TOKYO — It’s still dark when lines begin to form outside an electronics store in Tokyo, as desperate gamers try to snag the latest PlayStation or Xbox despite chronic shortages in Japan.
Consoles made by Sony and Microsoft have been difficult to buy since their November 2020 release, as have Nintendo’s Switch, with supply chain issues exacerbated by the lockdown in China.
There has been a decrease worldwide but is particularly acute in Japan as Sony and Microsoft have prioritized other markets.
This has left consumers and stores in a game of cat and mouse as customers hunt down iconic consoles and vendors battle chaos that sometimes requires police intervention.
Tetsuya, 50, has been trying to get the console since February and lined up outside a store in Akihabara’s electronics district with dozens of others just before 6:30 a.m.
But around 8 p.m., an employee announced that the store hadn’t received PS5s or Xboxes and the crowd quickly dispersed.
“It’s a shame, but I’ll keep trying my chances if I can,” said Tetsuya, who declined to give his second name.
In hopes of discouraging crowds, many stores have moved to online sales using lottery systems, while others have moved to low-profile sales that take place without prior warning, in which consoles run at a random time. come.
This phenomenon is known in Japan as “guerrilla sales”, a term that first emerged with the Nintendo DS console, which was a victim of its success during the 2000s.
Some gamers are fighting back with tactics of their own, including a website that has gathered crowdsourced information.
“Last summer, I spent three months trying to buy PlayStation 5, but every time I went to a store, they sold out,” said the 40-year-old Japanese man, a researcher in artificial intelligence, who asked to remain anonymous. Told .
“The only options were to call each store or get information on Twitter,” he told AFP.
“I thought to myself that everyone must have the same problem, and that creating a site to share information would help the community.”
– ‘There is no line’ –
The site’s creator says he spends hours on the weekends sorting and verifying the 500 daily messages posted on his platform.
“For PS5s in Yokohama, they are now selling both the disc version and the digital version. It is not clear how many units they have. There are no lines,” reads a post.
The information gives gamers real-time leads but is also fed into a calendar to highlight trends and analyzed by algorithms designed to predict when stores will be in supply.
Japan’s consolation drought is the result of a variety of factors, says Hideki Yasuda, analyst at Toyo Securities.
Microsoft’s Xbox has never been as popular in Japan as anywhere else, so in times of short supply, the country is not a priority market.
And Sony is targeting PS5 sales in Europe and North America, according to Yasuda, who estimates that just five to eight percent of the 20 million PS5s sold worldwide were in Japan.
When the PS4 launched in 2013, “the smartphone game market in Japan was exploding while the console market was stalling”, he told AFP.
“Sony would have thought it would disappear in the 2020s, especially with Japan’s dwindling population.”
As a result, a PS5 bought for 55,000 yen ($400) can now easily fetch 80,000-100,000 yen when resold, and there are even a handful of alleged resellers at stores.
Despite PlayStation boss Jim Ryan’s promises in May of a “significant ramp up” in production, Yasuda doesn’t expect a major increase in deliveries before the second half of 2023.
The crowdsourcing site’s founder says he’ll be determined to help “those who really like video games” face off against “scalpers.”
“I don’t have a life on the weekends, but if I stop, people who want to buy consoles will be stuck.”