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Xbox Series X, PS5 fiascos show the problem with preorders in the digital age

Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S
Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S (Image credit: Microsoft)

It feels unlikely that both the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S preorder launches would both be disasters, but here we are. Immediately following the PS5's official price announcement, Sony tweeted that preorders would be going up the next day, but third-party sites like Walmart decided to publish links live early, causing a lot of confusion. Xbox wasn't much of an improvement despite giving buyers a week's notice, although it still fared overall in allowing preorders to get through.

Both were plagued with similar issues. Links would go up and down, stocks would sell out within minutes, and retailers that said they would have links ready to go were late. Sites couldn't handle the traffic, with users getting constant error messages. In the end, whether you got your preorder or not came down to luck.

You can argue that this scrambling is what these companies want. It's a way to drum up hype for the new consoles in a time where people might be considering holding off for at least a year. Everybody fighting over whether they can preorder a new console will at least put the idea out in the open that people are preordering these consoles. The illusion of scarcity is a very real thing that companies use, and that's at least partially in play here.

Preordering new tech in the digital age is just going to be complicated.

However, you can also argue that this is just a new normal. Preordering new tech in the digital age is just going to be complicated, whether you drop links unannounced or plan them a week ahead.

Previously, pre-ordering a product in person was a surefire way to ensure you were locked in. It makes sense that stores wouldn't want to hold physical events due to the pandemic, but a lot of retailers still had some in stock, or at least said they would. Walmart, for example, said it would have PS5 preorders in stock on Sept. 22 but then reversed the decision due to social distancing protocol. Reports emerged that Gamestop had in-store consoles, but that the numbers were very low and inconsistent between the PS5 and the new Xboxes.

Consumers have to struggle with an overall lack of transparency concerning stock. Since the Xbox Series X was announced back at the Game Awards earlier this year, people interested in the next generation of consoles have been waiting for information. However, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reveals and information has either been delayed of held off entirely. We didn't get pricing info until September, around two months out from release. By comparison, the Xbox One and PS4 were announced during E3 in June of that year. We knew that we would have to wait for staggered info after E3's cancelation, but we didn't expect it to be this long.

Now that we finally have those dates, it's unclear what happens next. Sure, we have release dates but we've been getting inconsistent messaging about stock. Reports circulated that Sony would be running into manufacturing issues both because of the pandemic but also because of some scarce parts. Rumors swirled that the consoles would be delayed. Then there were reports that supply would be increased. It's understandable that if you've been following all of this that you'd be confused. The lack of messaging about the new consoles and the length of time both Microsoft and Sony used to fully reveal their products has led to rampant speculation.

Consumers have to struggle with an overall lack of transparency concerning stock.

It isn't just on the two console makers either. Retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy have fanned the flames of confusion. Walmart seemed to break embargo on PS5 preorders by putting links live a day before Sony said they would be. Best Buy and Amazon went live with Xbox preorders minutes after they were supposed to go live. Even if you were able to get a preorder in at Amazon, the company said due to demand, it's possible that you won't get it on time. There wasn't any word on if there were too many orders, if there wasn't enough stock, or if it was a combination of the two.

The fact the preorder launches were also a mess isn't great for consumers, but combined with a lack of transparency from the console makers, the beginning of next-gen is as unsteady as the world already is due to the pandemic.

Sony did end up apologizing for the preorder fiasco, saying that it "could have been a lot smoother" and that there will be more PS5s available through the end of 2020, which is one of the first bits of transparency users have gotten on the matter. So if you couldn't get a preorder in this week, there will be more opportunities to do so before the November launch.

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However, this whole fiasco has shown that preordering online is going to be full of holes for the people spending their money. The lack of transparency from companies around stock, consistent pre-order times, and other important information might not get completely in the way of people putting in their orders, but it does cause a lot of hassle. Sony and Microsoft could only do so much when the information just wasn't there to begin with.

Xbox Series X/S

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Carli Velocci
Carli Velocci

Carli is the Gaming Editor and Copy Chief across Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. Her last name also will remind you of a dinosaur. Follow her on Twitter or email her at carli.velocci@futurenet.com.

