PS5 Preorders Got Off To A Rocky Start

Sony assured fans they would have plenty of notice before preorders opened for its next-gen console, but what followed was a fiasco.

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PS5 preorder availability is still waxing and waning as more retailers open up stock. Walmart made more preorders available after giving slightly advanced notice, so other retailers may follow suit and tell buyers when to expect more to become available. Meanwhile, Amazon has warned buyers in advance that preorder shipments may miss launch day. This doesn't necessarily mean that consoles won't arrive on time, but it suggests Amazon thinks it may happen for at least some of its customers.

Sony finally announced the price and release date for the PlayStation 5, putting an end to the long wait for head-to-head next-generation console details after Xbox outlined its own hardware plans last week. Despite indications from Sony alluding otherwise, preorders unexpectedly opened shortly after, leading to confusion and frustration amid canceled orders and scrambling retailers. How did it go so wrong?

Sony's messaging around preorders was sloppy and inconsistent. Shortly after the widely publicized presentation, the company noted in a separate announcement on the PlayStation Blog that preorders would begin the following day, September 17. Then we learned that some retailers planned to open preorders early--but with no word of which ones or when. What followed was a chaotic mess, with retailers opening their stock at different and largely odd times. Even buyers who were quick on the draw were sometimes met with out-of-stock notifications, leading many to flock from one retailer to another as they subsequently opened. Some fans wasted a long time refreshing Twitter or retailer sites, only to end up with nothing. Those who planned to preorder at a retail store had to rush for limited allocations.

It's unclear how much of this is on Sony, and how much retailers took their own initiative and jumped the gun on preorders before the planned time. But given that Sony never detailed when that time was supposed to be, it's hard to tell.

In this environment of uncertainty, it should be no surprise that scalpers are running rampant. Sellers on Ebay offering the promise of a future PlayStation 5 are currently asking for $800-$1000 for a console that retailers are selling for half that much.

Meanwhile, PlayStation fans have been left without clear messaging on when and how they can purchase a PS5 legitimately. Retailers have not announced ahead of time when they plan to put up stock, and some have even changed their previously stated plans. Walmart notably planned to host in-store preorders, but changed to online-only, anticipating that the crowds would make it difficult to maintain social distancing guidelines.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Following one of the earliest PS5 showcases over the summer, a rumor circulated that preorders would be dropping any minute. PlayStation worldwide marketing head Eric Lempel responded to reports of eager PlayStation fans lining up at retail stores with reassurances that sound downright comical in light of recent events.

"We'll let you know when it will happen," Lempel said in an interview with industry insider Geoff Keighley. "It's not going to happen with a minute's notice. We're going to, at some point, let you know when you can preorder PlayStation 5. So, please, don't feel like you have to go run out and line up anywhere until you receive official notice on how that'll work."

But fans had to do exactly that, and some still missed out. Lempel was technically correct that fans didn't have a minute's notice. It was more like an hour.

This preorder email only reached select people several hours after other retailers lifted the lid on its PS5 preorders.
This preorder email only reached select people several hours after other retailers lifted the lid on its PS5 preorders.

Sony even created its own mechanism for managing preorders. Fans were invited to register for PlayStation Direct, Sony's store portal, and the company promised it would be "inviting some of our existing consumers to be one of the first to preorder." But this wasn't accurate. While you can preorder some games and accessories through the PlayStation Direct site, the console itself hasn't gone on sale yet, well after retailers have opened their preorders.

Twenty-four hours later, we still don't know when or where the PlayStation 5 will be available to preorder next, or when sold-out stores are expecting to get more stock. Our preorder guide is keeping tabs on the situation for those still looking for one, but Sony hasn't been clear or consistent in its messaging.

By contrast, Xbox preorders have not yet gone live, even though Microsoft announced its price and release date a week ago. The company has already clearly indicated exactly when we can expect preorders to begin, 8 AM PT on September 22, giving fans two weeks to prepare. Xbox head Phil Spencer said the original roadmap was to announce its console plans a week later--which would have put it right next to the Sony announcement--but even then Xbox fans would have had almost a week of warning time before preorders go live. That's a far cry from the mad dash caused by Sony's starter pistol of an announcement.

Microsoft has capitalized on Sony's messy rollout by remaining poised and professional. A recent tweet from the official Xbox account threw some subtle shade by promising that an exact time for preorders would be revealed soon. The message was ambiguous enough, but it's hard not to interpret it as a shot across the bow in response to the gamers' frustration with Sony.

It may very well be that Xbox preorders are equally chaotic next week, and it's almost certain that scalpers will try to take advantage regardless. And naturally, a lot of gamers aren't platform-agnostic--they may have specifically wanted a PlayStation 5, so if Xbox is readily available and easy to preorder, it doesn't really solve their problem.

Any large tech rollout is going to come with its share of issues, but these wounds appear largely self-inflicted. Sony could have simply been clearer and more consistent and stuck to the promises it already made regarding how it would distribute both consoles and information about the consoles. Sony's PS5 presentation was a well-produced showcase with lots of great-looking games. Excited fans may have been left frustrated or even missed their opportunity to preorder without realizing. Now those negative feelings could sour them to jumping onboard, at least for the time being, or even drive them to take a closer look at the competition. Long-term damage is unlikely, but it's a disappointing stumble. What should have been Sony's shining moment was undermined by a preordering fiasco.

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