FEATURE

Nintendo Switch Scalpers: Stop Exploiting People During COVID-19

Let People Have Nice Things

Clement GohApr 22, 2020

(COMMENTARY): Buying a Nintendo Switch should feel like a thrill for families and individuals - until it's a chore.

A worldwide shortage of the console drained online retailers at the height of a worldwide pandemic, giving people less options in passing the time. The issue goes deeper than those looking to join the Animal Crossing: New Horizons hype train, as resellers hike prices on what's left of Switch inventory. Feelings of joy are swapped for uncertainty as some click "Purchase" for one system at the price of two (or even three). For consumers, it's an experience soured by price-gouging. For resellers, it's part of a wide effort in making a profit at the expense of self-isolation.

They've also partly taken hold over an indescribable sense of warmth that comes from falling in love with Nintendo again - something that only comes with revisiting franchises that made us as children (under fully-realized games in the likes of Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey).

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Super Mario Odyssey - Nintendo

I was lucky enough to impulse-buy a used Nintendo Switch, weeks before realizing things would change at the start of quarantine. Little did I know, the purchase also started a new backlog of games to get lost in. Of course, it made things a bit more bearable once home life changed. The Switch has a way of making new buyers de-age and fall in love with couch gaming again; a feeling which makes it easy to wish everyone could have.

But as Nintendo Switch sales climbed since 2017, the feelings were mutual for over 53 million lifetime owners. It was a great time to be a gamer on the platform. I italicized "was" for a specific reason, owing it to scalpers deliberately seizing the interest. Specifically, charging self-isolated shoppers past the standard $299 USD/$399.99 CAD price to over $600 USD and even $700 CAD per unit.

It's also worth noting that accessories including Joy Cons and Ring Fit exercise units were also being throttled for over double their recommended prices by retailers. A Canadian Neon Red and Blue Joy Con were even marked up from $99.99 to $229.99 as a collectible by one Amazon reseller. Numerous Ring Fit Adventure games with a fitness wheel were labeled as collectible by U.S. resellers on Amazon, with prices going from $79.99 and up to $339.99.

The large markups in Nintendo Switch prices can jump at consumers making a simple search on eBay and Amazon.

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Markups on Amazon essentially doubled prices for North American customers. Without hikes, the additional $300 difference would be enough to cover a Nintendo Switch Lite at $199 USD MSRP or $259.99 CAD MSRP. (Images from Amazon CA and US)
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eBay markups for both Canadian and United States resellers were visibly lower, but took bigger advantages of recent editions including the Sword and Shield and New Horizon systems. Major retailers including Gamestop and Best Buy don't add additional costs for special Nintendo Switch consoles. (Images from eBay CA and US)

A recent investigation by Vice's Motherboard team discovered many of the sales were community-driven by scalpers. According to the piece, Switch-nabbing efforts even go as far as using automated tools to buy devices before consumers can. A Discord group was also made to share different buying strategies while showing off photos of bulk-purchases intended for resell.

Called Bird Bot, the tool was created "as a joke" by a developer called "Nate" before realizing it was powerful enough to raid online retailers of Nintendo Switch consoles. Bird Bot later grew interest for over 1000 users who joined the Discord community of scalpers - all looking to get in on the latest money gag.

No laughs were heard from concerned shoppers, crickets and Nintendo.

One was heard from a fan who built his own Switch using individual pieces bought online at $200 USD, sharing the method publicly to starve scalpers.

"Screw you if you are one of the bad guys making a buck off of a crisis," he wrote.

As more customers saw greyed-out options and higher prices, more took to social media in identifying the issue. Erik Kain on Forbes deemed it "almost impossible" for anyone to purchase a console while a Nintendo representative stated it would ramp up production by 10%. The increased demand would produce up to "22 million" consoles over 2020 alone while the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic would mean it's unclear when stock returns online.

But let's not sugar-coat the retail practice in a dire time. Instead, communities of resellers are allegedly bulk-buying Switches when available. Customers are then put at the mercy of higher prices set online on consoles and even accessories. During a global effort against coronavirus and passing time at home, price gougers have become a part of the problem.

It's subjective to say price-gouging is new to many people looking for a Nintendo Switch during the age of COVID-19. It's also criminally unfair for self-isolated individuals looking to join a collection of gamers. Opportunities come from making a profit, at the expense of people's chances at connecting with friends and family through Animal Crossing or Splatoon 2.

For "opportunists" reading this, I simply ask: Would you pay for your own asking price on the Nintendo Switch?

How about: Was it worth holding individuals and families back from using the Nintendo Switch as it was made for?

If the snap answer was no for one or both of them, chances are you're not helping anyone but yourself in times like these.