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Console bundles and restock subscription paywalls are shady — here’s why

Sony PS5 and DualSense Controller
(Image credit: Sony)

PS5 and Xbox Series X console restocks are starting to happen on a regular basis, but something is wrong and no, it’s not scalpers.

Normally, I would be setting my sights on them, but their behaviour is being somewhat encouraged by the shady retailer practices of only offering console bundle deals and hiding their restocks behind subscription paywalls like Walmart+.

Daylight robbery

The most recent restock has happened over here in the UK at GAME, and as you can see from the bundle options available, they are significantly pricey at a time when energy bills are skyrocketing. Alongside that, these bundles artificially inflate the price of the additional accessories and games included in them, which just seems problematic to me.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Let’s do the math on a couple of these. The PS5 disc edition bundled with a red DualSense controller and 3D Pulse headset comes in at £604.97. If you buy these elements separately, the cost would tally up to £591. That’s a £14 premium put on top by GAME by hiding behind Recommended Retail Prices (RRP).

The situation gets worse when you include games. Spider-Man: Miles Morales is currently on sale for £34, but when you break down the cost of the £621.98 PS5 bundle that includes a 3D Pulse headset, the game, and a terrible t-shirt and cap, GAME is easily charging £50-60 for Miles’ adventure.

Maybe I’m just cranky after covering Black Friday and Cyber Monday relentlessly over the past few days, but this is exploitation of demand — pure and simple. While it’s not illegal, it’s certainly a dick move.

Stop making me subscribe to stuff

Like I said, scalpers are the worst, but at least they’re straightforward: they have something you want and will charge you more than the list price to give it to you. It’s a glorified ransom demand, but at least they’re not trying to make you sign up to a subscription service like many retailers have started doing this year.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Walmart+ and Amazon Prime come in at $12.99 a month, and the former has no trial period eligibility. They offer several so-called benefits that you may never use, including Prime Video and free delivery for Amazon customers, and discounted gas and access to deals four hours before regular shoppers for Walmart.

It’s already problematic enough that you’re trying to make people eat metaphorical brussel sprouts alongside the console-shaped Christmas roast dinner, but at least you’re paying for just a month.

Best Buy, on the other hand, has gone all in and is trying to extract a whole $200 from you for access to ordering a console, which also comes with Geek Squad support and exclusive discounts. 

And the kicker? It doesn’t guarantee you a console. In fact, none of these do. You’d hope that in paying for these services, you would get an advantage like a unique link to purchase your console, or an exclusive online queue with a limited back-ordering system if you miss the restock — but no. You’re paying to just turn on that “add to cart” button (if you’re lucky to get through to the page on time). 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

It’s like paying to skip the queue at Splash Mountain, only to join another queue thereafter. You may have a reduced waiting time before getting to the front, but you’ll be left with a bad taste in your mouth after you realise you’ve paid a cover charge that includes something you may not ever use.

What’s the fix?

If there is an opportunity to pick up just the console from these retailers without paying a subscription fee, take it! You’ll see several smaller retailers continue to do things the honorable way, so make sure you do your homework and find retailers like Smyths Toys in the UK or Target in the US.

But of course, these options are limited and say you only have bundles available. Do some calculations before you buy and make sure the retailer is not trying to fleece you.

Yes, there are other retailers restocking through Amazon, but any payment still siphons a little off to Jeff Bezos and do you really want to pay for his penis rocket? This, and the shady business practice of holding your console stock and charging more for a bundle with a naff t-shirt or a subscription service, is the wrong kind of so-called “big dick energy” that I don’t want any part of — and you shouldn’t either.

My final bit of advice: stock is expected to normalise going into Spring/Summer of 2022 and the games available will be greatly expanded. Once that happens, the consumer will have a lot more power in the relationship with retailers. Wait until then to buy and if you’re desperate to game, grab a Backbone One and enjoy some Xbox Cloud Gaming.

Jason England

 Jason brings a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a writer at Laptop Mag. He specializes in finding the best deals to make sure you never pay more than you should for gadgets! Jason takes a particular interest in writing and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. He has previously written for Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.