Like most modern gamers, I have to work in order to fund my habit. Unfortunately, it’s also a job where I can’t divert my attention for a moment. This means, like many, that I miss out on what I call, “time sensitive” deals. Concert tickets that go on sale at 9am often mean I just don’t go for example. But my biggest bug bear, is video games. Like many I am left with the option of going without, or succumbing to the will of the scalper.
Scalpers are garnering a huge amount of attention recently, obviously for all the wrong reasons. Whether it’s a new console, the latest trading card game or a collector’s edition of a video game. People seem to be jumping onto whatever bandwagon they think will generate a profit. Only for a large proportion to sit on eBay at exorbitant price points. So what is the answer? Well funnily enough I may have some thoughts…
So what is the issue?
Scalping has been an issue in some industries for a really long time. But the advent of the internet, and specifically more recent advances in technology, have made scalping easier. Altering supply and demand to resell at an inflated price is now feasible for anyone with a smart device!
The introduction of automated “bot” software designed to buy up large swathes of product has meant scalpers don’t even need to be sat at a device to get the job done. Combined with apps that identify resale value and rates and you have the ability to flip pretty much anything.
This isn’t a new problem for video game fans. Often the big consoles and games have fallen foul to people trying to jump on the publishers FOMO (fear of missing out) bandwagon by buying up collector’s editions, latest consoles or even just copies of a highly desired game on day 1. The most recent examples are the launch of the PS5 and Xbox X series for example.
Is it getting worse?
The issue has hit the news more recently that’s for sure. With news outlets frequently reporting shortages of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles on release, with the currently more in demand PS5 still having shortages to date. But there have been other just as high profile cases hitting media outlets recently.
The rise in cryptocurrency, and in turn cryptomining, has meant that a huge demand has been placed on graphics cards that provide the most efficient return for those intent on taking Doge to the moon. However, with a surge in demand comes the scalpers. Crawling out of the warehouse woodwork to snap up any and all before redistributing them at a premium. Because no one should be allowed to pay RRP.
Even the tabletop gaming world isn’t safe. Reports recently showed that stores such as Target and Walmart in the USA were restricting sales, and in some cases stopping sales completely, of Pokemon and other trading card games. Video footage regularly showed crowds of people swarming aisles, picking up case after case. Fighting was visible and frankly the scenes at times were reminiscent of Black Friday, or that one Christmas where everyone wanted a furby!
What’s causing it?
So what has caused the apparent upsurge in scalping? Well to be honest, it’s entirely possible that there isn’t an increase. It’s just we are becoming more aware, and importantly, less tolerant of it. However, there are some possibilities.
The recent pandemic has certainly played a part. Whether in providing more people with the opportunity to turn a “quick buck” or by us spending more time indoors. Firstly, with more time spent at home, we are spending less on commuting to work. With a combination of reduced costs and more time, people could certainly turn their attention to flipping products through Amazon or eBay.
There’s even the argument that with us spending more time indoors and consuming more content. We are noticing that we can’t order the latest games and tech straight away whereas normally, we wouldn’t have rushed because we were busy with whatever was going on. There’s clearly been a greater demand for content and tech over the last year or so and shortages were inevitable.
So whats being done?
The real issue is that this isn’t something that will just go away. Indeed, the recent cases of next gen consoles and graphics cards have pushed the UK government to look into a change in the law. Previously, the use of bots was a huge concern for purchasing concert tickets. A lot was driven by the fact that tickets had to be purchased months in advance and no consideration was given to people with a genuine need to cancel. This meant the only way to recoup any lost revenue was reselling.
More recently, the law was changed along with companies adopting official resale outlets. The combination of these two meant that the use of bots were illegal and legitimate fans could sell their tickets back at face value, with a small added fee for costs at most. This ensured that tickets stayed in the hands of fans as much as possible. But even with these measures in place, scalping still takes place. So what lessons can we apply to video games?
The obvious answer would be, “Don’t buy it then.” And yes, I would agree with this dear reader. The problem is that there is always someone willing to “take a hit”. Whether it’s a parent wanting to make that birthday / Christmas extra special or just someone with the disposable income. There is always someone willing to pay the inflated price, unless restrictions are put in place to prevent it.
Giving scalpers a sense of… dread?
So I was quickly brought back to the issue of scalping when I wanted to pre order my copy of Metroid Dread. Normally, I am of the persuasion of “If it’s available when I can afford it then great, but if not, I’ll wait.” But with Metroid Dread, I already knew I wanted the collector’s edition. Having done the same with the previous title from Mercury Steam and Nintendo, Samus Returns.
In fact, the Metroid series is a bit hilarious when considered in isolation. A series that has frequently had rumours and mentions of being cancelled if sales don’t increase is often a target for scalpers upon release. In fact, if you try and grab a copy of Samus Returns for the 3DS now, you will be lucky if you can get it at MSRP. With most copies being sold on eBay for in excess of £50! This was a title that, not until recently was being sold at a discount at some UK retailers!
So what is the answer then?
In fairness, a lot has been done by companies to reduce the number of units being sold to any one person. The problem is that these are often circumvented somehow, which means stores have to work hard to try and outfox the scalpers.
There’s also the obvious answer of preventing the reselling of certain items through sites like eBay and Amazon. But again, these come with their own issues. What incentive is there for these sites to prevent something in which they are profiting hugely from? It also is more likely to drive sales to other sites who would allow it, and even drive sales onto a proverbial black market. But it has certainly worked for the live music industry, so it’s certainly an avenue worth exploring.
Finally there is a possible idea from an unlikely source. As someone who enjoys playing tabletop games, I’ve been kept abreast of the new products from Magic: The Gathering. Titled “Secret Lair”, the product advertises itself as made to order rather than pre-order. A set period of time is given for fans to order the product and payment can be made at anytime up to dispatch. This enables fans to plan for and order the product they want, without being price gouged. The exclusivity of a collector’s edition can also be maintained as once fans have purchased the product they want, the window need not be reopened. Its not scalping if everyone who wanted a product on day 1 is able to get it!