Even though the PlayStation 5 has been out for a full year, Sony’s console is still very difficult to buy. It’s partly due to supply chain issues, and partly because of increased demand—both totally understandable—but the third reason for the shortage is an old problem: Re-sellers.
To combat the guttier-capitalists who use bots to snatch up every available console then flip them at insane mark-ups, more and more retailers are giving first-dibs on purchasing to shoppers who pay for that access. There are no good guys in this situation: The bot-buyers obviously suck, but retailers efforts to fight them are almost as bad.
While there are better actors out there—PlayStation Direct, for instance, charges nothing to register for the chance to buy a PS5, limiting sales to one-console-per-person and using your PSN ID to verify—more and more retailers are putting PS5s behind paywalls. Walmart, for instance, is offering timed-exclusive purchasing to Walmart Plus members. It costs about $100 a year, and will allow you to shop online Black Friday deals four hours before everyone else, as well as offering free delivery and other benefits. Best Buy has been releasing some PlayStation 5 consoles exclusively to Total Tech members, who pay $200 a year for tech support and delivery.
Whether these programs are a good deal overall depends on how often you shop at the respective stores, but if you’re signing up just to buy a PlayStation 5, you’re sending retailers the message that they can make more more money by making it harder to buy products instead of easier. And it won’t even guarantee a console: You’re only paying for the chance to buy a console, like the shittiest lottery in history. Worst of all: It probably won’t stop bot-buyers anyway.
The paywalls are almost as bad as the bots
It remains to be seen how much these membership schemes will help consumers get hold of their console-of-choice. I’m sure it will make it more likely, but still: There’s a ton of organic demand for the console and little supply (if you believe what “they” say) so it’s luck no matter what. Given the absolutely batshit markup of PlayStation 5’s—the basic console retails for $399 and is hovering around $650 on eBay with plenty of bids—it’s conceivable that a price-point will be reached where it’s profitable for bot-buyers to sign up for $100 memberships all day, even if many of them don’t end up being able to buy consoles. It’s not like the resale price is likely to fall between now and Christmas.
Don’t encourage the “clubs” with your money
Even if signing up for a bunch of console pay-walls increases the chance that you get a PS5 this year, are you really going to be able to look at yourself in the mirror after taking part in this nonsense? Are you going to carry around your little Best Buy card and tell yourself their tech support is totally worth it? Maybe wear a shirt that says “another cog in the machine” while you’re at it.
Any spike in club membership profits that can be linked to the PlayStation 5 will only become part of the retailer’s profit forecast, and encourage them to create/fake a shortages of the PS6 in 2029. So you’re essentially keeping future-you from playing Call of Duty: Tampa, Florida. (it happens in 2025 and it’s very bad).
Fuck it, just live in the past
While I’d never suggest anything as ridiculous as developing hobbies that don’t involve shelling out money to big corporations, I do suggest you wait. I don’t mean wait until after Christmas. I mean, wait for years.
Imagine if you had totally ignored all advances in video game technology that happened after 2006—you would be excited to buy a PlayStation 3 or 4. You could get one for super cheap, with all the games being super cheap, too…plus, there are over 2,000 “launch” titles. If you’re not a hardcore gamer (or your kids are young enough), buying old is really a great place to start.
The trick is to live in the virtual past. (Why not take it a step further? Go to the library and read old newspapers on microfiche. Call everything “crunk.” I will be expanding on these important money-saving video game ideas in a series of lectures and slideshows that will be touring the country in 2005. Thank you for your patronage.) (But seriously, fuck these paywall clubs.)