Bot run on PlayStation 5 may cool as scalpers seek new targets, say experts

Scalper bots appear to have changed tack and are favoring sneakers and concert tickets over consoles, allowing gamers to breathe a sigh of relief.

Resellers have been known to use scalper bots to target PlayStation 5 (PS5) and other trending items. Scalper bots are automated programs that can quickly purchase large quantities of in-demand items, leaving regular consumers struggling to get their hands on the latest gadgets.

However, an analysis by Netacea, a cybersecurity firm specializing in detecting and mitigating bot attacks, shows a shift in scalper bots' targeting during the last three months of 2022 that might affect the sales of the PS5, making it easier for gamers to buy the prized console.

Gaming fans may also be cheered by a recent Sony announcement that it would be increasing its supply of PS5s for 2023 due to high demand, which should also make it easier for players to purchase.

Since its launch, the PS5 has shattered all previous console sales records. However, Sony's success backfired, as resellers capitalized on its widespread popularity and media attention, making it challenging for the company to meet the overwhelming demand.

This inflated demand, as resellers targeted consoles for profit, meant that by the second quarter of 2022, the PS5 was being resold for $618-$702, compared to the official $500 price.

Bots shift attention

According to Netacea, the average resale value of the PS5 dropped by 8% in the fourth quarter, falling below $600 for the first time, even with heightened demand during the holiday season.

Cyril Noel-Tagoe, a Principal Security Researcher at Netacea, told Cybernews that it is seeing a change in trends of the bot industry, since consoles are no longer the most attractive target for scalpers.

“Bots that were sold solely on their ability to get consoles are having to develop new functionality or merge with other bots to survive,” said the researcher, suggesting that such tougher circumstances might lead their users to focus on other sources of profit.

“This means sites that didn't previously may now find themselves in the crosshairs as bot developers look to entice former console scalpers looking for a new target,” he said.

Noel-Tagoe indicates that automated sneaker-purchasing bots remain prevalent, and there has been a rise in the use of freebie bots designed to monitor and buy products priced lower than their market value or offered at significant discounts.

The downward trend in console resale value is expected to continue during the next quarter, as predicted by Netacea. However, despite this dip, the PS5 remains one of the most desired items when it comes to using scalper bots, maintaining its place in the top five at fifth position.

Sneakers – top targets of scalper bots

During the fourth quarter of 2022, shopping bots heavily targeted the Nike Dunk Low Retro Black White, also known as the "Panda" Dunk, making it the most sought-after item. In this case the machines and their users took advantage of the affordable $110 retail price to purchase multiple pairs, resulting in tens of thousands being snapped up.

The second most popular target was the Air Jordan 1 “Lost and Found” sneakers, followed by the Air Jordan 4 Midnight Navy footwear.

Pricing data in Q3 and Q4. Image by Netacea

In fourth place came singer Taylor Swift’s Eras tour tickets, the release of which was marred by heavy scalper bot activity resulting in one of the most widely-publicized incidents of scalping since the PS5 and graphics card shortages. The incident even attracted the attention of the US government, with Ticketmaster’s parent company boss called to testify before the Senate earlier this year.

Scalper bots are here to stay

As scalper bots have changed their main focus, it will affect the sales of PS5 consoles. Noel-Tagoe says the changes will help to include new consumers, “especially those who have waited out the scalping saga, as they can now find consoles in stock”.

He believes that "scalper bots are not going away, at least not in the near future” and says large communities are still utilizing bots to acquire underpriced or highly sought-after items, such as shoes, tickets, or collectibles, to sell on secondary marketplaces.

Calling on businesses to be proactive in tackling the problem and warning that unprepared firms suffer the most from such attacks, Noel-Tagoe added: “Companies must detect and mitigate bot attacks on potentially unexpected items, as bots look for new targets."

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