The launch of the highly-anticipated PlayStation 5 descended into chaos on Thursday after major retail websites crashed and stock sold out within minutes, leaving tens of thousands of gamers disappointed.
Supply chain problems, huge consumer demand and the closure of physical retail stores caused saw stock for online orders rapidly depleted by 10am.
The websites of John Lewis, Game and Tesco all crashed before midday. Currys, which had a separate site for Sony's PS5 orders, had a waiting list up to 180,000 people long, before delaying its launch entirely.
Several customers exploited a glitch in the company's website that allowed them to purchase the console before it was available. Currys later cancelled these orders.
Amazon also quickly ran out of PlayStation units with a disclaimer reading: “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”
There will be no PS5s available to buy today.
We know that this is disappointing news, and we are working super hard to get more stock.
Please check our social channels for further updates on availability 🎮
— Currys PC World (@curryspcworld) November 19, 2020
Gamers flocked to eBay in the hope of finding a unit, with many forking out as much as double the recommended retail price. The vast majority of listings were sold between £700 and £800, despite the disc edition costing £449.99 and the digital edition at £349.99.
The PS5 has been hailed as a "new era for gaming" by maker Sony, with the new system promising 4K resolution gameplay, higher-quality graphics and faster loading times.
Its rival, the Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, launched last week and has suffered a similar supply drought. Launches in the US and Japan had also struggled to keep up with demand, despite the fact overall sales were lower than the launch of the PS4 in 2013.
Sony has reportedly struggled to acquire enough chips, produced by AMD, for its new consoles ahead of its pre-Christmas launch. Earlier this year, Jim Ryan, the boss of its Playstation business, admitted engineers had been unable to visit Chinese factories due to Covid travel restrictions.
In the UK, lockdown and the closure of non-essential retail has forced many consumers online who might have once gone in-store to buy their console, straining servers for online retailers. Pre-orders have also been delayed amid high demand on delivery services.
Retailer Game apologised to customers and said their consoles may not arrive on time. The retailer blamed distributor Yodel for delays. However, Yodel hit back saying it was “deeply disappointing Yodel’s name has been used incorrectly” and said there were “no delays” in its network.
Piers Rolls-Harding, a gaming expert at Ampere Analysis, said he believed pre-orders had been higher than in past years and expected demand to remain high into the new year.
He said: “Clearly it is disappointing for consumers that have pre-ordered not to receive their console on launch day. The situation is exacerbated as there is limited opportunity to buy on launch day at physical retail as in the past.”
Ampere Analysis said it expects demand of the new PS5 and Xbox Series X to outstrip supply until March 2021, leading to shortages of the console across retailers.
It forecasts around 3.9 million Microsoft Xbox consoles to be sold this year, versus 5 million PS5 models. It predicted Sony would maintain its lead in the latest round of the “console wars”, selling around 67 million by 2024 against 44 million Xbox sales.
Sony has attempted to differentiate itself with exclusive games from studios that cost up to £70. Microsoft, meanwhile, has focused on backwards compatibility, meaning users can play old favourites on their new console with improved graphics.
The delays come ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping days of the year.s.
Not boding well for the 1000s trying to get hold of a rare @PlayStationUK 5 console this morning.@tesco has already removed its dedicated PS ordering website. “Bad gateway” is now the message. And @jlandpartners PS page has frozen
— Harry Wallop (@hwallop) November 19, 2020
Disappointed gamers vented their frustration or posted jokes about their predicament. One said: “Currys and Game claim to have PS5 in stock. Official sources stated that is false and misleading.”
Another said: “Up and in the PS5 queue at Game from 7.30am, get logged in and wait patiently for 45 minutes, only for the website to crash the minute it hits 9am.”
Others were left empty handed after pre-order deliveries failed to show up. Game-streamer Martyn Littlewood said: “I’m guessing I won’t get my PS5 today seeing as I’ve had no text from Yodel yet. Not surprised or angry. Just disappointed.”
In an interview with The Telegraph, Sony Interactive Entertainment chief executive Jim Ryan said: “We like making big blockbuster games; that’s what we do at PlayStation. We have huge budgets to make these wonderful PlayStation games. And in order for us to be able to do that, we have to give them a kind of box-office launch.”