Gaming

PS5 and Xbox "scalpers" aren't who you think, data analyst reveals

Maybe these aren't the droids you're looking for.

If you’ve fruitlessly tried to track down a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X over the last few months, you’ve likely wondered if the whole system is rigged. The prevailing wisdom holds that scammers are using bots to hoard video game consoles and make a predatory buck off innocent nerds.

Turns out, professional scalpers aren’t as big a factor as you might expect, according to an intriguing new analysis of the secondary market for the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles. A surprising proportion of vendors — roughly 40 percent — sell just one or two consoles on platforms like eBay, StockX, and OfferUp, making them more likely to be an enterprising nana who got lucky on a drop rather than a professional scam artist.

Starting in December, Michael Driscoll, a grad student in computer science with a focus on machine learning at Georgia Tech, used a data scraper to gain insight on the resale markets for high-spec computer components before turning his attention to the PS5 and Xbox. The project was born out of a mix of practicality and procrastination.

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“I've been wanting to upgrade my computer for about a year, for some of the intense coursework I'm doing in school,” he explains. “I started doing this because I had a final exam I didn't want to study for!”

Inverse spoke with Driscoll about his process for collecting this data, his advice to anyone looking to get a next-gen console, and what the months ahead might look like for the secondary market.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Independent analysis indicates that many next-gen game consoles on the secondary market aren't being sold by professional scalpers.Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images

So what exactly is a data scraper, and how does it work?

Basically, I wrote a simple little robot that would go through eBay and copy all the listings, with the prices and dates they sold. It's basically like going to eBay and doing a search for something. Rather than copying and pasting into Excel myself, my little script just copy-pasted all that for me.

Do you have a PS5 or Series X yet?

I do not. I have basically given up because it's been so hard. I don't have time to be watching Discords and stock drops all the time.

What primary differences do you see within the secondary markets for PS5 and Series X?

So there are basically three markets I analyzed for each: eBay, StockX, and OfferUp. eBay is by far the easiest to get data from. Their prices are the highest, but it has a country-wide distribution.

StockX has fees that are almost as high as eBay, but their prices are consistently lower. I believe this is because StockX makes it easier for users to see what the lowest overall selling price is.

I only just recently learned about OfferUp, which is essentially a prettier Craigslist, with a better mobile interface and nicer pictures. It’s also a competitor to Facebook Marketplace. There is no intermediary or fees, so prices are lower.

An evocative moment from Sony's unveiling of the PlayStation 5 on June 11, 2020.Sony

Are people still willing to pay more for a PS5 than a Series X?

Very much so. PS5 is currently going for $800 for the digital version, $850 for the disc version. The Series S is going for about $450-ish, and Series X is going for about $700.

Why do you think more buyers choose the disc-drive model PS5 over the digital?

Looking at my analyses, the difference between the prices for PS5 disc and digital is $50, but the PS4 digital is going for 200 percent of its MSRP, and the disc drive model is 170 percent of MSRP. That tells me people just want a PS5, no matter which model it is.

What would you advise someone who’s looking for a PS5 or Xbox?

Unless there's a game you really want to play — and to me there aren't enough exclusives out yet — just wait. There's no real point. I assume everyone's PS4 backlog is still massive as well. Just play games you already have, and hopefully in a few months there’ll be more supply.

An art installation in London marking the November 2020 launch of the Xbox Series X.Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Xbox UK

Did your analysis give you a clearer sense of how sophisticated scalpers operate?

I have seen some retailers reselling on eBay for a markup. These are websites who I know have connections to the manufacturers to get this stuff at a discounted price.

That’s not to say bots aren’t an issue. There are bots out there, for sure. I’ve seen a bot that you can put on your own personal machine and run it to buy something on Amazon the instant it’s available.

But the main thing is people know there's gonna be a drop at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and you have 100,000 people trying to buy it at exactly the same time.

You note that a significant number of resellers have only sold one or two units. Did that surprise you?

It was a little more than I was expecting. I had expected the scalper market to be worse than it is.

I was expecting it to be a few giants out there selling 90 percent of the merchandise, but it is a lot of people just trying to make an extra buck during these hard times, and I don't necessarily fault them for that. It's when you start seeing people selling like five or 10 when it’s like, all right, this has gone beyond just trying to get a few dollars.

View Driscoll's full PS5 and Xbox resale markets analysis.

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