Shortage of PS5 and Xbox consoles drives calls for scalping to be criminalised

·3-min read

A shortage of the new PS5 and Xbox consoles is driving calls to criminalise scalping - the practice of using bots to buy multiple units and then sell them on for a marked-up price.

A month after the typical Christmas peak in demand, units of the new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles are still rapidly selling out whenever retailers announce new stock.

Online stores have attempted to suppress scalpers by limiting purchases to one per address, but reselling has become a lucrative market that the scalpers are finding ways to sidestep these efforts.

The practice of scalping is completely legal, but Douglas Chapman MP is among the members of parliament calling for it to be criminalised, describing it as "profiteering" to Sky News, adding: "It seems to me a total scam."

It has made it especially difficult to purchase a console as all retail has moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Chapman has brought a private member's bill forward - titled the Gaming Hardware (Automated Purchase and Resale) Bill 2019-21 - which could ban it in a similar fashion to how ticket touting was banned a few years ago.

The Scottish National Party MP acknowledged the bill was unlikely to become law but said it was one of the actions within his power to force the government to "take responsibility" on the issue.

Scalping has become a significant issue for online retailers, with some cancelling thousands of orders made by automated bots, while the ones that get through are "sold on at a premium" the MP said.

Workarounds for the tools that retailers are using to limit orders are also becoming a highly monetisable commodity in themselves, as Sky News has reported.

Surplus consoles purchased by scalpers are often sold on sites such as eBay at a marked-up price well above the £450 RRP - some being listed at double this, or even higher.

In the absence of government action and frustrated at their own difficulties in getting hold of a console, some gamers are sharing tips on how to derail these auctions by submitting fake bids they never intend to actually pay for after winning.

Mr Chapman said his bill had parallels with laws brought in to tackle the secondary selling of tickets, which prohibits reselling tickets for concerts or events at amounts that far exceed the original.

"We've proposed that a similar legislative process be brought forward to ensure that consumers can purchase gaming consoles and computer components at no more than the manufacturers' recommended price, and that resale of goods purchased by automated bots be made illegal," he said.

Although Mr Chapman said he wanted to keep the consumer at the heart of the legislation, he expected Sony and Microsoft would equally be feeling the pinch from scalpers stockpiling their consoles, as it means those units are not generating any revenue through games sales because they're not being used.

Mr Chapman said that the effect of scalpers was ultimately to disappoint consumers in "the wider gaming community among children and adults alike".

In response to an Early Day Motion submitted by Mr Chapman in December - which received the support of MPs from Labour, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the DUP - minister of state for digital and culture Caroline Dinenage said: "Officials are discussing this issue with the trade association for the video games industry.

"We know that bulk purchasing through automated bots is a concern for some of their members who we understand are currently looking at any further actions they can take to prevent these behaviours and are working with their retailers to improve experiences for customers."

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it had no further comment to add at this time.