On a Saturday in mid-December, Chris Vernon drove as fast as he could to a GameStop in Memphis. He had searched the internet for new PlayStation 5 consoles for weeks and had just heard of a new show arriving at a nearby store. It was the only present his 10-year-old son William wanted for Christmas.
The problem was that many other children across the country were also asking for new video game consoles.
Mr. Vernon, a local sports radio host and podcaster for “The Ringer,” was late. He waited in line for four hours before being told the store was empty. He returned home “dejected” to bring the bad news to William.
Since their eagerly awaited release in November, the new generations of consoles – Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s PS5 – have been in short supply. Gamers have flooded hundreds of thousands of online stores, crashed websites, lined up outside of stores, and shook fists in frustration when scalpers snapped gadgets and then resold them for twice the price.
“It’s completely chaotic,” said Rupantar Guha, an analyst at GlobalData, a UK analytics firm.
Microsoft and Sony wouldn’t report sales for the devices launched during a pandemic-induced surge in games. However, David Gibson, chief investment officer at Astris Advisory, a Tokyo-based financial advisory firm, estimated Sony had sold at least six million PS5s by the end of 2020 and Microsoft had sold three million of the Xbox Series X and the smaller S.
“In many ways, they don’t want to meet demand at first. They want a persistent gap between supply and demand, ”Gibson said. “They want excitement and excitement for a long time.”
Scarcity is typical of new consoles, but the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated it with the closure of factories in China early last year. Then the demand for laptops and other electronics for remote work led to a shortage of chips and other computer parts. Faulty chips also played a role in the supply problems.
Sony declined to comment, instead referring to a November post on Twitter in which the company mentioned the high demand. Microsoft said in a statement that it had also seen high demand and “worked tirelessly with our manufacturing and retail partners to replenish Xbox hardware as soon as possible.”
Mike Spencer, head of investor relations at Microsoft, said in an interview this week that the company had revenue of more than $ 5 billion for the first time in a quarter. Microsoft sold every Xbox unit it had last quarter, he said, adding that supply will likely be restricted until at least June.
According to the NPD Group, U.S. consumers spent $ 7.7 billion on video games in December, up 25 percent year over year. Hardware sales were $ 1.35 billion, most of it since December 2013, when new generation consoles were last launched. (Nintendo’s Switch, which first hit stores in 2017, oversold both the PlayStation and Xbox last month.)
When 42-year-old Mr. Vernon was telling his story of console hunting on his radio show, a listener turned to him with an additional PlayStation. Mr. Vernon drove to the man’s house, bought the console, and surprised William with it days later.
“It was the hardest present for anyone I have ever tried to buy,” Vernon told the New York Times. “It was worth it for this moment.”
One of the most annoying problems is the scalpers. Some use buy bots – also known as “Grinch bots” – to get online offers faster than humans.
“None of these devices reach their customers,” said Guha. “You’re just missing somewhere in between.”
Online scalper groups are demanding credit for the purchase of thousands of consoles, although their number may be excessive. Walmart said in a blog post in December that it blocked more than 20 million bot attempts to purchase PS5s in a 30-minute route in November.
Resellers list consoles on places like eBay and Facebook Marketplace for up to $ 1,000, double what they do in retail stores. Mr. Guha said he saw a PS5 advertised for $ 5,000.
Crep Chief Notify, a UK reseller company that uses scalpers, said they have more than 5,000 customers. The group charges $ 40 a month for a range of tools, advice on reselling items, and access to a server on Discord, a messaging app.
Max Heywood, a 19-year-old British student who is one of the company’s directors, said Crep Chief Notify did not use purchase bots but instead supplied software that monitors online stores and notifies users when new items are in stock.
Bradley Gee, another Crep chief executive officer, backed off criticism for helping people resell the consoles at higher prices.
“To be completely honest, it’s the base supply and demand,” said 21-year-old Gee. “There are millions of consoles. If you haven’t got one, it’s unfortunate. “
He added, “We’re just helping members secure them. You can then do whatever you want with the console. “
To beat scalpers, shoppers follow Twitter accounts that announce when stores like Target, Walmart, and Best Buy are getting new shipments. And a group of college students have seen keen interest in a free browser extension they created to notify people when digital stores are replenishing.
More than 100,000 people have installed OctoShop, a Google Chrome extension created by five students from schools in Texas and Pennsylvania. Rithwik Pattikonda, a computer science major at the University of Texas, said the idea for a shopper came during the toilet paper shortage at the start of the pandemic. It turned into a tool for outsmarting scalpers chasing consoles.
“The goal is to give power to ordinary people,” said 20-year-old Pattikonda. He added that several thousand people have said OctoShop helped them get a console.
For many, however, the search has been unsuccessful.
Shannon-Leigh Bull from Warwickshire, England has been trying to surprise her boyfriend with a new PlayStation since November.
“Sometimes you wait more than an hour and you finally get through and it sells out,” said Ms. Bull, 22 ,. “It’s like you destroyed your dreams thinking and hoping you would actually get one.”
“I want to give up and I will never get it.”
Karen Weise contributed to the coverage.