Can’t get a PS5 or Xbox Series X? Blame the bots

Xbox Series X pre-order queue
(Image credit: GameStop)

PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X launched this week, and customers are not happy. Getting your hands on a new console is never easy but past pre-orders weren't as hectic as they were this year.  The coronavirus pandemic is partly to blame, having created a delay on console updates, causing most Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 details to be revealed rather late in year.

There’s also an inability for most consumers to visit a physical store and pre-order the consoles in person. As a result, a vast majority of those attaining next-gen consoles did so online. This influx of online customers revealed how retailer’s websites are not prepared at all to handle the epic demands for such hardware.

This wasn't Sony or Xbox’s fault entirely, but there are certain things each company could have done to ensure the damage of this crisis would be minimized.

PlayStation 5’s unexpected pre-orders 

Sony broadcast its PS5 Showcase Event on September 16, revealing the price and release date of the PlayStation 5. However, nowhere in this event did the company inform viewers when PS5 pre-orders would open. Instead, Geoff Keighley on Twitter revealed that Sony would start taking pre-orders a day after the event.

Keighley then Tweeted that “some retailers may make inventory available today,” putting everyone (including myself) in full panic mode. Sony followed-up by confirming pre-orders would arrive a day after the video event, however, as we quickly learned, that info was wrong. Instead, Keighley's tip was right: retailers like Walmart jumped the gun, posting pre-orders a day early.

This sudden drop forced many of us to scramble onto different websites to try and secure the PlayStation 5. It became so chaotic that even Sony took to Twitter to apologize. “Let’s be honest: PS5 preorders could have been a lot smoother. We truly apologize for that.” This is quite unlike PlayStation, as they typically never address their mishaps publicly. 

However, this is a testament to how badly Sony screwed up. Not only did they fail to inform the public of the accurate time in which pre-orders would drop, but many fans experienced a chaotic connection to retailers and had trouble getting in.

Even Xbox took to Twitter to throw some shade at Sony for not being transparent about when pre-orders open. “Don’t worry - we’ll let you know the exact time pre-orders start for you soon.”

This pre-order mess has resulted in a lot of bitterness, however, it’s not entirely Sony’s fault. Even if the company revealed that pre-orders would go up the day after its video event, it was the retailers that listed them a bit early.

On one hand, it’s possible retailers had PlayStation 5 pre-orders go live earlier than Sony ordered. On the other hand, retailers may not have received a clear date and time for when they should be posted.

If Sony was aware that retailers would put pre-orders up beforehand, they could have ended the show by informing the public that pre-orders would be up shortly afterward. Sure, it still would have been chaotic, but the transparency would’ve helped inform many bewildered consumers.

This is also bizarre because Sony had previously set up pre-order notifications for when the consoles would go live. There was also a promise made that certain PlayStation owners would get access to pre-ordering the console earlier than others.

It’s hard to determine what exactly caused this mess to happen the way it did. Why didn’t Sony inform the public about when pre-orders would go live? Why did retailers list the consoles earlier than expected? And why didn’t Sony stick to its pre-order notification system?

PlayStation 5 launch demand

The PS5 launched today, and with it came a hectic race between consumers to try and order a console online as fast as possible. If you're still trying to snag one, check out our live updates page on where they're still available.

One of the primary launch day vendors for the PS5 is Walmart, and although the company was very transparent about exactly what times the console would go on sale, people still aren't happy. Not only did the Walmart website face an overwhelming number of visitors, but even those lucky enough to make it in time found that the console went out of stock in less than a minute.

It makes you wonder how many consoles Walmart actually had in stock if it sold out this quickly. It's not all Walmart's fault however, as it can't control the number of consoles it has in stock or the number that Sony managed to produce this year.

However, the company could definitely work to improve their system to not overload at the slightest sight of a product in high-demand. Additionally, it would be nice if Walmart worked to put systems in place that could prevent scalpers from programming bots that immediately buy out every PS5 on the shelf.

These scalpers have taken to eBay to try and resell their console for anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500. This is pretty disgusting, but what's more disheartening is that someone will likely buy these out of desperation, continuing to fuel a frustrating and broken system.

