Of all the methods retailers have devised to fight scalpers, PS5 bundles may be one of the most effective. Recently, my colleague Roland Moore-Colyer wrote an article about elusive PS5s staying in stock longer than ever before, at least partially due to being sold along with games and accessories rather than à la carte. And while his reasoning is almost certainly correct, being able to find PS5 only in bundles is, at best, a mixed blessing.
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Why PS5 bundles seem enticing
Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the console war was between Sega and Nintendo, buying a console often meant getting a bundle just by default. New systems generally came with at least one game, and often a second controller. But as this practice fell out of favor, retailers sought to make up the difference by offering “bundles” that included the console, a game or two, another controller and — if you were particularly unlucky — another needless accessory that the store wouldn’t be able to sell otherwise.
Bundles are extremely common when consoles first launch, and the reason why is simple: Retailers have customers over a barrel. When a console first launches, people really, really want it, especially since consoles often come out right before the holidays. As such, a retailer could sell a $500 console by itself, or it could sell a console along with a $60 controller, two $60 games and maybe a gift card, too, which ensures that the customer will have no choice but to come back and shop again. Either way, the console will get sold.
As my colleague pointed out, the inclusion of games and accessories is the primary reason why scalpers don’t want PS5 bundles. It’s relatively easy to buy a PS5 for retail price and flip it on eBay for a profit, since customers can’t get one anywhere else. It’s much more difficult to resell a copy of Demon’s Souls, or a DualSense controller, since customers can get those at retail price from more reliable purveyors.
The underlying message is clear: PS5 bundles act as a deterrent for scalpers and bots, resulting in more real people getting their hands on the hot new console. The bundled games are good; the extra controllers are useful; the price is the same as if you’d bought all the components separately. So what’s the problem, exactly?
Here’s the problem with PS5 bundles
The primary problem with bundles is that they assume every gamer — or at least every household — has the same taste and requirements. A recent GameStop PS5 bundle included a PS5, an extra DualSense controller, a copy of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a copy of Demon’s Souls and a $20 GameStop gift card. It cost $730 altogether — roughly what you’d pay if you bought all of these items separately, although I couldn’t quite make the math work. The bundle page is no longer up online, so I couldn’t verify the exact contents.
Let’s assume, though, that you’re paying standard retail price for everything in the bundle, since that’s how GameStop and its competitors usually operate. A PS5 by itself costs $500, so an extra $220 is nearly half the price of the system in extras that you may or may not want. Gamers who play by themselves need only one controller, particularly since both Demon’s Souls and Miles Morales are single-player games. The extra $20 gift card is a particularly naked ploy to get you back to GameStop. Yes, it’s money you’d probably spend eventually anyway, but this way, you’ll have to spend it at one particular retailer.
This isn’t even particularly egregious as bundles go. Often, bundles will include much more niche accessories, such as a camera or a controller charging dock, which aren’t even remotely necessary for the core console experience.
The fact is that game consoles, at least at launch, are a luxury item. Retailers are betting on the fact that if you have $500 to spend on a just-for-fun purchase, you probably have $700 — and if you don’t, someone in a similar situation will. If you really, truly want every single item in a bundle, that’s fine. But retailers aren’t banking on that. They’re banking on the fact that you’ll kind of, sort of want some of the accessories in a bundle, but you really want the console, and what’s another few hundred dollars in the grand scheme of things? It’s a classic case of prioritizing short-term satisfaction over long-term value, and humans do it all the dang time.
If we’re forced to choose between two bad options, I will grudgingly admit that “gamers getting some extras they don’t need, but could potentially use” is a much better situation than “scalpers getting everything.” But at best, it still encourages people to overspend, and at worse, it saddles them with a bunch of gear and games they didn’t really want in the first place.
If you’re in the market for a PS5, a bundle is probably your best bet right now. Just be sure it’s a bundle of things you actually want, or you could wind up wondering why you didn’t just wait a few more weeks.