Why Does PS5 Stock Keep Running Out and Will More Consoles Be Released Soon?

The launch of Sony's PlayStation 5 has been defined by scarcity, as gamers scour the internet in the hope of completing a purchase before the console sells out or the retailer's website crashes.

Anyone who has tried—and failed—to obtain a PS5 since the November 12 release day may have asked themselves this question: why?

Demand is clearly extremely high and websites that sporadically have PS5s in stock are still being flooded by customers. On Tuesday, BestBuy.com was overwhelmed by traffic after teasing PS5 and Xbox Series X restocks without specifying exact times.

It has been the same across the industry, with Amazon, Walmart and Target periodically releasing small numbers of consoles that typically sell out instantly. It remains unknown how stock is being supplied to these companies and social media is filled with rumors about upcoming drops. So, what is going on?

"PS5 launch supply has been front-loaded significantly more than the PS4 generation," said Piers Harding-Rolls, a games industry expert who heads Ampere Analysis.

"Things have been exacerbated by the higher demand due to the larger install base of active PlayStation users before launch and the general increase in interest in gaming over 2020," Harding-Rolls added. Pre-order demand had been "big," he said.

The pre-order process was a bit of a mess, with Sony apologizing after the system went live without warning and some retailers allowed pre-orders before the official September 17 date, reported the entertainment website Polygon. It was a glimpse of the situation to come, as users headed online in droves and websites crashed.

"Let's be honest: PS5 pre-orders could have been a lot smoother. We truly apologize for that," Sony said in a statement on September 19. "We will release more PS5 consoles for pre-order," it added, promising more would be available throughout 2020.

Fast-forward to November 12, the U.S. launch, and it was as chaotic as suspected, with those who had missed out on pre-orders competing for whatever stock remained.

Both versions of the console—a disc and digital-only—were only available online because of the COVID pandemic, meaning gamers were not only competing among themselves but also battling scalpers, people using bots or other technology to buy consoles as soon as they became available before reselling them for upwards of $1,000.

On November 19, the Russian news outlet Tass published an interview with Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan in which he said: "Everything is sold. Absolutely everything is sold."

"I've spent much of the last year trying to be sure that we can generate enough demand for the product. And now in terms of my executive bandwidth I'm spending a lot more time on trying to increase supply to meet that demand," Ryan said, noting if it were not for the pandemic Sony "might have had a few more to sell, but not very many."

While the company has not released exact sales figures, it has characterised the PS5's opening as its biggest console launch yet.

"Demand for PS5 is unprecedented, so we wanted to confirm that more PS5 inventory will be coming to retailers before the end of the year—please stay in touch with your local retailers," it wrote in a tweet on November 25.

While Sony has repeatedly pledged more PS5s will hit online stores before Christmas, it is unlikely the consoles will be widely available for months, experts say.

We want to thank gamers everywhere for making the PS5 launch our biggest console launch ever. Demand for PS5 is unprecedented, so we wanted to confirm that more PS5 inventory will be coming to retailers before the end of the year - please stay in touch with your local retailers.

— PlayStation (@PlayStation) November 25, 2020

Harding-Rolls estimates that demand will continue to outstrip Sony's ability to supply the PlayStation 5 "for at least a few months into 2021."

"The forecast is for 8.5 million shipments by the end of March 2021, meaning we will see more product come to the market at different times over the next few months," he said, adding he doesn't think the situation will "undermine" Sony's market position.

"[The] Xbox Series X is also in high demand and similarly supply constrained," he said, referring to the PS5's Microsoft rival.

Sony previously claimed that it expects to sell more than 7.6 million PS5 units by the end of the fiscal year on March 31, 2021, Video Games Chronicle reported.

Tech website The Verge said the situation might have been exacerbated by two factors: a narrative of scarcity to help build demand and retailers having zero incentive to distribute their stock fairly.

Some stores have used the stock to push pricier "bundle" deals and there is an incentive for online retailers to keep eager customers returning to their sites. It remains unclear how much PS5 distribution has been affected by the pandemic.

The consequence of scalping—with some groups of resellers claiming to have amassed thousands of the sought-after consoles—is a little more visible. Analysis published by data engineer Michael Driscoll (via Toms Hardware) claimed the disc version of the PS5 was found to be selling for 300 percent its suggested retail price of $499.

"Over 32,000 PS5s have been sold on eBay, resulting in scalpers netting $19 million in profits," Driscoll wrote. What is less clear is the effect scalping is having on wider availability of the consoles across the country.

"Scalping has been around for many years, but is likely to have had a bigger impact this time around as most sales were online during the launch," Harding-Rolls said.

"Buying up stock online is clearly easier than visiting shops to queue up for consoles. Overall demand for the product will have exacerbated the situation," he added. "Even so, I estimate that organised 'resellers' were probably responsible for low single digit percentage of sales during the first wave of availability."

EBay remains filled with listings for consoles at inflated prices, a search by Newsweek found.

Sony PlayStation has been contacted for comment about PS5 restocks.

Playstation 5 logo
Sony's PlayStation 5 logo. The console was launched on November 12. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty