Daily Reaction: PlayStation 5 Preorders Were an Undeserved Disaster – How the PS5 Sold Out Before it Even Officially Went on Sale

The last 24 hours or so have been an emotional roller coaster for PlayStation fans. First the PS5 showcase gave us hit after hit of great games and trailers, with arguably the two weakest links only being Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition and Fortnite, but even those were exciting to a certain extent. I mean, like Fortnite or not, you gotta admit it looks good on PS5.  Finally, the 45-minute stream ended with what we’d all been waiting for: that PS5 price and release date. Excitement was quickly tempered when Sony made no mention of preoders. “Wait,” everyone collectively thought. “How do I actually get my hands on one of these?” It was a curious omission, given Sony’s previous promises that preorders would be communicated well in advanced.

Through a series of channels—mainly Geoff Keighley’s Twitter, a line buried in a post on the PlayStation Blog, and a reply in a thread about the PS5 on PlayStation’s Twitter—it was discovered that PS5 preorders would go live today “at select retailers.” No additional details were given, still leaving a lot of confusion for players nervous they wouldn’t get a launch day console. Waht time would they go live? Midnight? In the morning? What retailers? What about those PS5 preorder signup emails (which I’ll come back to)?

After a beat and in contempt of Sony’s promise of “tomorrow” (meaning today), retailers threw their digital and physical doors wide open last night, creating a chaotic stampede of people trying to order a console that technically shouldn’t have even been available yet. Walmart was the first to go, selling out within minutes. Target was next, a purchase I managed to snag (with a 5% Red Card discount to boot) before they were too all sold out. Best Buy and GameStop dropped their preorders next. Best Buy’s site got faced with hours of issues before finally letting people finish the the checkout process around midnight Pacific. GameStop’s site ceased functioning entirely, a security mechanism blocking all traffic to the site. Physical GameStop locations, despite the ongoing dangers of the pandemic and rather limited preorder allocations, had lines out the door in many places.

PS5 price release date preorders

And then someone found a back end link to the PS5 product pages on Amazon, allowing people lucky enough to catch this link to order even though Amazon hadn’t officially put the console up for preorder yet. Of course, those are all sold out now too. PS5 preorders were effectively sold out everywhere before the date when Sony said they’d go live, giving no one time to plan and rewarding those who were stuck to their computers or phones for hours waiting for preorder links, not to mention bringing in a fat payday for known deals curators on Twitter like Wario64 who disseminated the information with affiliate links. I don’t blame him. I would have done the same thing given the opportunity. Good for him making a buck off this mess.

Circling back to the PS5 preorder signups, players were frustrated that these hadn’t started to go out yet. Emails did start showing up in inboxes late last night in a couple of waves queuing people up for a Friday preorder session, but there was confusion about who got selected and why. People like myself and PS5Trophies’ Brian English didn’t get this exclusive invitation to preorder direct from Sony despite having to signup with our PSN profiles that clearly show a ton of playtime and dedication to our consoles. (We determined it’s probably based on purchases and how much money you’ve spent on your PSN account rather than trophies or play time, and because we as media and content creators get a lot of games free, it’s probably why we were excluded.)

As upset as I was (and still am) at Sony for a lack of clear communication or process regarding preorders, I really blame the retailers who decided to make it open season for themselves. Here’s it straight: preorders were always going to be a shitshow, no matter how organized Sony or the retailers were about it. I expect September 22nd to be just as chaotic for Xbox Series X and S preorders, despite even having it scheduled down to the exact minute. But the psychology and optics behind it is what’s important. Interested consumers didn’t even feel like they were given a chance. Managing to get a preorder feels more like luck, being in the right place at the right time. This whole situation seems simply careless on Sony’s end and almost maliciously money-hungry on the part of the retailers.

Just look at the “fuck you” tone of Walmart’s tweet about preorders for the PS5, kicking off the chaotic and unexpected mess that was to follow:

Guess they got tired of waiting all year and couldn’t make it one more day. Of course, once Walmart fired that first shot, other retailers had to follow. For most of the evening, it seemed Amazon was the only marketplace content on waiting, until someone managed to scrounge up the backdoor link and deplete their stock too. And that’s how, before PS5 preorders even officially went live, the PS5 had sold out everywhere.

Now there’s still the Friday preorder queue for those lucky enough to be selected by Sony for direct purchase. And I’m certain stock allocations will be ironed out, obvious duplicate orders for scalpers purged, and more inventory made available in the lead up to launch day. But we’re already seeing some of the fallout of this first 24 hours. Walmart seems to have carelessly allowed for too many orders, with some being canceled and others pending, leaving consumers unsure if they have a guaranteed console for launch day or not. I’m nervous about when my own Target order will arrive, and I still have yet to secure a preorder for a second console for my wife. There’s a lot of chatter about whether or not GameStop will be able to fulfill orders, particularly with hundreds of stores closing down soon.

