Here we are again: the anticipation for a new console generation has led to another terrible preorder experience for excited gamers. Now that hardware launches have moved online and the party atmosphere of lining up outside of stores is a thing of the past, the “first-come-first-serve” model has become entirely obsolete for products like these, around which entire communities of gamers are built. If retailers can’t figure out how to handle the debut of new gaming hardware as a celebratory, twice-in-a-decade event that doesn’t turn gamers’ enthusiasm into frustration and disappointment, next time the console makers need to step up and handle the first waves of preorders entirely themselves.
To recap: PlayStation 5’s preorder rollout was complete chaos. First, Sony inexplicably failed to announce when retailers would begin taking orders during its launch date and price reveal presentation held on September 16. Shortly after, its official Twitter account posted that preorders would start the following day at the earliest… but that turned out to be incorrect; less than two hours later, Walmart posted a gloating tweet and went live with its preorders.
Pandemonium ensued as those who happened to see the unexpected announcement rushed to get their orders in, every other online retailer followed Walmart’s lead, and all of them either sold out their stock within minutes or their websites collapsed entirely under the load. Some people weren’t able to load retail sites at all, some were able to add consoles to their carts only to have them vanish, and some got to the checkout stage but weren’t able to actually make the final purchase.
Worst of all, this mad dash for preorders left everybody who took Sony at its word and let their guard down completely out of luck with the first round of orders. It was especially egregious because Sony had explicitly promised that preorders would not be a surprise. Well… surprise!
To Microsoft’s credit, when it opened its preorders on September 22 at pre-announced times, it prevented Walmart and everybody else from jumping the gun. Even so, every online store – including Microsoft’s own – still buckled under the assault of thousands of gamers and scalpers’ automated bots slamming their servers at once, leading to much of the same frustrating fiasco we saw at checkout with the PlayStation 5. It was still a mess; the difference is that the mess happened right on schedule.
Confirmed Xbox Series X Games
The end result in both cases was a whole lot of disappointed gamers – including numerous celebrities and gaming personalities with plenty of clout – grousing about being unable to secure a preorder. This very public negativity at what should be an exciting moment should be hugely embarrassing to both console makers.
To be fair, it’s a difficult problem to solve: there are only so many consoles to go around and millions of gamers out there who would eagerly throw their money at Sony and Microsoft to get one. And not only are all those actual people tripping over each other to be first in line, there’s a horde of soulless bots attempting to order as many consoles as possible for the purpose of reselling them at a markup.
Confirmed PlayStation 5 Games
Scalpers are a huge hurdle. For one thing, they’re smart: a simple “Are you a human?” captcha is all too easy for a sophisticated botmaker to defeat. For another, it’s difficult to persuade a retailer like Amazon, Walmart, Target, GameStop, or Best Buy that they should be picky about who’s buying their console inventory – after all, as far as they’re concerned a scalper’s money spends just as well as the rest of ours. A one-per-customer limit is the most effort any retailer has implemented – and again, that’s an easy enough rule to sidestep. But Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo should absolutely be concerned about this for their next launches, since it only leads to their actual fans getting taken advantage of.
So, how do you handle preorders in a reasonably fair way? I believe Sony was on to something with its invite system, which allowed PlayStation users were able to sign in with their PSN ID and sign up for invite-only preorders. However, as someone who signed up early and never even got an email about it I feel that system has a long way to go as well.To improve upon it, Sony would’ve had to reserve the entire first wave of stock to distribute itself instead of relying on retailers. This would also allow for the ability to screen out resellers. For example, back when live concerts were still a thing, the music industry had some experimental answers for the scalping problem that involved verifying fans as actual people before allowing them to purchase tickets. Some of those efforts led to a significant drop in tickets that ended up on resale sites.
Console makers could absolutely do something along these lines: they already have a ton of data about each of their existing loyal customers, including how much they actually play, how many games they buy, and their trophies and achievements. Allowing people to register for preorders immediately after a console is announced, then screening those against the actual use of those gamers’ accounts and notifying qualifying customers when the first preorders became available, would help ensure that the early rounds of new consoles ended up in the hands of the most enthusiastic fans. True, it would make it harder for a first-time console buyer to get in on the day-one action, but if I were Microsoft or Sony and had to pick, I know who I’d prioritize for that privilege. One way or the other, early adopters tend to be die-hard fans anyway, and a system like this would make the experience much smoother for everyone involved – including managing the expectations of those who don’t qualify for the first round.
Would this eliminate console scalping entirely? Of course not – there’s nothing stopping even a superfan from flipping their launch-day unit to make a few bucks, knowing they can just buy another one later and pocket the difference. But it would cut down on abuse significantly and end competition with bots for the first wave of consoles. Once that’s done and the crowd that’s eager to get a console on or near day one is at least largely satisfied, console makers could start distributing units to retailers.
Naturally, I’m sure those retailers wouldn’t be happy about losing out on their cut of the first wave of sales – but it would be a consequence of their own unwillingness to provide a good experience for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo’s most enthusiastic fans. After all, day-one consoles belong in their hands above all.
Dan Stapleton is IGN’s Reviews Editor. You can follow him on Twitter to hear gaming rants and lots of random Simpsons references.
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