PlayStations and Xboxes are hard to find. Meet the people who are trying to help.

A few seconds before noon on Monday, Jake Randall started encouraging people watching his livestream on YouTube to update the Walmart website on their computers.

At his request, thousands of people across the country began pounding the keys angrily to get to the top of the retailer’s virtual queue for the hottest gift of the holiday season: a video game console. To increase their chances, Mr. Randall recommended that the 8,000 viewers of his livestream also line up through the Walmart app on their phones. As the minutes passed, a lucky few sent Mr. Randall screenshots of their purchases. Some sent him donations – about $ 2,000 total – as thanks for his help. Others were unsuccessful. In an hour, all the consoles were sold out.

Long lines of retail stores that lead to brawls, desperate shoppers refreshing websites to outperform the bots, and a home industry of the likes of Mr. Randall trading tips and making money from it – this is the state of the video game console market per year after a new generation of sought-after devices hit the market during the height of the pandemic. Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, at $ 499 list price, and Sony’s PlayStation 5, $ 399, launched as the popularity of gaming skyrocketed among people stuck indoors , and since then they have been in great demand and in short supply.

Now that the Christmas shopping season is in full swing, the same consoles remain the must-have gift on many wish lists. The result is fierce competition, both from other players and from people who grab as many devices as possible – sometimes with so-called purchase bots to grab them faster than a human – and then grab them for two or even three times as much Purchase resell price on sites like eBay or Facebook Marketplace.

“I grew up playing video games. Everyone wants to be the hero of the video game, ”said Matt Swider, who quit his journalist job last month and is now sitting in his New York City apartment furiously browsing websites to send notifications on Twitter to his followers when retailers consoles offer for sale. “The villains in this story are the resellers who use bots both in person and online.”

Buying a game console this season is proving to be particularly difficult this year. Retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, and GameStop are taking a page from Amazon and, in many cases, making the consoles available first to those who pay to join their membership programs. Even so, paying about $ 200 a year to subscribe to Best Buy doesn’t guarantee buyers will get the console. In addition, customers follow people on YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, and Discord for notices and updates on which stores have the items in stock or when a console is suddenly available for purchase on a website. Then it becomes a race to defeat the bots.

Victoria Garza, a 23-year-old medical student in Harlingen, Texas, has been looking feverishly for her prize for months: a limited-edition Xbox in Halo design. She tracks channels on Discord and accounts on Twitter notifying her when the console is in stock. She’s given her parents her credit card information so they can buy her an Xbox when she’s at work when the console is available. Her father even drives to a local GameStop every morning to see if there are any when the store opens.

The frustration of her previously unsuccessful console search, she said, is mounting. If she got one, she said, “I would start crying right away.”

While it’s normal for consoles to be elusive when they first come out, the shortages last year have been anything but. The problems result from the well-documented global supply chain problems caused by the pandemic, which have made the computer chips that require many devices difficult to come by.

“We’re working with our manufacturing and trading partners as soon as possible to speed up production and shipping to keep up with unprecedented demand,” Microsoft said in a statement. She didn’t want to comment on how many consoles have been sold so far.

Sony declined to comment on the demand issues, instead referring to a new blog post by Jim Ryan, the company’s CEO, recognizing that “warehouse restrictions remain a source of frustration for many of our customers”.

“Rest assured that we are focused on doing everything in our power to ship as many units as possible,” wrote Ryan. Sony said in a September quarterly earnings report that it has sold 13.4 million PlayStation 5s since it was released in November 2020.

David Gibson, a senior analyst for Australian financial services firm MST Financial, estimates Sony will have shipped 19 million consoles by the end of the year since the PlayStation 5 was released, and Microsoft increased around 11 million to 12 million, in part with the release of its flagship Game halo. But he said both companies could have sold far more if the pandemic hadn’t put pressure on global supply chains. The “console market will not be able to catch up with demand until late 2022, if at all,” he said.

Shortly after the PlayStation 5 was released, Mr. Swider, then the US editor-in-chief of TechRadar, a technology review and recommendation website, was frustrated with his own attempts to buy one. So he started following and tweeting when he found game consoles for sale.

He began taking tips from employees at retailers like Best Buy and Walmart when a shipment of consoles arrived at individual stores or regional warehouses. At the end of last year, he had 21,000 followers on his Twitter account; now he has more than a million.

He estimates he helped more than 130,000 people get a console this year. In return, he is hoping to make money by billing subscribers to his new Substack newsletter called “The Shortcut” $ 5 per month. If his followers use his links to buy items on various merchant websites, he can earn a commission, known as “affiliate fees”, for these sales.

Another retail detective, Mr. Randall, said he didn’t make money on commissions, but made money on his hours of live streams on YouTube, which provide hints on when retailers can bring out consoles, as well as tricks and tips on how to buy them. Unable to have a typical job because of his cystic fibrosis, Mr. Randall said the streams was about more than just helping frustrated parents or gamers land the hot consoles.

“I don’t cure a disease, but with my cystic fibrosis limitations, I can help people get a video console and be happy and it means a lot to me,” said Mr. Randall, 30, who is streaming in from his studio apartment Nashua, NH “When I stream live, I get a lot of love and support from the whole community.”

The past week or so, including Black Friday and Cyber ​​Monday, has been a blur for many of these tipsters as traders who haven’t had consoles in months suddenly put thousands up for sale. At any time of the day or night, posts appeared on Discord servers and via Twitter in the jargon of the community, warning buyers if there was a “drop” (more products for sale) from an Xbox or when someone crowed a PlayStation with joy 5 “caught” (bought).

Mr. Randall started livestreaming at 6 a.m. each day, waiting for a large crowd of target consoles to arrive one morning. Based on information he’s received from employees within the company – including screenshots of inventory scans – he believes Target is sitting on a mountain of consoles. (Target didn’t respond directly to a question about its console offering, but did make a number of consoles available Thursday morning.)

Some players have used the tips successfully.

Jeff Mahoney, a 38-year-old in Katy, Texas, said he obtained at least five PlayStations and two Xboxes by monitoring the Discord channel of “Lord Restock,” who is actually a 21-year-old philosophy student at University of Tampa, who when contacted, asked to remain anonymous because he did not want to be attacked online by the resellers. After buying a PlayStation, Mr Mahoney, who works at accounting firm KPMG, said he could buy the other gadgets for neighbors who wanted Christmas presents for their children.

“I was like, ‘Hey, you’re not going to go out and pay $ 800 to some scalpers and use the bots and make life difficult for everyone else,'” he said. “I’m only here to help.”

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