PS5 and Xbox Series X

CNET

Getting your hands on the latest, greatest gadget is always a bit of challenge, but the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are on another level. Since the products’ launch in late 2020, thousands of game fans have found buying into the new generation of game consoles to be little more than an exercise in frustration. The consoles are almost perpetually out of stock. When stores do have inventory, they sell out within minutes.

Worse still, it’s been this way for months — and it’s no mystery why. Resellers have made a cottage industry out of deploying small armies of shopping bots to purchase high-demand items to later resell at a higher price. If you can find a PS5 in store, you’d pay $499 for a version with a disc drive. Buy it from a scalper online, and it can set you back as much as $999.

It’s an issue that plagues game console sales, high-end computer parts and even the sneaker industry. It’s also a practice almost universally hated by average consumers.

Yet the resellers are tired of being seen as the bad guys. According to a new piece in Forbes, many scalpers see the backlash to reselling as unjustified. “All we are acting as is a middleman for a limited-quantity item,” one reseller told the publication. “Essentially every business resells their products.” The scalper, identified only as Jordan, said nobody complains when a grocery store buys milk from a farmer and resells it for twice as much.

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Walmart

That’s true, but at the same time, there aren’t entire groups like Jordan’s dedicated to monitoring all milk shipments and buying up stock before the average consumer can. Specifically, Jordan tells Forbes he runs a private “cook group” that advises scalpers on how to best acquire in-demand items like the PlayStation 5. The group monitors hundreds of sites for inventory restock and sends its users, complete with their armies of bots, to snap up as many consoles as possible.

This takes thousands of consoles off the open market, ultimately making it even harder for average buyers to get their hands on the new generation of gaming hardware. Still, Jordan and other scalpers see themselves as a plus in the equation. 

“The whole group came about near the start of the first UK lockdown and it makes me so happy that I can help people make some extra money for themselves,” Jordan told Forbes. “We do a lot for charity as well,” he added, noting that some of the fees he charges to members of his scalping group go to a local food bank.

For many average gamers, however, these rationalizations probably don’t mean much. The PS5 and Xbox Series X are still nearly impossible to find at their retail price points, and sellers like Walmart say they’re constantly trying to deflect bot purchases in favor of legitimate customers.

Unfortunately, the problem probably is not going away anytime soon. Bot-powered resellers have become a fact of life for high-demand products. And if the Forbes piece is any indication, scalpers behind those operations don’t seem to feel bad about it at all.



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