- The PlayStation 5 launched this week in Europe and the United Kingdom, and customers encountered many of the same issues they faced in the US: The console was sold out near-instantly at most retailers.
- The only way to get a PlayStation 5 at launch was through a preorder, but some retailers sold PS5 consoles digitally on a first-come, first-served basis.
- A robust resale market for the coveted new game console is at least partially to blame, and that market is dominated by groups that work collectively and use "bots" to buy up as much stock as possible.
- The manager of one such group told Business Insider that his group is responsible for thousands of PlayStation 5 purchases headed for resale. "You have to put the work in otherwise you literally don't stand a chance," he said.
- Resellers boasting dozens of PS5 consoles have popped up on eBay, StockX, and Instagram, and they appear to have used the same type of retail-busting software that sneaker resellers use to get the latest Yeezys.
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After months of anticipation, Sony's PlayStation 5 is finally available worldwide as of this week.
Thursday marked the second and final wave of launches for Sony's new game console, which included the critical PlayStation markets of Europe and the United Kingdom.
Because of the pandemic, millions of people turned to digital storefronts to purchase the new console. But that proved impossible for many, just as it was in the United States the week prior: Customers tried and failed to order the PS5 through a variety of retailers.
"Overall, I feel like it would be easier to get one of Willy Wonka's golden tickets," a woman in London told the Financial Times of her experience.
Meanwhile, on the popular chat app Discord, reseller groups with thousands of members were organizing to buy as many PlayStation 5 consoles as possible for resale. "Our total collective number is 2,472 PS5 consoles across all of our members," a manager of one such UK-based group named CrepChiefNotify told Business Insider.
That's in addition to "just under 1,000" PlayStation 5 pre-orders from back in September, when Sony initially opened sales, he said, meaning the group sourced nearly 3,500 consoles to sell to customers searching for the next-gen console.
How were they so successful? "We knew where to go before they announced it," a manager at CrepChiefNotify said.
How resale groups beat normal consumers
CrepChiefNotify, made up of 12 staffers, charges a subscription for access to its services starting at £29.99 (~$40) and going up to £399.99 (~$530). Paying members get access to a variety of services intended to facilitate the purchase of highly sought after products that can be resold, often for a handsome profit.
A 33-year-old manager named Tom, who goes by the handle "Cibbers," said that his group competes with other such groups to see who can snag the most of, say, a new pair of Yeezys, or the PlayStation 5.
Beyond the core management group of 12, members number in the thousands, Tom said. The upstart subscription business is "just over a year" old.
Though the group's background is in sneaker reselling, its scope has broadened during the coronavirus pandemic as consumer interests have shifted across the year. Hot tubs, for instance, became a hot item at one point.
"During the first COVID-19 lockdown, we noticed a huge shift in products that people were buying," he said. "The focus shifted towards the most ridiculous things, like outdoor hot tubs. We noticed that these began selling out in stores, and reselling on eBay for a profit. So our developer wrote some site monitor software, and we tracked the stock of the sites selling hot tubs! Every time they pinged into stock, we would notify our members to buy it all."
As Sony and Microsoft geared up for their big PlayStation and Xbox console launches in mid-November, the reseller group was also preparing. With UK retail outlets closed due to a new coronavirus lockdown, Tom said his group was "watching all the sites for when they drop stock" and "running bots for members to almost 100% guarantee at least one PS5."
Beyond monitoring retail sites, the group used the same type of software designed to circumvent wait times, jump queues, and rapidly purchase high-demand items that's used to snag Yeezys and the latest Supreme drops: "bots" that are able to buy items faster than any human being could.
"Bot developers have seen the demand rise for next-gen consoles," Tom said, "and have changed their focus from being sneaker focused bots into multi-use bots for electronics too."
Those bots were at least partially responsible for repeatedly crashing Walmart's website when PS5 stock has been replenished, just as they're at least partially responsible for why it's so hard to find a PlayStation 5 right now.
Given the high prices and steep learning curves of bot use, the group offers, "botting guidance and access to our in-house bot-slots" as part of its paid membership. Still, Tom said that the "vast majority" of his group's members "were actually purchasing manually" - unassisted by a retail-breaking bot.
In other words: The kind of person using a bot is likely to be a full-time reseller rather than the average person trying to pick up a PlayStation 5 for personal use when they're high in demand. "To buy one just for a specific drop is pretty foolish," he said, "because you'll most likely fail."
The payoff can be huge, however, if you're able to succeed.
"My bot came through," one reseller said on Twitter, with a photo of what appeared to be more than a dozen PlayStation 5 consoles. "Let me know who needs a #PS5 #Playstation5 If you haven't secured dm me selling both digital and disc."
That same reseller was selling the $500 PlayStation 5 model for $1,100 and the $400 model for $900.
Those markups aren't wildly outside the spectrum of market value: The sneaker-resale website StockX had the $500 model selling for just shy of $900 as of Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, for the many people who were unable to buy a PlayStation 5 at launch, it's unclear when you'll be able to get one.
Sony is selling the new game console directly to consumers, but the resupply drops are sporadic. GameStop said it would have consoles available for sale in stores on Black Friday, November 27, but the only guaranteed quantity is limited to two consoles per store. Walmart is also offering sales on Black Friday, but the console will be available only through the web store once again. Best Buy, meanwhile, has said it won't have any additional PlayStation 5 consoles for sale throughout the rest of the holiday season.
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