Anyone who struggled to find a PlayStation 5 back in 2020 remembers how difficult it was to find the console. Lockdowns snarled supply lanes, and unprecedented demand collided with a microchip shortage to create one of the messiest console releases in recent memory. The system failed to hit store shelves in November 2020, as planned, leaving avid gamers frustrated during the holiday shopping season.
As the chip shortage abated, supply lines cleared up, and supply finally managed to meet demand, many other electronics that spent months on the “out of stock” list have popped back up in stores. The Xbox Series X is finally easy to buy; just pop over to the Microsoft store or into your local game store and you’ll likely find one ready to go. The Nintendo Switch OLED model is in the same boat, fully stocked and ready to get you playing some fun games on the go. Is the same finally happening for Sony’s elusive console?
Thankfully, yes! It looks like the PlayStation 5 might soon be the sort of electronic device you can actually–gasp–purchase when you want to buy one. The online restocks are getting more frequent, and some shoppers have reported even seeing the hard-to-find consoles listed for sale on retailers’ sites.
Why Has It Been This Difficult?
The reasons for the PlayStation 5’s shortage are varied, but they all point back to the same root problem: There weren’t that many microchips available in 2020. Lockdowns convinced automotive manufacturers to reduce their orders for semiconductors, which are required for all electronic devices. Those same lockdowns prevented chip manufacturers from producing their wares at normal speeds. When automakers rescinded their order cancellations and called for the normal volume of chips, it caused a huge bottleneck in the industry.
No matter what kind of electronic device you’re trying to make, you need microchips. They’re vital for regulating the electricity moving through a circuit board, so, without them, electronics will short-circuit and stop working. Creating these semiconductors is time-consuming and complicated, and it’s not the sort of process you can rush through to fill a large order.
Chip manufacturing was slammed by demand in mid-2020 as consumer electronics purchases hit all-time highs. This made it difficult for gaming companies like Sony to access the volume of chips they’d normally need to facilitate a widespread launch for a major console generation. This, coupled with the inability to put the systems in physical retail stores, made the process of getting a system online a nightmare.
Scalpers Show Up
This console shortage wouldn’t have been that big of a deal were it not for the massive demand the lockdowns added to the gaming industry. People stuck at home with nothing else to spend their time or money on largely turned to video games to keep them entertained. Meanwhile, some enterprising people decided to take the opportunity to make a quick buck.
“Scalpers” armed with automated scripts that could buy up the stock of highly sought-after items threw thousands of dollars at retailers like Sony and Amazon to buy up the stock of PS5 systems before they could reach genuine customers. Retailers had little incentive to combat this–after all, a sale is a sale. Then, the scalpers could turn around and list the consoles on secondhand sites like eBay for a considerable markup.
This tactic, while mean-spirited and arguably immoral, is perfectly legal. However, it’s also bad for Sony’s bottom line in the grand scheme of things. After all, the company typically sells new consoles at a loss but recoups the costs with software sales. People who hoard consoles to resell for higher prices don’t buy as much hardware as the dozens (or even hundreds) of people who could have purchased the consoles they scalped.
What Stops Scalpers?
As time has gone on, it’s become more difficult for scalpers to make any money reselling PS5 systems. There are myriad reasons for this, and they range from the obvious to the surprising. On the obvious side of things, there are likely fewer people trying to buy the system now. Many stubborn buyers likely waded through the long online queues to get their hands on a system at retail prices instead of going to secondhand sites to buy marked-up systems.
On the more surprising side, the microchip shortage might finally be relenting. Chip manufacturers have largely filled their backlogged orders and returned to some semblance of normal output, helping companies hit their production targets. This means that Sony can stock more systems and give more customers a chance to buy a PlayStation at normal retail prices.
There’s also been a concentrated effort by some retailers to address scalping practices. Amazon now only allows people to buy a system after receiving an invite to do so, and Sony will only directly sell PS5 systems to people with confirmed accounts who haven’t purchased one already. That’s slowed the rate at which scalpers can scoop up new systems, helping customers immensely.
Was the PS5 Worth the Wait?
Another element of the gaming industry that slowed scalpers’ sales in 2020 and 2021 was the prevalence of cross-generation games. Big-name games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and God of War: Ragnarok were all announced as cross-platform titles that would appear on previous-generation hardware. That made the aging PlayStation 4 an attractive option for players looking to avoid spending upwards of $800 on a secondhand PS5.
Sure, the PS5 offers great graphics and impressive load times, but is that worth a huge monetary investment? For some players, it certainly was. For the vast majority of casual gamers, though, this convoluted purchasing process was enough to get them to wait until the stock issues abated. With the system finally becoming easier to purchase, those, existing PS5 owners are now hoping to see the system get more exclusive games.
The PS5’s hardware is impressive, capable of creating native 4K images, easily targeting 60 frames per second, and even handling advanced lighting protocols like ray tracing. Some of the system’s exclusive titles, like Returnal and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart are among the most beautiful video games ever created. A few fans have even grumbled about God of War: Ragnarok appearing on last-gen hardware, worrying that this will compromise its graphical performance on the PS5.
Where to Find Your Own PS5
If you want to buy a PS5 right now, check the usual spots. Look for restock alerts on Twitter, check Sony’s site for a restock queue, and consider subscribing to a restock alert site. These options can outfit you with the tools you need to see when the system is available for purchase. Some shoppers have also had success in grabbing bundles, usually packaged with a handful of new games like Horizon: Forbidden West.
These bundles are often customers’ best bet because they’re much less attractive to scalpers. For a shopper who wants to buy a new system, paying a bit extra to get a game you were likely already going to buy isn’t a big deal. However, if you’re seeking to purchase a large number of systems just to flip them on eBay, you want to keep your margins as wide as possible. Adding an extra $50 to each console and getting a new game you also have to move is less than ideal.
Consider applying through Amazon for an invitation to purchase a PS5 system. The online retailer gets restocks on the console somewhat frequently, and it’s easy enough to get an alert when you’re allowed into the queue. You can also fill out a form with Sony to have them alert you when you can purchase a new console!
Holiday Season 2022
The biggest question looming for Sony ahead of the third holiday season the PS5 will spend on the market is whether it’s fully addressed the stock shortages. In 2020 and 2021, frustrated shoppers vented about the shortage on Sony’s social media pages and berated the company for being unable to meet demand. The company’s main goal this year should be to get PS5 systems on retailers’ store shelves.
Since the console hit the market in 2020, it’s been a digital-sale-only item. You can’t walk into Best Buy or Target and find one in the video game section. This is frustrating for parents and other holiday shoppers who just want to quickly pick up a system without needing to fuss with online shipping and the labyrinthine process of applying to buy a console you just want to give Sony money for. For some shoppers, the first “out of stock” notice is enough to send them to Nintendo to purchase an OLED Switch console.
There’s only so much that Sony can do on its own to remedy the situation, though. The restocks are lasting longer than ever these days, with some PS5 bundles remaining up for sale overnight. This means shoppers have hours, instead of minutes or even just seconds, to purchase the new device. Hopefully, this means that the worst of the shortages is now behind us, and holiday shoppers can expect to find the system readily available from their favorite retailer in time for the gift-giving season.