Xbox Series X and PS5

The industry should be wary of politicians bearing gifts – even if that’s a retail price PS5

News that a handful of MPs had decided to submit a private members bill to tackle the bulk buying and reselling of next-gen consoles, or the PS5 specifically according to many reports, looks to be a positive move. After all, neither the consumer or the industry benefits from such activities. 

It was certainly welcomed by many in the industry and press, who have reported regularly on the reselling of in short supply consoles by those, presumably, using automated software to buy them up as they go on sale. Although the most-quoted figures for such reselling activities come from those selling the tools themselves to enable such behaviour – make of that what you will. 

The SNP politicians who have brought the bill will understand that it has little chance of even being debated, let alone being made law, it purely exists to bring attention to the subject. While it’s good to see our lawmakers taking note of such issues, I’m not certain that this attention will have any positive outcomes for the industry or consumers. 

In a similar respect to the ongoing loot box debate, politicians’ interventions tend to come at a price. Once a government begins to legislate on a certain part of business or society, it rarely then stops when you want it to. Such interest usually only comes alongside money and success, rarely comes in a timely manner, and often brings with it a sneering ‘won’t anyone think of the children’ morality that we could all do without.

For instance, console gamers, have in the main, already rejected pay-to-win loot boxes, with few mainstream console titles still using them. While there is definitely still a case to be looked into with regards to some console games (really just FIFA) and many mobile titles, given the time spans involved in that saga, it’s pretty clear that nobody is going to legislate to stop resellers before this spring, or even the spring after that.

(As an aside I  doubt the reputational damage of associating our industry with gambling in the public eye will be worth the legislation that comes out of such a process. I’m not wholly against government regulation of the industry, I’ve just never seen an example to date that’s actually been helpful.) 

So, the console re-selling problem is an issue that the industry needs to tackle itself – to show that it can manage its own ship and so we’re not all still fixated on this come 2022.

It’s largely too late this time around , the resellers will have moved onto something else by March, not because of any inability to buy up swathes of consoles, but because anyone willing and able to pay double the RRP for a games console (and that’s only a few people I’d think) will have one by then. The issue is most likely to thaw post Christmas, when people start looking further ahead than a two week holiday with the kids and very little to do. 

The long-term impact on the industry looks to be minimal at worst, and largely reputational rather than financial (despite some histrionic reports which laughably conflate reselling with console attach rates in Japan). But that’s no reason to do nothing. 

Let’s look at the issue of supply shortages elsewhere in a digital-driven consumer economy. 

The re-selling issue is far more serious and ongoing when it comes to concert tickets and collectible sneakers, and it’s been a problem for years in those markets (I know I spent a couple of years sitting next to Music Week’s editorial team, where it was a constant subject of debate). But despite wall-to-wall coverage on the price of an Adele ticket, evidence that the ticket companies themselves were profiting from secondhand sales, and legislation, nothing has largely changed. 

Unlike the wasteland of live music events in 2020 (now there’s a real tragedy) the current console issue has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the pandemic (both in the inability of many to buy in person and a potential impact on manufacturing too) though with console sales shifting online as a trend, it’s not a 2020-only issue and so still needs tackling. 

Maybe the games industry can do better than others have, but given the cyclical nature of the console problem (once every xxx years) it certainly feels less pressing, but do it we must, else the same issue will arise when the Switch Pro, or whatever, rolls around next time. And then it will be too late again. 

So what are the options right now?

It looked like Sony was onto something when it asked PSN users to register their details with it before pre-order opened, with many theorising it was going to provide pre-order to its most dedicated fans. That sounds like an incredible idea, consoles for those who spend the most on games, it makes sense for the industry and rewards our biggest customers.

A more realistic option might be to only permit sales to certain, verifiable, people while shortages exist – say Amazon Prime members, long-standing holders of GAME Reward cards, or those with certain home broadband or mobile services, such as BT and EE. Such a scheme might be accused of elitism or unfairness, but at least every console would reach an owner at retail price. 

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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