33 Comments
  • I feel like you're lumping Xbox into this fiasco talk unfairly. Yes, some websites couldn't handle the traffic, and for me personally pre-ordering on Microsoft Store took me a while because the site was getting hammered, but it was hardly a fiasco. Microsoft followed the typical M.O. for how pre-orders are done, and was as transparent as they could be. It was Sony that broke from tradition and caused a shitshow in this case.
  • I was never able to place my order, in spite of being ready to go before the official on-sale time. I hit links probably 100 times and never got through. Sometimes I'd get as far as putting an Xbox in my shopping cart, only to have it timeout during checkout. Ultimately, I was not able to preorder my Xbox.
  • Same I couldn't even add to cart and after two days I got a email saying it was in cart but that doesn't matter when it's sold out
  • How about bringing up the the fact that shopping cart botting from scalpers has become a serious problem during the pandemic? That's a massive contributor the these problems with buying popular items. It happened with the PS5 pre-orders, then for the RTX GPU pre-orders, now they came for Xbox and, in all three cases, they now have their pre-ordered items listed at exorbitant prices online.
  • That is true, but if you have half a brain, and wait a month or two for new stock to arrive you can get the console at its actual price. If people didn't buy the device on ebay etc the scalpers would soon stop doing it. Really what is waiting a month or two for a console which will not have a new version for a least 5 years. Patience.
  • I have always thought that patience is a just another word for lazy, but in this case, that may not apply. :-)
  • Hahaha lazy / patience either way it will not change your life by waiting a little bit for the hype to die down. You may even get a better deal with a bundle or something.
  • Don't forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals in November. Then there's Christmas deals, with the current pandemic expect to see more cut price deals to drum up revenue. Unfortunately the scalpera will probably get these too if nothing is done. The easiest way is to do this is by an limit of 1 console bundle per ip address, not account as you can have concurrent accounts open per ip address.
  • The Fear Of Missing Out, is going to become an actual medical illness at this point. *facepalm*.
  • I actually predicted that Xbox Series S/X preorders would be a crapshoot. https://twitter.com/PalZer0/status/1306422560196685824?s=19
  • It still beats sleeping outside of the Apple Store.
    Maybe people just need to learn that they do not have to be first to have everything.
  • you should have to go line up outside of a store and get a lottery ticket.
    no more online preorder
  • Not in the middle of a pandemic and b there is barely any physical Microsoft stores left
  • There are actually none, remember that the only 2 they kept dont actually sell anything they are show rooms.
  • There are other stores and electronics sellers
  • I'm fine not getting a pre-order. There wasn't even any special edition or bragging rights to it, so it's less of a big deal. I KNOW these companies are making it difficult to get them to appear like more demand than supply, it's silly anymore. I cancelled my One X pre-order back in the day, bc we had a baby on the way and a few weeks before it released my wife ordered the Project Scorpio for me knowing i had my heart set on it. It wasn't cut throat 3 years ago like this week, and it shouldn't be anyway. Even with the One in 2013 I casually pre-ordered it the next day (June 11) after watching a recording of E3 since I missed the live event due to work. These companies have seen the hype it creates and are making us look like fools by jumping over one another just to "secure our spot" for firsts. I'm guilty of it, I posted all about my bring upset by the lack of websites' abilities to handle preorders. This feels like the joked about, but true "post-*** clarity" after the 22nd. haha, it's bad. Next time we as consumers need to have more control by not buying into it all.
  • Sounds like my argument against microtransactions, look how those sell.
  • Doesn't need to be a special edition or for bragging rights. Some people just want it to play games. I'm sure the limited numbers are due to Covid-19 yet still trying to make the holiday 2020 deadline they gave themselves. They could have delayed the launch to have plenty in stock but that really doesn't fix anything, people still get them, some before others they just now have to trickle in. There's not much anyone can do about it. This sucks for people who really wanted one. Sure they will trickle out but you have to spend much more time tracking down those units. Hopefully they have more coming than expected. This isn't a Microsoft thing, Sony has the same problem, Nvidia and the new Ampere GPUs are also having the same issue. I almost always miss the launch for these reasons, this is nothing new, this time I was lucky enough to get a pre-order in. I hope you are able to get yours ordered before launch if not shortly after.
  • I wish they would do something like Lego does. They allow people with a VIP account a week early access to order before opening it up to the general public. That way the people that are fans get first dibs. I got a preorder for every XBox before this one. This is the first time I was unable to do it. They could even do some Bing points reward for a preorder. Then they could kill 2 birds. Boost Bing and get fans a preorder.
  • I think the premise here is a bit overblown. 2020 and people being at home much more is undoubtedly a driving factor in the chaos. It has absolutely driven demand for all gaming tech
