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PS5 and Xbox Series X shortage explained: why it's so hard to find a console

PS5 and Xbox Series X shortage explained: why it's so hard to find a console
(Image credit: Future)

By now you'll have heard about how PS5 and Xbox Series X stock is like gold dust. In fact, it often feels as if you have a greater chance of winning the lottery than being able to buy PS5 deals. But why? What makes the next-gen PlayStation so difficult to get hold of? While there are plenty of factors at play here, a lot of them boil down to the crapsack of a year that 2020 became. Don't worry - it's not just your bad luck.

Supply chains and bottlenecks 

Instead, there's a tangle of reasons for low Xbox Series X and PS5 stock. Chief among them would be, unsurprisingly, COVID-19. The pandemic has ravaged many industries, leading to upset production. This is definitely the case for PlayStation. As Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan mentioned in a recent GQ interview, coronavirus means that "supply chains become a little more complicated than would normally be the case." The transition to an unprecedented online distribution model hasn't helped either.

However, the current semiconductor shortage may be the biggest roadblock facing PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Wondering why that matters? It's because these tiny chips prop up the electronics industry. They're used everywhere; you'll find them in smartphones, TVs, cars, washing machines, graphics cards (like the RTX 3060), and, of course, games consoles. With that in mind, supply bottlenecks have wreaked havoc on how many PlayStation and Xbox systems can be made. Indeed, the situation has grown so dire that it will be investigated by the US government after a plea from Sony, Apple, and other market leaders. Although we can't be sure about how much it's affected PS5 and Xbox Series X stock, it's certainly had an impact that we're paying for now. 

PS5 and Xbox Series X shortage explained: why it's so hard to find a console

(Image credit: Future)

Then there's the notorious scalper racket. If you're unfamiliar with the process, it's where buyers use an army of bots to purchase vast quantities of an item (usually to the point of said item running out of stock) that they can then resell at an absurdly inflated cost. While this has been an issue in the past, it's more of a problem now than ever - thousands of consoles are snapped up within minutes of a deal going live, at which point they're posted on eBay for double the price. Because this results in a manufactured shortage, desperate buyers have no choice but to wait for another stock drop or play by the scalpers' rules. A recent example saw one UK scalping group claiming to have purchased 2,000 units from Game, and it was estimated that PS5 and Xbox Series X scalpers resold over 60,000 consoles during November 2020, making them approximately $30m from Sony's systems alone.

Fortunately, this practice is being investigated as well. Besides retailers upping their game to stop anyone breaking the 'one per customer' rule, UK politicians were rallying to take legal action against scalpers in December of last year. That means you'll have a far better chance of getting a PlayStation or being able to find Xbox Series X deals.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Of course, the lack of Xbox Series X and PS5 stock isn't solely down to scalpers and COVID - there's a good chance it's due to sheer demand. As noted in documents released alongside a Sony earnings report, the PlayStation 5 sold 4.5 million units during the 2020 financial year. This is far higher than the PS4's launch, and it exceeded the company's expectations as well. Simply put, more of us are buying consoles than ever before.

You can't discount good old-fashioned human error, either. The PS5's pre-order launch was a shambles thanks to a lack of communication and what felt like a retailer free-for-all where chains were releasing deals in the middle of the night without warning. Back in the mists of September 2020, the official PlayStation Twitter account went so far as to say that "PS5 preorders could have been a lot smoother. We truly apologize for that." While the Series X launch was somewhat calmer, both Sony and Microsoft got a bloody nose in those early days of next-gen. 

PS5 and Xbox Series X shortage explained: why it's so hard to find a console

(Image credit: Microsoft)

It's also possible that word of low Xbox Series X and PS5 stock has led to a snowball effect. Coverage of the issue has dominated headlines for months, potentially resulting in yet more demand as desperate customers flock to websites in a bid to grab the consoles before they're all gone. Remember the toilet roll debacle at the beginning of lockdown where folks started stocking up on the stuff en masse because they heard it was selling out? It wouldn't be a surprise to see something similar happening here.

So, there's your answer to why it's so difficult to find PS5 or Xbox Series X stock - basically, it's bad 'because 2020'. What a delight the past year has been, eh? 

All the same, that isn't to say you should give up. Times are changing fast and there's hope on the horizon; in a few months, we may not be seeing these issues at all. What's more, Jim Ryan told GQ that the company will be ramping things up in the coming weeks. More specifically, "[production] will increase as each month passes. And the situation will start to get better hopefully quite quickly." Just in time for Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, in other words; rather than a trickle of stock, it sounds like we'll be getting a larger wave as the year goes on. Because things have to get better at some point, right?  

If you want to try your luck at retailers for a chance to find a PS5, these are the best stores to check next.

As one of our Hardware Editors, Benjamin looks after many of the tech reviews, board game features, deals, and buying guides you’ll see on GamesRadar+.