The PlayStation 5 recently joined the Meta Quest 2 in the ignominious category of “game consoles with arbitrary price hikes.” Earlier this week, Sony announced that it would raise the PS5’s price all across Europe, as well as in parts of Asia and North America.
The price increase isn’t trivial, either, with PS5s in some regions rocketing up by as much as 24%. This is a tough blow, especially in a time when inflation is running rampant, and families are already struggling to buy more important goods, such as food and gas.
When Meta raised the Meta Quest 2’s price by $100 last month, I decried the decision as “pure greed,” and I stand by that statement. While Sony is not quite as ludicrously wealthy as Meta, the same logic applies here. Sony made about $1.5 billion in net income last quarter alone; this is not a company that needs to plead poverty and make consumers pay even more for an already expensive product.
To quote Sir Ian Fleming, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” We’re now at the “coincidence” stage of gaming companies arbitrary jacking up hardware prices — and if we get to the “enemy action” stage, it’s going to be ugly.
An increasingly expensive hobby
In my piece about the Meta Quest 2 price hike, I argued that the move was in poor taste for the following reasons:
- The price increase is substantial
- The product is exactly the same as before
- There’s no benefit to offset the new price
- The manufacturer could easily eat the increased manufacturing cost
- Consoles are supposed to be loss leaders
- Increasing the cost of entry shrinks the player base in the long run
If you replace “Meta” with “Sony,” these points still stand. The PS5 on offer today isn’t any better than the PS5 from last week. Sony has billions of dollars at its disposal. The PS5 is expensive to begin with, and raising the price further only makes it less accessible for the general public.
In fact, the PS5 price hike arguably stings a lot more than the Quest 2’s. Players had no reason to expect this kind of behavior from Sony. While Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has a reputation for being greedy, callous, tone-deaf and arrogant, Sony has generally treated PlayStation fans well, with high-quality games, a communicative staff and reasonably priced hardware. Sony has never before increased a PlayStation console’s price without offering something better in return — a redesign, for example, or more powerful hardware.
What’s even more damning is that Sony’s biggest competitors in the gaming space, Microsoft and Nintendo, have affirmed that they have no plans to follow suit. While the Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch seem to be facing similar supply-side issues, both Microsoft and Nintendo plan to keep their console prices exactly the same, at least for the time being. Whatever those two companies plan to do in the near future, they almost certainly fostered some goodwill among consumers this week.
And, when you get right down to it, goodwill among consumers counts for a lot.
Responsibility toward consumers
To be clear, video game consoles are luxury goods. They may not be diamond necklaces or pleasure yachts, but they’re not something that the average person needs to survive. Even if you argue (correctly) that the average person does need some leisure activities, there are much cheaper ways to play games, particularly with the advent of mobile gaming and cloud subscriptions. If the PS5 price hike makes the system unaffordable, the negative impact on your life will be relatively constrained.
However, none of that excuses Sony’s decision. Sony cites economic challenges as a justification for raising the PS5’s price. However, it’s important to remember that the average consumer would probably love to have Sony’s economic challenges rather than their own. Sony runs a profitable operation, with net income in the billions. The company provides goods that people always want, and has built up enough of a reputation that it can charge quite a bit of money for those goods. Sony employs more than 100,000 workers, and pays many of them enviable salaries.
Compare and contrast to the PS5’s target audience, many of whom are struggling to afford basic necessities right now. During hard times, a little luxury can go a long way. Facebook and Sony are now taking that luxury out of reach.
Remember, video game consoles aren’t like smartphones. There aren’t hundreds of different choices out there, and they don’t all do roughly the same thing. If Samsung were to raise prices on Galaxy smartphones, you could get another model from Google, Motorola, OnePlus or (ironically) Sony that would work just as well. Gamers can still buy an Xbox Series X, a Switch, or a gaming PC, but they don’t have access to Sony’s lineup of exclusive games, or the full PlayStation Plus program.
In short, Sony’s actions, like Facebook, could feel callous toward everyday consumers, especially those who are having financial struggles of their own.
The obvious counterargument here is that Sony’s raison d’être is not to make consumers happy; it’s to make money. Sony exists to be profitable, especially if it can funnel those profits back toward its shareholders. Someone, somewhere has determined that due to manufacturing costs, selling fewer PS5s, at a higher price, is more likely to make money than selling more PS5s, at a lower price.
However, I’ve never found this argument particularly compelling. If you take the “corporations exist to make money” line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, then every person on Earth should do whatever makes the largest amount of money in the short term, regardless of their skills, interests or responsibilities. It doesn’t take a hardcore Kantian to figure out why such a system would be ridiculous. Individuals know that making money is just one part of a successful enterprise; you also have to consider the effect that your job has on other people.
Right now, Sony’s effect on other people has the potential to be profoundly negative. We can only hope that the company reverses course once its costs come back down.
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