Journalist, philosophy major and madman scramble for video game consoles

A few seconds before noon on Monday, Jake Randall started encouraging people to watch his YouTube live to start updating the Walmart website on their PC.

At his behest, thousands of people across the country are banging keys ferociously, vying to get to the top of the retailer’s virtual line for the hottest gift this holiday season: a video game console. To increase their odds of success, Mr. Randall recommended that 8,000 viewers of his live stream also be in line through the Walmart app on their phones. As the minutes passed, the lucky few sent snapshots of their purchases to Mr. Randall. Some sent him donations—about $2,000 in total—thanks for his help. Others were unsuccessful. Within an hour, all the consoles were sold out.

Long queues outside retail stores turn into brawls, desperate shoppers are renewing websites in an attempt to beat the bots and cottage industry of people like Mr. Randall’s business tips and make money in the process – this is the state of the video game console market annually after the launch of a new generation of hardware Widely desired during the height of the epidemic. Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, with a list price of $499, and Sony’s PlayStation 5, $399, arrived as the games’ popularity was rising with people staying stuck indoors, and they’ve been in high demand and in short supply ever since.

Now, with the holiday shopping season in full swing, these same devices remain a must-have gift on many a wish list. The result is fierce competition, both from other players and from people who snag as many devices as possible — sometimes using so-called buying bots to snatch them faster than a human can — and then resell them for a purchase twice or even three times the price on websites like eBay. or Facebook Marketplace.

“I grew up playing video games. Everyone wants to be a video game hero,” said Matt Swider, who quit his job in journalism last month and is now sitting in his New York City apartment, and he scans websites hard to send Twitter alerts to his followers when they are. Retailers have consoles for sale.. “The bad guys in this story are the sellers who use the bots in person and online.”

Buying a gaming console this season has proven to be particularly difficult this year. Taking a page from Amazon, retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, and GameStop, in many cases, make consoles available first to those who pay to be part of their membership programs. However, paying Best Buy around $200 a year for a subscription isn’t a guarantee that shoppers will get the console. On top of that, customers follow people on YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, and Discord for tips and updates about stores that might have items in stock or when a console suddenly becomes available on a website for purchase. After that, it becomes a race to beat the robots.

For months, Victoria Garza, a 23-year-old medical student in Harlingen, Texas, has been working hard to find her prize: a limited edition Xbox. She follows channels on Discord and accounts on Twitter that alert her when the console is in stock. She gave her parents her credit card information, so they could buy her an Xbox if she was at work when the console became available. Her dad even drives to the local GameStop every morning to check if there’s anything when the store opens.

She said frustration with her so far fruitless quest for the console is growing. If I got one, she said, “I’ll start crying right away.”

Although consoles were naturally off-putting when they first launched, the rarity seen in the past year is anything but. The problems stem from well-reported global supply chain problems caused by the pandemic, which have made computer chips requiring many devices difficult to obtain.

“We are working as quickly as possible with our manufacturing and retail partners to accelerate production and shipping to keep pace with unprecedented demand,” Microsoft said in a statement. It declined to comment on how many consoles it has sold so far.

Sony declined to comment on the order’s problems, instead citing a Latest blog post by Jim Ryan, the company’s CEO, in which he acknowledged that “inventory limitations remain a source of frustration for many of our customers”.

“Rest assured that we are focused on doing everything we can to ship as many units as possible,” Mr. Ryan wrote. Sony said in its September quarterly earnings report that it has sold 13.4 million PlayStation 5s since its November 2020 release.

David Gibson, chief analyst at Australia-based financial services firm MST Financial, estimated that by the end of the year, Sony will have shipped 19 million consoles since the release of the PlayStation 5, and Microsoft has boosted by about 11 million to 12 million. partly by The release of its main game, Halo. But he said the two companies could have sold more had the pandemic not put pressure on global supply chains. “The gaming hardware market won’t be able to catch up with demand until late 2022, if any,” he said.

Shortly after the PlayStation 5 was first released, Mr. Swider, the US editor-in-chief of TechRadar, a technology review and recommendation website, was frustrated in his own attempts to buy one. So he started tracking and tweeting when he found gaming consoles for sale.

He began getting tips from employees inside retailers like Best Buy and Walmart when a shipment of consoles arrived at individual stores or regional warehouses. At the end of last year, he had 21,000 followers on his Twitter account; Now he has more than a million.

It is estimated that it helped more than 130,000 people acquire a console this year. In return, he hopes to make money by charging subscribers $5 a month for his new Substack newsletter, called “The Shortcut,” which will provide recommendations about technology and tips on how to find a console or other electronics. When his followers use his links to buy items on different retailer’s websites, he can earn a commission, called an “affiliate fee” on those sales.

Randall, another retail investigator, said he doesn’t make money from commissions, but does make money from hours-long YouTube livestreams, which provide hints about when retailers might release consoles, tricks and tips on how to buy one. Mr. Randall, who can’t work a normal job because he has cystic fibrosis, said the streams were more than just helping frustrated parents or gamers get to hot consoles.

“When I do a live broadcast, I get a lot of love and support from the entire community,” said Mr. Randall, 30, who broadcasts outside his studio apartment in Nashua, New Hampshire.

The past week or so, including Black Friday and Internet Monday, has been a hazy activity for many of these tipsters, with retailers off consoles for several months suddenly making thousands available for sale. On Discord servers and across Twitter, posts filled with community language appeared at all times of the day and night, alerting shoppers when there was a “drop” (more products available for sale) from Xbox or shouts of glee when someone “purchased” (purchased) a device. PlayStation 5

Mr. Randall went live at 6 a.m. each day, waiting for what he expected to be a big drop of consoles one morning from Target. Based on information he received from employees within the company — including screenshots of inventory scans — the target is believed to be sitting on a mountain of consoles. (Target didn’t directly respond to a question about their supply of the consoles, but they made a number of the consoles available Thursday morning.)

Some players have used the tips successfully.

Jeff Mahoney, a 38-year-old in Katy, Texas, said he bought at least five PlayStations and two Xboxes by watching the Discord channel run by “Lord Restock,” a 21-year-old philosophy student at the University of Tampa who, when contacted, requested anonymity because he did not want to be targeted online by distributors. After getting a PlayStation for himself, Mr. Mahoney, who works for the accounting firm KPMG, said he was able to buy other hardware for neighbors who wanted holiday gifts for their kids.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, you’re not going to go out and pay $800 to some bot speculator and make life miserable for everyone else,’” he said. “I’m just here to help.”

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