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Game On: Almost nine months later, next-gen consoles remain elusive

UPDATED: Thu., July 29, 2021

“Microsoft Flight Simulator” was released on the Xbox Series X|S on Tuesday.  (Riordan Zentler/For The Spokesman-Review)
“Microsoft Flight Simulator” was released on the Xbox Series X|S on Tuesday. (Riordan Zentler/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Almost nine months after the release of the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5, the consoles remain incredibly difficult to come by. It’s ironic that they’re in such high demand because there are very few recent releases actually requiring the superior technology of these new machines. Most games are still releasing for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, although thanks to backward compatibility features, the new consoles can also play those games just fine.

If the new consoles are underused so far, then why the huge discrepancy between supply and demand? It’s a perfect storm – the COVID-19 pandemic momentarily closed computer chip manufacturers in China, all the while self-quarantining necessitated that many employers supply their workers with new computers to work from home.

Further, newfound boredom and free time led U.S. consumers to spend $7.7 billion on video games in December alone – a 25% increase from the previous year – according to NPD Group. Hardware sales accounted for $1.35 billion, the most for a December since 2013, shortly after the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Another consideration is job turnover and the progression of technology. Ordering things online has never been easier, and using bots to trawl the internet in search of scarce products is an increasingly common practice. With countless people facing layoffs and reduced hours at the onset of the pandemic, desperation led many to use scalping as a form of income.

Services like Crep Chief Notify charge members $40 per month for a suite of tools designed to help scalpers get their hands on products and resell them with a hefty upcharge. When the Xbox Series X|S and PS5 were released in November, I frequently saw people attempting to sell them for as much as $1,000 – double the retail price. Lately, $700-$800 seems to be more common.

So scalped prices are down, production is surely up thanks to pandemic restrictions being gradually lifted globally, and, in the past month I spotted the lower-end Xbox Series S actually occupying a shelf in a Walmart. Microsoft’s higher-end Series X and the PS5 remain sold out on a constant basis, but the consumer crisis might finally be nearing its end.

If you’re looking to outwit petty scalpers in the interim regardless, I can offer a few words of advice. There are a multitude of kindhearted individuals on the internet who send restock alerts to their followers so that they may be among those first in line to order one of the new consoles on Walmart, Target, Amazon and other online retailers. They can be found on Twitter – @Jake_Randall_YT, @ChitoGaminYT and @GYXDeals, to name a few.

But what worked for me was downloading a phone app called HotStock, a real-time product tracker. The paid version offers more punctual alerts, but even using the free version sent me a push notification very soon after Best Buy received a sizable shipment of Xbox Series X consoles, and I was off to the races. I successfully reserved one, and a week later I was able to pick up my new machine at my local Best Buy.

As a gaming journalist, you can imagine my excitement at finally acquiring a fancy new console, though I’m more than a touch late to review the Series X itself. I will say this – both Microsoft and Sony’s consoles using solid state drives is no joke, as loading times for games on these machines are preposterously short. By my estimation, loading times are one-eighth of their previous duration.

Between that and increased resolution and frame rates, the primary appeal of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S thus far is experiencing the previous generation’s games at their very best. I’m all for backwards compatibility, but the severe lack of launch titles and continuing lack of compelling new titles has made the opening months of the ninth generation of consoles the least exciting in history.

It’s not like the games aren’t coming – with regards to big-budget titles, the PS5 currently has “Demon’s Souls” and “Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart,” while the Xbox Series X|S has “The Medium” and “Microsoft Flight Simulator.” All of these games are technical marvels, and upon playing them, it becomes obvious why big-budget titles are taking longer and longer to hit shelves.

Perhaps to compensate, indie games have been met with higher demand and increased respect from gamers over the past few years. You’re unlikely to witness hyperrealism and impeccable environmental details in indie titles, but a fun game is a fun game, and when you come down to it, that fun is all that really matters.

I’m enjoying my new console, but I don’t foresee a majority of new titles being exclusive to the new generation for another year at least. Contend with the scalpers or simply wait it out – both are respectable and pragmatic options.

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

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