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Tokyo (AFP) – It’s still dark as queues form outside an electronics store in Tokyo as desperate gamers try to snag the latest PlayStation or Xbox despite chronic shortages in Japan.
Sony and Microsoft’s consoles have been hard to buy since their release in November 2020, as has Nintendo’s Switch, as supply chain problems have been exacerbated by lockdowns in China.
Bottlenecks have emerged worldwide but are particularly acute in Japan as Sony and Microsoft have prioritized other markets.
That has left consumers and businesses in a game of cat-and-mouse as customers chase coveted consoles and sellers wrestle with chaos that sometimes requires police intervention.
Tetsuya, 50, has been trying to get a console since February and queued with dozens of other people outside a store in Akihabara’s electronics district before 6:30 a.m.
But around 8am, an employee showed up to announce that the store hadn’t received either the PS5 or Xbox, and the crowd quickly dispersed.
“It’s a shame but I’ll keep trying my chances if I can,” said Tetsuya, who declined to give his middle name.
Hoping to stem the crowds, many stores have moved sales online and used lottery systems, while others have switched to unobtrusive sales that take place without warning, with consoles arriving on a random schedule.
The phenomenon is known in Japan as “guerrilla sales,” a term that first appeared with the Nintendo DS console, which fell victim to its own success in the 2000s
Some players are fighting back with their own tactics, including one who set up a website collecting crowdsourced information.
“Last summer I spent three months buying a PlayStation 5, but every time I went to a store they sold out,” said the 40-year-old Japanese man, an artificial intelligence researcher, who asked not to be identified.
“The only option was to call every store or find information on Twitter,” he told AFP.
“I figured everyone must be having the same problem and creating a site to share information would help the community.”
“There is no line”
The site’s creator says he spends hours over the weekend sorting and reviewing up to 500 daily messages posted on his forum.
“For PS5s in Yokohama, they are now selling both disc edition and digital edition. It’s unclear how many units they have. There is no line,” reads one post.
The information gives players real-time cues, but is also fed into a calendar to highlight trends and analyzed by an algorithm designed to predict when stores will restock.
Japan’s console drought is the result of multiple factors, says Toyo Securities analyst Hideki Yasuda.
Microsoft’s Xbox has never been more popular in Japan than anywhere else, so the country is not a priority market in times of supply shortages.
And Sony has targeted PS5 sales in Europe and North America, according to Yasuda, who estimates that just five to eight percent of the 20 million PS5s sold worldwide were sold in Japan.
When the PS4 launched in 2013, “the smartphone gaming market in Japan exploded while the console market stalled,” he told AFP.
“Sony must have thought it would go away in the 2020s, especially with Japan’s shrinking population.”
As a result, a PS5 bought for 55,000 yen ($400) can now easily fetch 80,000 to 100,000 yen when resold, and there have even been fistfights with alleged resellers in stores.
Despite promises by PlayStation boss Jim Ryan in May of a “significant ramp-up” in production, Yasuda doesn’t expect a big boost 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 “scalpers.”
“I don’t have a weekend life, but if I quit, people who want to buy a console will be left behind.”
© 2022 AFP