supply chain, insisting Sony’s production arm had “worked miracles”.
The reason was finally revealed when the company published its end of year results and Hiroki Totoki, Sony’s chief financial officer, commented: “It is difficult for us to increase production of the PS5 amid the shortage of semiconductors and other components... We have not been able to fully meet the high level of demand from customers [but] we continue to do everything in our power to ship as many units as possible to customers who are waiting for a PS5.”
The lack of semiconductors also hit other industries, like auto manufacturing, and was blamed by some, at least in part, on then-US president Donald Trump’s blustering trade war with China.
How is it being resolved?
There is good news for gamers, however, as Totoki announced earlier this month that Sony had now acquired enough parts to meet its sales targets.
“The shortage of semiconductors has impacts in various areas and through various measures, we have been taking some action,” the CFO said during a quarterly conference call.
“For PS5, the target has been set for the number of units to be sold this year, and we have secured the number of chips that is necessary to achieve that. Regarding the supply of semiconductors, we are not concerned.”
Sony’s stated aim was to sell 14.8m PS5s by March 2022, which Totoki’s comments suggest will now be possible and that supplies of the elusive console will begin rolling out more steadily.
The problem had become visible in the sales charts, when games that looked like sure-fire sellers such as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart dropped out of the UK top 10 due to there not being enough consoles out there to play them on.
New games forthcoming on the PS5 and dependent on its ready availability include director’s cuts of Death Stranding and Ghost of Tsushima, plus Deathloop, GTA 5, Battlefield 2042 and Far Cry 6.
Why are we asking this now?
Totoki’s news has already translated into improved PS5 availability, with 14 UK retailers already enjoying stock drops in August.
Argos, Amazon, Game, Very, Smyths Toys and John Lewis are among those that have been receiving deliveries and selling out almost as quickly.
Fans are meanwhile piling into popular stock checker accounts on social media like Digital Foundry Deals, Stock Informer, PS5 UK Stock - Instant Updates and Express Gaming for the latest developments while The Independent’s Alex Lee has been doggedly monitoring the situation in a regular liveblog.
Be warned, however. Although Sony appears to have resolved its semiconductor issue for now there is no reason to think it could not arise again in the future as the whims of international politics, global trade and the pandemic - and its associated “pingdemic” - continue to make for an unstable global supply chain.
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