Sony announced the release date and price for its PlayStation 5 consoles today, Sept. 16, 2020. The hardware manufacturer then promised — or had Geoff Keighley and various other trusted industry insiders do so in a series of confusing, often contradictory follow-up tweets — that pre-orders would go live on Sept. 17. It is 7:33 p.m. my time and, as near as I can tell, the sought after system is sold out everywhere. Either that, or it will be sold out before you can get one. Probably.
My own first attempt to grab one ended in failure. I drove out to what is now the only functioning GameStop in my city, situated in our local mall. This would normally be a stupid and dangerous thing to do in the time of COVID-19, but even before the virus hit, who the hell still goes to the mall? The store was empty save for an employee who told me the system was already sold out: just 15 minutes after the console was announced, and a full day before it actually goes on sale.
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They were also out of Nintendo Switch Pro Controllers to replace my broken one. It was a real bummer for me.
It seems like an even bigger bummer for GameStop employees. Other folks have started checking in with local stores to learn that management did not warn them pre-orders were going live. So far I’ve seen reports of stores receiving between 10 and 20 consoles a pop, heavily weighted in favor of the more expensive $499 version with a disc drive, rather than the $399 digital edition. That’s a lot of demand and not much supply with literally no warning. If you’ve never worked retail before, you can’t quite appreciate why this really sucks the llama’s ass.
Bear in mind that this is the same business that put employees at risk by claiming it was “essential retail” during a pandemic. And when that wasn’t enough, it forced them to keep up germ-and-grease magnets because they had been paid for by publishers.
The ensuing pre-order debacle hasn’t felt like a floodgate opening so much as a Super Soaker you forgot to pump up all the way. Target opened up for about 49 seconds. I got a disc version, but the drive-less option was sold out by the time my browser loaded. Best Buy will let me add the system to a cart, but errors out if I try to complete the order. GameStop supposedly then opened up online — not just in-store — but was so overloaded that eager buyers triggered anti-DDOS software. I’m literally blocked from the site right now.
What’s funny is that pre-orders are a huge scam. They’re inherently designed to drive up interest and speculation at the launch of a thing. Because it’s basically never a good idea to buy a thing at launch. Games in particular almost universally go on sale like a week after release. Used copies will sometimes save you scraps, too. But anxiety over low production numbers (thanks again to COVID-19) and our general desire for more Stuff To Do indoors is the perfect match for this powder keg.
Then add speculation (folks buying up copies just to flip them for double or triple the price if quantities are low). Video games are like sneakers now: a scam built on top of other, smaller scams.
— Geoff Keighley (@geoffkeighley) July 17, 2020
I am, of course, a fucking sucker and spent $537 after tax on a machine that will have an unclear number of exclusive games at launch. I really want to play the Demon’s Souls remake. Too bad I don’t know if it will be on PC as well! Miles Morales looks good, but will probably be perfectly serviceable on my PlayStation 4 Pro.
The PlayStation 5 might not even be sold out by this time tomorrow. Remember how Sony had you sign up for an early warning system, where you got to pre-order directly from the company based on your Gamer Engagement Points, or whatever? I’d have thought being a huge mark would make me exactly the kind of gamer that qualified for first-party pre-order. Apparently not!
The whole thing sure seems like a mess. And the mess wasn’t even supposed to start for another day. In a lot of ways, though, this exact sort of farce has been baked into the games industry for a long time. It just took a quarantine during a new console launch to really let the layers peel away.