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Game On: Scalpers still have stranglehold on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 7, 2021

An anonymous scalper posted this photo online of their stockpile of 22 PlayStation 5 consoles and two Xbox Series X systems.  (Courtesy)
An anonymous scalper posted this photo online of their stockpile of 22 PlayStation 5 consoles and two Xbox Series X systems. (Courtesy)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

The most consumerist time of the year is behind us, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s lost interest in picking up a fancy, new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S. The hype is a bit of a mystery to me – over the years, I’ve watched the launch lineups of new game consoles grow consistently weaker.

On the flipside, console generations are lasting longer than ever with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One occupying the spotlight for seven years instead of the usual five to six. I anticipate that trend continuing, but if you’re on the prowl for a new system, you might face an uphill battle for the foreseeable future.

The coronavirus pandemic has stunted manufacturing quantities significantly, Microsoft has intentionally limited the number of consoles hitting physical retail spaces, and Sony has abandoned stocking its new console in retail spaces altogether.

Your only real option is ordering a PlayStation or Xbox online to be delivered, but many retailers sell out within minutes of receiving new ones. With demand high, supply low and no measures in place to stop individuals from purchasing several systems at once, the units are being swept up consistently and aggressively by scalpers.

They then attempt to sell the consoles at a premium – often in the range of $750-$850 instead of the high-end models’ MSRP of $500. I’ve seen boatloads on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, and I know only one person who actually owns a PlayStation 5. I don’t know anyone who has gotten their hands on a new Xbox despite most of my friends being Microsoft fans.

According to sales data from Famitsu, Sony sold around 213,000 PS5 consoles in Japan during its first month of availability and just 63,000 physical games. Digital game ownership might be on the rise, but that number is still severely disproportionate and a sure sign that many PS5 units are trading hands instead of actually being played.

I’ve never heard of video game scalpers in the past, but there’s no denying they’re running rampant now. Scalping has become increasingly lucrative and sophisticated across a multitude of industries.

Scalpers have formed entire networks such as Crep Chief Notify, a group that pools resources to analyze shipment routes to buy out products in person, as well as uses bots to purchase items online within minutes of them becoming available.

While scalpers are culpable for this obnoxious practice, some blame can be levied upon the retailers who seemingly refuse to take preventative measures. If Walmart can limit toilet paper and hand sanitizer purchases in a pandemic, it can’t be too difficult to do the same with other, far-larger items. In some ways, it’d be even easier for online retailers to curb scalping.

While some legislation has been passed in an attempt to curb scalping, most of it pertains to ticket scalping. In this instance, Microsoft, Sony and retailers don’t have much motivation to fix the issue.

The new consoles are selling like hotcakes, even if most are being resold or collecting dust. And, ultimately, these companies care most about their bottom lines, which are looking pretty good right now.

They’re sure to keep producing new ones until the issue resolves itself, but Xbox CFO Tim Stuart expects the Series X/S shortages to last until April. In true CFO fashion, when pressed, he responded, “Part of this demand profile is, frankly, gaming is just exploding. It’s a $200 billion a year industry.” Sony, meanwhile, has remained completely silent.

Here’s my suggestion: Don’t waste your time trying to do battle with these people who need to find a less scandalous source of income. Microsoft and Sony will be producing their new consoles for years to come, and given the weak launch lineups of these consoles, you’re not really missing much in the meantime.

Most of the biggest game releases have already been pushed back to the latter half of this year. “Cyberpunk 2077” is not yet optimized for the Xbox Series X/S or PS5. Almost every new game release is available on the older Xbox One and PlayStation 4, as well.

The only game currently available that truly strikes me as a “next-generation experience” is “Astro’s Playroom,” a cute pack-in platformer for all PlayStation 5 owners and a veritable love letter to its fans.

None of these games are going anywhere – they’ll be available for years to come, and any game worth its salt is relatively timeless. Ironically, the only publisher dabbling with limited releases is Nintendo, and the game in question – “Super Mario 3D All-Stars” – is available in ample supply.

So, whatever you do, don’t cave to these lowlife scalpers by purchasing a next-gen Xbox or PlayStation secondhand – it only enables their inane behavior. You and your loved ones can wait a couple more months for a new game console, especially with so few titles available.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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