And that nebulous nature has led people to making multiple PS5 preorders from multiple retailers, “just in case.” These people aren’t even scalpers planning to resell the console. They just landed something like four PS5 preorders at three different retailers to increase their chances of getting one on launch day and avoid issues should one of their orders get canceled for whatever reason. I get it, but that inventory could have gone to other people, and in some ways, those locking in multiple unnecessary preorders for themselves are only marginally better than the scalpers looking to maliciously profit off the unavailability. It’s careless and inattentive.

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In fact, in a lot of ways it plays to the elite nature of gaming as a hobby. It’s expensive. Many excited for the PS5 have had to scrimp and save to even have enough to afford one, but a number of people have enough scratch to throw around that putting $2000+ in pending funds on multiple PS5 preorders just to make sure they get one of them isn’t a problem. For many, that isn’t even an option.

Ironically, through Sony’s lack of clear communication about preorders (and as bummed as I am about not getting an invitation myself), it actually has the best solution for all of this. A system in which people queue up in advance with exclusive links tied to their PSN IDs, only allowed to order a single console per PSN ID. It feels secure and guaranteed because Sony should know their own stock. There’s less of a stampede of people. People aren’t over-ordering, either to resell at a markup or just to use as a security blanket. In fact, how cool would it have been to have it integrated right into the PS4 dashboard, giving obviously dedicated players the first opportunity to get the new console. Because the invites from Sony weren’t the first preorders, there’s a good possibility that a large majority of people who got emails already have preorders secured through other retailers, defeating the whole purpose of Sony’s early signups and “invitation only” preorder queue.

PlayStation 5 Preorders – Wishful Thinking

Ideally, here’s how I saw this whole process going down:

Sony’s showcase concludes with price, release date, and preorder details. They say emails are being sent out throughout the next 24 hours to players who signed up using their PSN ID and received an invite for an early Friday preorder. Those who received invites get the opportunity to order direct from Sony in an organized manner, preceding the general retailer chaos. Could have even made it a benefit of Plus, to have the chance to get into this queue. Then either later that day, or perhaps even a few days later on Monday, third-party retailers open preorders at the same time for those who weren’t able to secure one from Sony.

This would have given dedicated PlayStation fans the feeling of being special with exclusive early preorders that didn’t have to endure the stress of the past day (not to mention potentially showcasing a huge value and benefit for PS Plus by using those subs to guarantee the golden ticket). It would have made sure retailers didn’t undermine the whole thing by pulling the trigger at random times. The fact is the preorder rat race was always going to happen, but Sony had the tools in place to ease the experience and change the optics. Why those weren’t utilized in a more organized way is beyond me.

At this point, though still upset at the handling of it, I’m generally satisfied, at least for myself. I have one PS5 disc preorder in at Target. I have a separate order for each accessory on Amazon. And I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ll be able to lock in a second PS5, either disc or digital, somewhere for my wife before launch day. Sony says there will be more launch inventory available than even the PS4 release, which bodes well for more inventory allotments to come. But, initially, I was one of the lucky ones who was glued to Twitter during the fiasco, and I feel for people who scrambled throughout the night to lock in a preorder that just wasn’t going to happen. Hopefully they’ll have the opportunity to snag one this Friday if they were lucky enough to get an invite.

Horizon Forbidden West 2 ps5 exclusives

Outside of retailers leading charge on this fiasco, it’s also a symptom of Sony’s lack of clear communication approaching the PS5 release. While Microsoft and the leadership at Xbox has been proudly talking about the Series X and its features for nearly a year now, Sony’s remained largely mum about PS5 details. Messaging has been frustratingly confusing, obfuscating certain details that people have to dig to find the answers to. Certain PS5 exclusives are coming to PS4 too, despite Sony initially taking a firm stance on the generational gap and making no previous indication that these titles would be cross-gen until now. We’ve yet to get more than a hint at the PS5 UI, what the new “Create” button on the DualSense does, or see the long-promised console teardown. All of this for a console releasing in less than two months that people are tripping over each other to get a preorder in for.

I’m incredibly excited for the PS5. Sony doesn’t even really have to try to get my excitement up for the next-gen console. I was always onboard. I understand that 2020 probably messed up quite a few plans that Sony had. After all, the DualSense as the centerpiece of the PS5 experience requires hands-on to fully comprehend, something Sony was originally planning to deliver through hundreds of consumer events before a pandemic trapped us all in our homes and completely redefined the next-gen console launch year.

But the PS5 preorder experience has been a subpar disorganized disaster. Sony’s minced messaging has left the PlayStation community feeling a little upset that the process wasn’t handled with more tact and communication. I hope it’s something that Sony addresses in the coming weeks, with reassurances and more coherent messaging about how its most excited fans can make sure they are all there on launch day.

If you’re still after a PS5 preorder, keep an eye on assorted retailers. Many have new inventory periodically opening up and allowing additional preorders to go through.

Daily Reaction reacts to the video game industry. Have suggestions for the column or subjects you’d like us to react to? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out previous Daily Reactions for more dives beyond the headlines.