  • IMHO most of these issues, especially the one involving the BOTs sweeping the stock clean, could have been avoided if those companies would prioritize existing and confirmed users over new and potentially false ones. NVidia's GeForce Experience, which comes with the driver, needs an Account and obviously a working NVidia Graphics Card installed to work and vice versa so why not let users buy an upcoming generation of GPUs via that software if the condition of an already existing NVidia GPU tied to an account is met allowing you, an existing NVidia customer, to pre order one (1) NextGen GPU for every one (1) PreGen GPU you own AND active in your system ( in case you'd be running them in SLI ) It would not affect existing and verified customers but Scalpers with the intent to buy dozens of GPUs to upsell them would have to buy dozens of PreGen GPUs first AND have them all mounted in a PC greatly limiting their mass purchasing ability which could be limited even further by the usual "No more than 1-2 per household" Scalpers and those not yet in the NVidia Ecosystem could still place orders normally but they'd be placed behind the prioritized existing users ordering them via GeForce Experience. Same thing with Microsoft and Sony... Prioritize the sale to existing Customers with a verified PreGen console currently active and running before fulfilling orders from potentially scalpers and/or new customers - The Data is already in their hands, they just have to make use of it and provide a means to order via it.
  • Sorry that won't work, you need an ip limit per cart. That cuts down scalpers and users buying more than one console bundle or GPU. The ip limit get's triggered the moment you click add to cart. Additionally the item quantity is removed from the listing or greyed out and stuck on 1.
  • All these things, exclusives, the console wars, preordering, queues...All are a thing that belongs in the past, from a different era of selling plastic objects. Let's hope that this is the last generation in which hardware matters. And the last time people queue up, either physically or virtually, to get their objects.
  • People, collectively, are to blame for a lot of their own problems. I imagine that those buying consoles off eBay and the like at exorbitant prices are among those most vocally critical of the chaos, yet they are the reason that it's worthwhile for those scalpers to contribute to that chaos. People are complaining about the lack of clear information provided about the consoles yet those same people would often be just as vocal if a company made a statement and then went back on it.
  • I don't understand why this is news. This happens every launch. This also happened wth Nvidia GTX 3000 graphics cards. Anytime you have a hyped up product, this happens, it's a thing, but 9/10 when the product is finally available. People are able to get it. Pre-ordering to me is a waste of time stressing out over nothing.
  • Given this is going to be extremely prevalent, this actually be mitigated by:
    1) every console or gpu listing is marked one per customer. 2) removing the item quantity increase button and greying out the item quantity button on 1. 3) imposing an the cart limit of 1 console bundle, gpu etc using the ip address. This is triggered the moment add to cart is pressed. this is quite easy to do as some places have timers for users to complete the transaction. Once purchased that ip is logged as in either complete, back order etc. this prevents concurrent accounts being used from a single location. Effectively 1 console or gpu etc per household.
  • https://www-videogameschronicle-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.videogame... The Xbox series has sold out in Japan🤯🤯🤯🤯
  • I now am the proud owner of a line of credit with Citizen One for All Access but I don't have an Xbox Series X attached to it because the Microsoft store crashed as I was checking out. Good times.
  • If they would limit the # of orders per person/household, the bots wouldn't be able to buy them all up. But MS doesn't care, they are making their $$. Also stock should not sell out as quickly as it did.
  • Nvidia had no limit either for the 3080 launch, as a result scalpers bought almost the entire global stock available. Karma, fortunately has struck and many of the AIB cards are unstable at high boost frequencies due to solely using Sp-caps behind the GPU as opposed to using 4 ranks of 2 sp-caps flanking 20 mlcc caps. Both Nvidia and the Aibs are at fault there. Nvidia for not giving board partners drivers for proper testing prior to launch and greenlighting unstable designs. Aibs for cheaping out on the filtering caps.
  • How about mentioning the scalpers, £450 console being sold for near £1000 on eBay. Scalpers are at the scummy end of society and need to be brought into the light.
  • Wait, what? Painting both of these pre-order launches with the same "fiasco" brush is completely unfair. Microsoft was quite transparent and open with its plans, and for the most part retailers held up their end, processing orders as well as can be expected under intense traffic. That demand can intermittently exceed capacity on some sites is no fault of Microsoft's. I follow the r/xboxone sub quite closely on Reddit, and in contrast to what happened with Sony, I can say that there has been no widespread sentiment that things went poorly. In fact most people were celebrating securing their own pre-orders even though some said the process was tense. It feels like you are manipulating the facts to support your argument.
  • Refuse to buy from ebay, but hell why don't they just make more xboxes to have available at pre-order. If I was in 2nd place I would have 25% more available at preorder than I thought would sell, Christmas right around corner so extras would easily sell.