Xbox Series X’s exhausting pre-orders 

Remember when Xbox threw shade at Sony for the hectic pre-order launch of the PlayStation 5? Well, the Xbox Series X didn’t do much better. Although the company did keep its promise of informing consumers when pre-orders would go live, the number of issues that occurred, as a result, made snagging a console almost impossible.

Nearly every retailer had an overload on its servers and certain sellers were simply unreachable. Geoff Keighley shared his experience over Twitter, citing how the Microsoft Store was not working for quite some time. Additionally, Best Buy still had the Xbox Series X and S as “Coming Soon” for nearly an hour after everyone else’s pre-orders went live. Walmart, Amazon and Target seemed to have sold out within minutes.

This had many gamers attempting to purchase the console jumping between websites in the hopes of securing a pre-order. Having both systems sell out so quickly was expected, but it was frustrating how many technical issues had occurred. For example, Target kept removing the Xbox Series X from my cart as I tried to checkout.

Informing consumers on the exact date and time for when the pre-orders would go live is definitely the right thing to do, but it resulted in everyone spamming the refresh button until retailer servers overloaded or crashed. It’s becoming quite apparent that these websites were not built to sustain a launch as large as this. We’d expect this from smaller businesses, but not from big-box retailers or online giants like Amazon. 

The worst of these issues don't stem from technical setbacks. The Xbox All Access system allows consumers to pay a monthly fee for their console and Game Pass Ultimate. Unfortunately, many customers attempted to checkout using this method through official retailers that support Xbox All Access but had their credit run without ever pre-ordering the Xbox Series X or Series S. Having a hard credit check could negatively affect credit scores.

Skankin’chaw on Twitter quickly realized this issue. “Many, including myself, tried to go the All Access route with pre-orders yesterday, were given the go on credit check link on MS site, were approved, and then were unable to complete transaction.” 

Klarna, a European banking company, also commented on this issue in a blog post. “When a customer applies for our financing products Klarna performs a hard credit check which can impact your credit score and is visible to other lenders.”

TechRadar reports that “those who had their finance rejected will still have an impact on their credit score.” This is especially worrying because Xbox All Access is meant to be a consumer-friendly alternative for those working with lower budgets. It was supposed to be a great win for accessibility, allowing customers to pay a low monthly fee and get access to both the console and hundreds of games through Xbox Game Pass

Unfortunately, all it seems to have done is impact some consumer’s credit score without them successfully ordering the console. For what it's worth, Klarna says additional credit checks done after the initial check will not impact credit scores. The company is working with affected customers to "ensure a satisfactory outcome for these consumers."

Possible solutions 

With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X running into tons of pre-order trouble, Sony and Microsoft must be wondering how they could smooth this process over in the future. Rather surprisingly, retailers could learn a valuable lesson from GameStop.

Xbox Series X pre-order queue

(Image credit: GameStop)

When consumers launched GameStop’s pre-order page, they were put into a queue before being let onto the website. Once it was their turn, they were able to purchase whatever consoles the store had left.

This was a surprisingly effective way to ensure the website didn’t overload and consumers knew they had an organized spot within the queue. Otherwise, customers are scrambling to secure pre-orders on overloaded sites that don't function properly.

Sony could also have provided an early set of pre-order consoles for those who could verify that they are attached to a PlayStation account with prior purchases. This would be a good way to ensure that your first line of pre-orders goes to actual fans and not bots. Retailers also could have limited the number of purchases per person to one, as scalpers are listings the console on eBay for around $1,000.  

Momo Tabari
Contributing Writer

Self-described art critic and unabashedly pretentious, Momo finds joy in impassioned ramblings about her closeness to video games. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Media Studies from Brooklyn College and five years of experience in entertainment journalism. Momo is a stalwart defender of the importance found in subjectivity and spends most days overwhelmed with excitement for the past, present and future of gaming. When she isn't writing or playing Dark Souls, she can be found eating chicken fettuccine alfredo and watching anime.