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How “Bot” Culture Affected the Release of the PlayStation 5

by Liam Mauger

With the release of Sony’s PlayStation 5, the practice of using bots to get an edge against others for limited releases has spread rapidly.

The PlayStation 5 was very hard to get on its Nov. 12 release date. While Best Buy and Walmart had the console in stock online, customers hoping to obtain it were quickly met with network failures due to large traffic, high prices, and out of stock notices. This was the cause of two major factors: the limited supply of PlayStation 5 consoles released to the public, and the amount of bots being used, even on websites that don’t normally experience them like Walmart. In fact, the bots being used are a direct result of the limited stock. Just like how the clothing resale works, the low supply meant more exclusiveness, leading to high resale prices. Resellers noticed that, and the sales of the PS5 were widely botted.

But what are bots, anyways? And how do they work? To answer these questions, look to the culture that spawned them. Bots became popular in the release resale community, which seeks to obtain limited stock of clothing for huge returns. They are lines of code that automatically get through all the buy screens, fill out all information, and get in the wait list faster than others when something new releases.

Bot users generally have much more success than manual users, and resellers can even run multiple bots to try and get multiple items. Bots are technically not allowed on most of these drops, but the comparison between automatic and manual means that many people try, and many succeed.

The PS5 became relevant to this bot culture when resellers started to realize that with the relatively small amount of PS5’s releasing, there was potential for profit. Specific bots for the release were created, and the rest is history, with the console sitting at $1135 on StockX from a retail price of $630.

This may be the start of botting console releases, but it’s not the start of limited console releases. Even going back to the PlayStation 1 and 2, people would be lined up outside stores for nights on end to get a new console, and really, bots are just the modern day version of that. Perhaps if botting was as prevalent in the past as it is now, there would’ve been previous limited console releases that experienced it as well.

Sony was most likely aware of this culture as they released their console. The questions are, why did they release in such limited amounts? And why is this limiting of products seemingly common in gaming history? The answer to both of these is simple, and it’s the same reason higher-end clothing sellers limit their sales- not only does it keep an air of exclusivity around the product, it creates more people who are scrambling to buy it.

In this way, Sony and brands like Supreme and Yeezy are very similar in their business tactics, and so are their customers.

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