Despite manufacturing more consoles for Play Station 5’s launch than the previous generation, getting a PS5 in Australia today was always going to be the lottery from hell.
A lot of blame has been laid at Sony’s feet for not making enough supply available, but to be clear, I genuinely don’t think there is a whole lot the company could have done. 2020 has been a rolling preview of just how difficult it’s been to get any new piece of technology, especially luxury recreational gadgets like a PS5. Or an Xbox Series X. Or a PC graphics card.
And it’s not just because there was pent up demand from everyone who missed out during the pre-order phase for PS5 or Xbox Series X. The supply issue has been on the cards all year, practically since February when the coronavirus ground the global manufacturing and logistics chain to a halt.
Remember when copies of Ring Fit Adventure were a few hundred dollars more expensive thanks to scalpers, half a year after the game’s release? That wasn’t that long ago. Supplies of the Nintendo Switch slowed — the Animal Crossing Switch console was delayed in some territories because Nintendo simply couldn’t produce enough.
That wasn’t helped by the creation of Bird Bot, an automated bot that was built by a 16-year-old. And it’s not like resale/scalper bots are new — they’ve been a thorn in the side of the sneaker world for ages. And thanks to the pandemic, many of those communities (or cooking groups, as they’re sometimes called) turned their eyes to tech and video games.
sneaker groups still out there cookin switch stuff for resale pic.twitter.com/rvFCuv3Vd6— Luke Plunkett (@LukePlunkett) May 2, 2020
The global pandemic has also pushed a lot of people into a corner, or made them realise how easy it is to take advantage of the scarcity of tech. We already saw how ridiculous things got with Nvidia’s RTX cards, and AMD is already facing a similar issue with demand around its new Ryzen processors.
Still, some websites and retailers really could have done a lot better. Most stores gave everyone advance notice of when their online PS5 pre-orders — which was a directive from Sony, and a very practical COVID-safe one at that — would go live.
That was better than some stores, which didn’t announce when their pre-orders would drop at all. Amazon Australia sent out automated emails late last night, with the floodgates opening early Thursday morning unannounced. And when I mean unannounced, I mean unannounced to the point of not sending out email or push notifications via their mobile app, catching everyone by surprise.
Annoying for customers, but at least regular people were able to actually buy consoles at the end of the day. Other websites didn’t even get that far. The Gamesmen — which was always going to have a rough day given they’re an independent retailer and nowhere near the size of Amazon — crashed so often that they ended up posting a lead capture form instead.
Big W pulled their pre-orders entirely, redistributing the load onto everyone else. Nobody knows what’s happened with Target yet; listings are live for the PS5 remote and DualSense controller, but not the consoles themselves. Kogan’s stock still hasn’t materialised. EB Games didn’t participate at all, but they’d already allocated first, second and third waves of consoles back in September.
So that meant even places like JB Hi-Fi — which is one of the biggest websites in Australia, along with being one of the biggest retailers — couldn’t handle the load. The retailer said their site was “experiencing technical issues” but hasn’t provided an update since lunch time.
And if that wasn’t bad enough? Have a look at Gumtree.
Yup, you guessed it. That’s just a heap of crappy smart phone photos of retail PS5 boxes. Some of them are especially grating, like the “PRICE REDUCED” digital console for $1150. That’s the Digital Edition console that’s selling for $599 locally. Some of the full-size consoles? $1300, $1400 and more. (One listing even has both the Xbox Series X and PS5 for $3000, along with an extra controller and a couple of games.)
And to be fair, there’s really nothing that can be done here. This is completely and entirely legal, and the only way to combat it is on the supply side. But Sony can’t just create extra consoles out of thin air. It’s months and sometimes a year or more of preparation and negotiation. Sony doesn’t own the silicon foundries, so they also have to compete against companies like Apple, other mobile phone manufacturers, firms like Nvidia and AMD — who use TSMC’s 7nm silicon wafers not just for consoles, but their own GPUs and CPUs. Even Intel is using external foundries these days, thanks to all the problems they’ve had with their own process.
Now add COVID and its effect on deliveries. Add the fact that lockdowns have caused people to spend months searching for joys to tide them over — like a Switch or a PS4. Some of those people missed out, so naturally they were just as eager for a PS5 or Xbox Series X as everyone else, and demand went through the roof. Even PC components that were supposed to be tailing off earlier this year ended up having a massive surge in demand. People doubled down on PCs and home office equipment, and if you’re going to write the cost of upgrading your gear off on tax anyway, why not get a nicer GPU or monitor?
But it’s not just an Australian thing. You can’t unring the bell of bots and cooking groups; this is just going to be a modern way of life for consumer tech. There is no human, physical way to counter the speed and efficiency of these creations, or the groups that coalesce around them.
The only real way to combat it is on the manufacturing side, by creating such an enormous mass of supply that reselling something like a PS5 or Xbox Series X loses all its allure. But the impact of 2020 would have never allowed that. So even if sites like The Gamesmen weren’t utterly bombarded into submission, or national retailers like Big W didn’t have sudden dramas that forced them to pull pre-orders at the last minute, there still wouldn’t have been enough supply.
This, sadly, is just the way things are going to be.