“Guerrilla” sales, crowdsourcing: the game console crisis in Japan

The PlayStation console has been hard to buy since its November 2020 release, with supply chain issues exacerbated by lockdowns in China

TOKYO – It’s still dark when the queue begins to form outside an electronics store in Tokyo, as desperate gamers try to grab the latest PlayStation or Xbox despite chronic shortages in Japan.

Consoles made by Sony and Microsoft have been hard to buy since their November 2020 release, as has Nintendo’s Switch, with supply chain issues exacerbated by lockdowns in China.

The shortages have hit around the world but are particularly acute in Japan as Sony and Microsoft have prioritized other markets.

It’s left consumers and stores in a game of cat and mouse as customers hunt for coveted consoles and sellers battle chaos that has sometimes required police intervention.

Tetsuya, 50, has been trying to get a console since February and queued before 6:30 a.m. with dozens of others outside a store in Akihabara’s electronics district.

But around 8 a.m., an employee popped up to announce that the store hadn’t received a PS5 or Xbox, and the crowd quickly dispersed.

“It’s a shame, but I’ll keep trying my luck if I can,” said Tetsuya, who declined to give his middle name.

Hoping to discourage crowding, many stores have moved sales online, using lottery systems, while others have moved to low-key sales that take place without prior warning, with consoles arriving on a random schedule.

The phenomenon is known as “guerrilla sales” in Japan, a term that first appeared with the Nintendo DS console, a victim of its own success in the 2000s.

Some players are fighting back with their own tactics, including one who created a website gathering crowdsourced information.

“Last summer, I spent three months trying to buy a PlayStation 5, but every time I went to a store, they were sold out,” says the 40-year-old Japanese artificial intelligence researcher who asked to remain anonymous. .

“The only option was to phone each store or find information on Twitter,” he told AFP.

“I thought 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 weekends sorting and checking up to 500 daily messages posted on his forum.

“For PS5 in Yokohama, they are now selling both Disc Edition and Digital Edition. It is not known how many units they have. There is no queue,” it reads. in a message.

The information gives players leads in real time, but is also fed into a timeline to highlight trends and analyzed by an algorithm designed to predict when stores will be stocked.

Japan’s console drought is the result of a variety of factors, says analyst Hideki Yasuda of Toyo Securities.

Microsoft’s Xbox has never been as popular in Japan as it is elsewhere, so in times of shortage the country is not a priority market.

And Sony has targeted PS5 sales in Europe and North America, according to Yasuda, who estimates that only 5-8% of the 20 million PS5s sold worldwide were in Japan.

When the PS4 launched in 2013, “the smartphone game market in Japan was booming while the console market was stagnating,” he told AFP.

“Sony must have thought it was going to die out in the 2020s, especially with Japan’s population shrinking.”

As a result, a PS5 bought for 55,000 yen ($400) can now easily fetch 80,000-100,000 yen when resold, and there have even been fights involving alleged dealers in stores.

Despite promises from PlayStation boss Jim Ryan in May of a “significant ramp up” in production, Yasuda doesn’t expect a major increase in shipments until the second half of 2023.

The crowdsourcing site’s founder says he’ll keep going, determined to help those “who really love video games” against the “scalpers”.

“I don’t have a weekend life, but if I quit, people who want to buy a console will be stuck.”