(Pocket-lint) - It hasn't exactly flown under the radar here in the UK that the PS5's launch was absolutely beset by bots and resellers buying up stock and turning them around for profit later - we've seen stories of reselling groups with thousands of consoles, and there are plenty of angry consumers to go around.
We talked to one such Birmingham-based reseller this week, whose name we've changed to Jack, to get a sense for how people get into such a technically legal but terms-of-service shredding market - how high the barrier to entry is, and what launch was like on the other side of the coin.
His takeaways, unsurprisingly, were relatively scathing in the direction of retailers, which his community of resellers, gathered on a Discord group, found largely unprepared for the easily predicted demand they were hit with at launch.
Getting into the game
It's a community that Jack discovered, as many do, after getting into the sneaker market - many of the bots that nabbed Xboxes and PS5s in recent weeks are actually re-tooled sneaker scripts. Just like others getting more public press, his group also secured what's "got to be thousands" of consoles between pre-order and launch units.
After getting four consoles himself when pre-orders went live, each through manual means, Jack set about getting ready for launch-day stock. That meant, in practice, buying up the use of bots and proxies through connections on Discord, and choosing where they'd target come launch.
If that sounds hyper-technical, he says "it's one of those things where once you get into it, it becomes very clear." The Discord community helps newbies set stuff up, to avoid situations where someone "wastes a load of money on proxies" and badmouths the process. If people make money without too much hassle, more people will buy bots and the developers who act as the beating heart of reseller communities will continue making more and more money themselves.
Most communities can be found by carefully watching Twitter, he says -"you kind of have to gamble a bit on joining a group and finding one on Twitter, but I think Twitter always has been and always will be one of the best resources for releases like this because you've got your chronological timeline". If you're let in, the simplest step is to simply pay another reseller to run a bot for you - for a fee of around £50, you'll have bought a far higher chance of getting a console than your average consumer, with a risk of detection and cancellation to go with it.
From there things have a steeper learning curve, but the picture Jack paints still summons some dismay - this isn't something that's hard to get into if you're relatively comfortable using computers and browsing the web, which is hardly the highest bar to clear. That said, there is still an undeniable risk to be taken at some point when card details need to be handed over, and addresses (and mates' addresses) detailed.
Those risks don't disappear when you've got a console either - resellers regularly have their time wasted by frustrated non-buyers (something that's easy to see the satisfaction in), which can be harmless but can make them feel vulnerable while it's happening. In turn, he's heard about a reseller who was apparently stabbed during a handover this week, showing that more unacceptable levels of anger are bubbling away at scalpers.
That doesn't mean there's much remorse to be found on their side - Jack clearly doesn't feel there's anything morally wrong with buying up stock like this. If it's anyone's fault, it's the stores for their lack of measures to stop them.
Target the weaklings
In Jack's case, leading up to launch John Lewis seemed a safe bet to have lower protection against bots, given its weaker connection to the gaming scene and assumed lack of preparedness. Finding only one bot that was able to target the site made him more sure that it was a good choice. That suspicion was borne out by 12 completed orders on launch day, four of which were later cancelled. That's 8 consoles secured, plus the four from pre-orders to total up at 12.
Other sites, like Game and Curry's, used queueing systems that stymied more, but not all, bots - some had what Jack called a "queue-skip", which is as advantageous as it sounds, while Tesco seemingly moved its PS5 launch onto a third-party site to avoid crashing any of its other services. That tactic drew "admiration" from Jack and his ilk, but normal buyers would probably point out that it didn't make it any easier to buy a console without cutting the line.
One of the biggest challenges, it turns out, isn't running enough bots to have a chance at getting plenty of consoles, but in having enough cards and addresses to complete orders - Jack namechecks fintech darlings like Revolut and Monzo to explain how he can have had 12 virtual cards ready to go, but delivery addresses generally need borrowing from friends and family.
It'll get worse before it gets better
With consoles going for between £800 and £850 at the moment, that's a large enough profit as it stands right now, most people would agree. Sadly, though, Jack's view is that things aren't going to get any cheaper - with more stock waves before Christmas looking likely to disappear just as quickly, as people get closer to the holiday demand is going to go up, and Jack is of the view that £1,000 will be the minimum going rate in the couple of days before Christmas itself.
While he's just a fairly experienced reseller, not a market analyst, looking at his estimations on PS5 stock so far, and how they've turned out, you probably wouldn't bet against him being right. That's dispiriting to consider, whatever windfall it means for the canny minds in Jack's reselling Discord.