Every gamer tries to keep with the current trends. When a new game releases, they are there. When a new piece of hardware releases, gamers once again appear to spend their hard-earned cash. When a new generation of consoles releases, all hell breaks loose. Soon people are swarming all over the internet and attacking retail associates to get their hands on the new tech. Through all of that chaos, there is one type of individual that is almost universally despised… The Scalper. Scalpers don’t care about feelings, they don’t care about how much of a budget someone is on, and they certainly don’t care about the money someone tirelessly saved. They only care about one thing… Money. Many gamers are rising up again to tell scalpers to go away, but the real question should be, should it be illegal?
Everyone knows who a scalper is. They buy high demand items in bulk and then resell them at a profit on sites like eBay and Amazon. Currently, if someone doesn’t want to wait around hoping that they get one, a PS5 on eBay ranges from $500 (for the digital edition) all the way up to $1,500. What’s even crazier is that people are willing to buy them instead of wait until demand decreases. This fuels the power that scalpers have. So, the other question is how do we stop scalpers from gaining so much power and get consoles into the hands of people who deserve them?
Is It Illegal?
In short, no. While areas have taken notice of scalping tickets, this type of law has not been expanded to stop people from scalping other items. Each year, items like consoles, collectibles, and games, get resold at higher values than they are worth. Companies do little to prevent this action from happening. So far, Sony has implemented an account access process on their website. This has made it so a person must have a PlayStation account in order to buy a system. Their website is also one of the few that has not crashed thanks to its online waiting room.
Other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have not been as hard on scalpers. They require little to no proof that a buyer is a real person other than a simple CAPTCHA. This has enabled scalpers to more effectively buy products and stockpile them. Some of these scalpers have even been outlandish enough as to post pictures of their PlayStation and Xbox consoles stacked up to the ceiling. Thanks to these scalpers, and the pandemic, more people are noticing the difficulty and want to take action. But how do scalpers beat the lines so easily?
Bots are something any normal person comes across when taking that online shopping journey around the mall that is the internet. ChatBots appear on retail screens to answer questions that people might have about products or shipping. Bots send automatic text messages or emails to confirm orders. They even send information about the shipping of the item, letting customers know that their product is on its way. The Bots used by scalpers are a little different.
Scalper Bots have one focus: get in, buy as much as possible, and get out before being noticed. The site, DataDome stated in an article that “Scalpers use automated software to position themselves at the start of the queue and snap up coveted items within seconds after they are released for sale.” That’s right, before someone gets in a queue, scalpers are already at the front of the pack. The use of bots allows them to mix up data signals and acquire multiples of the same item well before a normal person can get their hands on it.
Sneakers are a huge market, but why talk about them here? Well, like consoles, sneakers are bought and sold frequently. Limited edition pairs come out all the time and avid collectors try to snag a pair to add to their collections. These highly coveted items used to fall victim to the same treatment that consoles and other collectibles get. They used to be bought by scalpers and sold for as much as four times the standard amount. In the past few years, however, shoe companies have taken some interesting action against Bots.
Nike, a fan favorite shoe company, partnered with the restaurant Momofuku for one release. During this release, buyers had to scan a menu from the restaurant to prove they were a real person. Other companies have tried using their own Bots to help prevent the use of Scalper Bots. Some companies now use a raffle system to help get more real people on the websites purchasing their sneakers. That’s not all. Thanks to the number of Bot attacks the sneaker market has had, the government took notice and tried to sign into law the Stopping Grinch Bots Act of 2018. The proposed law would make it illegal to use bots to purchase high-value items for resale use. Needless to say, the law hasn’t gone through yet or we may not even be having this conversation. That doesn’t mean it won’t go through in the future.
The Best Defense
With the law not being on our side and scalper using every possible trick in the book to snag consoles before anyone else, the real question is why even try? Legislation may never come to declare the usage of Bots to be illegal. Not even stores are truly on a gamer’s side. Stores typically have an anti-Bot section in their agreements but never follow through on them. Gamers could get lucky like the sneaker world did and a pioneer of Bot technology may come to help ordinary people use Bots to even the playing field, but that may not happen either. So that brings us back to the question, why even try?
Brought about earlier this year and talked about in a recent article on GamingIntel, a new Chrome extension has been released called Octoshop. This extension tracks items online and gives notifications to the user whenever a selected item goes back on the market. Prices can be adjusted to avoid getting scalped items and the frequency that each site is checked can be adjusted to be constant or every hour. It is a great tool to use to help the ordinary person beat the bots. For the future, petitions have gone around to help get the ball rolling on the Anti-Bot legislation in Congress. Maybe we will all see a better buying experience by the time the next console generation rolls around.