The Christmas gamer drought: games everywhere but no console to play them on

More than a year after Sony and Microsoft launched the latest consoles, there are practically no PS5 or Xbox consoles to be found ... anywhere in the world

It has been more than a year since the latest PlayStation 5 and Xbox X and S hit the market, and over these 12 months, some great games have been launched: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Demon’s Souls, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Watch Dogs Legion and Madden NFL are among the most popular games.

And although some argue that the games lineup this year has not been as strong as in previous years, another issue is causing greater headaches to thousands – millions – of gamers worldwide.

Because more than a year after Sony and Microsoft launched the latest consoles, there are practically no PS5 or Xbox consoles to be found ... anywhere in the world.

Local and international retailers are restocking only a number of times a year. Some have been taken pre-orders, but are now not even bothering to try and give the clients an estimate for delivery of the consoles.

In Malta, Scan has over a thousand pending pre-orders for the consoles.

A spokesperson for the retail store told MaltaToday that the company cannot advise customers as to when their orders will be fulfilled.

“We have no idea when we will be able to deliver these consoles, because our suppliers do not know when Sony and Microsoft will be in a position to return to a normal, full production schedule,” he said.

And while many customers are willing to wait, even indefinitely, to get their hands on the latest gaming platform, some have opted to take the money back.

“We have been giving full refunds to any customers that ask,” the spokesperson said. “We cannot blame them.”

He explained that the lack of consoles was due to a shortage in the worldwide production and availability of microchips and semicondictors.

“As things stand now, we can only hope that things will improve in 2022, although there is no guarantee they will.”

The owner of a gaming shop in Birkirkara agreed.

“We have stopped taking pre-orders because we can no longer guarantee delivery within a reasonable time,” he said. “At the moment, we do not have any deliveries from our suppliers guaranteed in the next six months.”

To make matters worse, international suppliers cannot even how much stock will be available in advance, so local retailers cannot plan ahead.

“As a business we focus solely on gamers, providing games, consoles and gaming pcs,” the owner said.

And while many of their regular clients can still buy any games they want, most are miffed that they cannot get the latest consoles or the parts to upgrade their gaming rigs.

“These companies need to get their act together. Surely (chip manufacturers) Intel and AMD should have calculated the demand the new PS5 and Xbox would generate.”

COVID-19 blues

Sony’s and Microsoft’s troubles can be traced back to the events of March 2020 when much of Europe, Australia and the USA were forced into lockdown by COVID-19. Xbox pre-orders began on 22 September 2020 and sold out within days, swiftly followed by the first batch of consoles in November. Xbox Series X restocks proved just as scarce.

Sony, on the other hand, didn’t announce the PlayStation 5 for months during the first half of 2020, allegedly delaying the initial reveal several times due to the pandemic. Rumours of a February launch event gave way to a supposedly scheduled March unveiling, which turned into a April reveal that never was. We didn’t even see what it looked like until June.

Manufacturing and shipping timelines were stretched, and demand has far outstripped supply.

So COVID-19 has a lot to do with why there are no PS5 or XBOX X and S in stock today. Things didn’t get off to a running start for a product everyone wanted so badly.

Other changes in people’s lifestyles have also impacted console stock.

The move from central offices to an almost universal work from home situation put incredible demand on computers and webcams, and therefore semiconductors and components – some of the same parts used by Sony and Microsoft in their consoles. There was a huge surge in laptop sales, as people started working from home, and that’s something manufacturers prioritised.

A combination of shipping delays and booming demand for home entertainment devices – including Sony and Microsoft’s first flagship gaming systems for years  – left chip makers scrambling to fulfil orders. And without those chips, the PS5 and Series X are effectively a very fancy boat anchor or large over-achieving paperweights.

Scalpers, scammers and miners

Scammers, scalpers (people who snap-up multiple consoles to resell online at huge markups) and resellers are also responsible for why you can’t find a PS5 or Xbox X now. The most insidious resellers and scalpers are able to ping retail websites every few seconds to see if there’s a restock with bots, scoop up the inventory either through automation or a manually checkout, and take consoles away from everyday consumers. They then resell the consoles for doubling the money thety spent.

This is not solely a global phenomenon either. A quick search on Facebook marketplace will turn up tens of PS5 and Xbox consoles for sale. Many who received their consoles after months of waiting have opted to not even open the packaging and to cash in on the huge demand there is.

PS5 and Xbox X and S consoles can be found for sale for anywhere between €750 and €1,000. And it seems, the posts don’t last long online.

Worse than resellers and scalpers are scammers who target down-on-their-luck consumers via Twitter, Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp and completely fraudulent websites made to look real. Scammers promise to sell buyers the PS5 or Xbox X for around $550, a small, but believable markup (except when you think that they must have paid tax, but most people ignore this detail). Of course, scammers never actually deliver the console.

Adding to the mysery are cryptominers. It may be more profitable to buy Bitcoin during its dips than actually mine it at this point. However, this hasn’t stopped people from buying up processing units in an effort to one day profit from mining Bitcoin, Etherium, and other decentralised, open-source blockchain currienies – once their electricity bills are covered.

There is a very strong demand for graphics cards that most of of the more popular and powerful graphics cards are not in stock for more than a few seconds at a time once a week. AMD GPUs are going through the same crisis. And guess what PS5 and Xbox use for their graphics? AMD GPUs.

Circling the wagons

In February 2021, Microsoft’s head of investor relations told The New York Times that Microsoft had sold every Xbox unit it had the previous quarter adding that supply was “likely to be constrained at least through the end 2021”.

Days later, US President Joe Biden – an unlikely Xbox fan – took matters into his own hands, announcing an investigation into stock shortages and promising legislation to boost the supply of semiconductor chips used in both the Xbox Series X and PS5.

Analysts are now predicting that the semiconductor shortage will not be solved before mid-2022.

in September 2021, Xbox boss Phil Spencer confirmed that Series X stock issues would last into next year.

“People really want this new generation of consoles... and they want the new functionality,” Spencer said. “We’re working hard to bring them to market but it’s going to be a challenge that we’ll work through for quite a while.”

The solution might include new spending outside of Taipei and South Korea by the major manufacturers. And the US government has now provided for $50 billion in new spending to boost chip production to do just that.

Options for gamers

Anyone who’s really intent on the PS5 or Xbox X, despite the shortages, should keep an eye on Twitter and stock tracking sites such as Stock Informer to be notified when major online retailers receive some consoles.

Most international retailers now have iOS/Android phone apps. And since apps tend to be more stable than websites, they’re less prone to crashing when console stock goes live.

Persistence seems to pay for some. For those who lack the patience to track stocks, there are other – albeit less palatable – options.

Many gamers seem to be switching to other platforms, especially in the run-up to Christmas.

Matthew, owner of ICC, a popular gaming outlet in Iklin, said that Nintendo sales had picked up considerably as it became obvious there would be very limited stock of PS5 or Xbox X and S available before Christmas.

“Sony is now telling us it will be at least three months before a next resupply,” he said. “The shortage of semiconductors and supply chain disruption have definitely put a damper on consoles sales this year.”

He confirmed that games remained popular, nonetheless, with fan favourites like Fifa, Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed retaining a strong, loyal following.

And 2022 promises to be even better, with some of the most anticipated games scheduled for launch, such as Hogwarts Legacy, Gotham Knights, Starfield, Elden Ring, Gran Turismo 7, and most likely God of War Ragnarok.

Now, if only we had a next-gen console to plau them on!