Skip to main content

The unstoppable machines behind the game console shortage

Resellers aren’t the problem — their buying bots are

Share this story

A giant robot head sucks in PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles and controllers.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

More than a year on, it’s still hard to buy a new PlayStation or Xbox without some help. Flippers have become notorious for snatching up the fresh restocks offered online with the help of ultra-fast buying bots, forcing everyone else to buy units off the secondary market for egregious, 100-dollar markups. But after delving into the console reselling underworld, I was shocked to learn that resellers aren’t the primary problem. Instead, they’re merely the pawns of the true powerbrokers of the industry: the enterprising developers selling these bots to aspiring flippers in the first place. 

Dozens of what are known as “AIO resale bots” have popped up in recent years, offering prospective flippers an “all-in-one” service that can snatch up tons of sneakers, graphic cards, and consoles in order to power their own black market businesses. They offer a suite of tools that allow users to pass through the digital checkout infrastructure of retailers like Walmart and Best Buy in an instant with a heavy load of plunder in tow. Most of these bots are saddled with an upfront payment and a recurring usage fee, which means they’re simply the middlemen for the scalping industry writ large. The programmers all believe that they’re fighting the good fight; after all, what’s more American than supply and demand?

“This software lets them change their lives.”

“Financial freedom is something the United States and all countries stand for. We’re all aiming for it in the end, not just resellers but consumers,” says Fuat, a German entrepreneur who is one of the partners behind the buying bot Dakoza, in a Discord call with The Verge. (He only shared his first name for the story.) “We have users DMing us saying, ‘Thank you so much for this opportunity. I was able to afford my wedding. I was able to buy clothing for my baby.’ The impact we have on people is not negative; it’s definitely positive. This software lets them change their lives.”

Dakoza’s pitch is simple. For an initial $300 fee and monthly $50 payments afterward, the bot lets its users morph their computers into an unparalleled price-gouging force of nature. In a demonstration of Dakoza’s UI plastered across its homepage, we see a trickle of receipts for Xbox Series X consoles, PS5s, and Nvidia graphics cards leak into a shark’s inventory like clockwork. The service is optimized for Target, Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart.

The Twitter account “Dakoza Success” proudly promotes all of the bounties scored by the bot’s users. In one memorable post, one lucky rounder shows off nine freshly purchased GeForce RTX 3080s stacked to the ceiling like LEGO bricks. It’s an image that evokes an enfeebling combination of envy and rage, as it becomes increasingly clear that the botters are perpetually one step ahead of our mere keyboards and mouses.

Fuat, like the two other partners involved in Dakoza, stumbled into the resale industry through the dark art of sneaker flipping. Enthusiasts and scalpers routinely queue for hours outside of flagship Nike stores so they may secure a hot pair of LeBrons before the price tag quintuples on the open market. “[A friend] asked me to go to a store and buy a pair of shoes so he could hand them to a client. He gave me $50 for it,” says Fuat, detailing his own origin story. “He explained the whole scene to me.”

An app showing completed checkouts for Xboxes, Playstations, and a graphics card.
The Dakoza buying bot’s interface.
Image: Dakoza

This was during the height of the pandemic when Fuat was stuck at home, plugging away at his day job in IT, looking for any sort of distraction. Few people possess the vocational expertise to capitalize on a notable inefficiency in the resale market, and with just a few lines of code, Fuat understood that he could effectively function as a middleman — funneling merchandise directly to the grinders in the streets. 

“I noticed that a lot of people who run this scene, or have businesses in the scene, are in IT,” he says. “I was like, ‘Man, this community is super talented. There must be an opportunity here.’”

Botting has been a fixture in reselling for a good five years, but the combination of Covid boredom, mogul dreams, and overwhelming mainstream intrigue brought a generation of amateur hustlers into the flipping ecosystem, says Anton, another German who co-founded Dakoza and declined to give his full name for the story. His case bears truth in the data. According to CNBC, Americans are purchasing more from scalpers than ever before.

“It’s nothing really tricky.”

There is likely all sorts of abstruse chicanery happening on a checkout bot’s backend, and I was not surprised that my sources didn’t want to go into detail on how their apps worked. But the owner of Hayha, another popular resale service, broke down the programming basics for me in a message sent over Discord chat. “When your browser checks out an item on a retail site, it sends ‘requests’ to the site’s server. These requests are basically commands that tell the server what to do. Add this item to the cart, submit my order, and so on,” they wrote. “We send those commands associated with checking out to the servers of sites we automate without requiring a browser. Basically, we can mimic what a human does, stripping out the unnecessary lags and delays of a browser.”

“It’s nothing really tricky,” adds Anton. “We just mirror what the user would do.” 

Of course, Anton notes that the Dakoza membership experience offers more than just a devious bit of code. Like other botting cartels, the company employs a crack team of human moderators to constantly keep subscribers informed on incoming retail restocks so that they’re ready to pounce at the exact moment Target rolls out a new suite of consoles. “We’re basically able to tell people when they should run [Dakoza,]” he adds. 

There are a shocking number of resale platforms offering the exact same promise as Dakoza. I reached out to about 10 while writing this story and began to run into some strange recursive quirks. All of the websites for these platforms look suspiciously similar, right down to the interface and graphic design. Can you detect a discernible aesthetic difference between, say, Trickle and Viper, two popular bots in the scene? Anton tells me that this is simply a coincidence. “New software products always have a default design,” he says.

A website reading “the most advanced features” with six boxes below it describing those features, including 24/7 support, anti-bot protection, a friendly UI, and proven success.
Trickle’s website highlighting the bot’s capabilities.
A website reading “Endless features” with five boxes below it describing product features including 24/7 support, multiple operating systems, and customizability.
Viper’s website has a similar layout and a near-identical support offering.

What’s more bizarre is that nobody can buy Dakoza right now — or most of the other bots on the market. Any prospective flipper must instead linger on a waiting list for an indefinite amount of time before finally being offered the chance to license the software. This is remarkably common across the entire scene. In fact, I didn’t encounter a single botting company that allowed me to purchase their automation service off the rack without first signing up for an interminable queue. Just like the sneakers and game consoles they’re designed to buy, these apps are offered only in a limited supply to a lucky few buyers.

It’s a strategy that doesn’t add up economically. Wouldn’t Dakoza make a ton more money by broadening out their subscription apparatus to anyone interested in the scalping lifestyle? But Anton tells me he wants to keep numbers small in order to ensure that the company can meet the bespoke needs of all of its customers. The limited number of members, he argues, all add up to a better user experience. “With limiting access to the bots it makes it easier to run everything without cutting into profits,” he says. “There’s less troubleshooting and software handling. We have a weekly Twitch stream where one of our moderators answers questions live.”

Manufactured scarcity is crucial to a bot’s notoriety, says a person who knows the sneaker industry and asked to remain anonymous for employment concerns. It lets us imagine the sea of PS5s that could be ours, if only we could breach through that locked door. “Creating FOMO is part of the business plan,” the person says.

This scene has become saturated with questionable upstart companies

This sentiment was echoed by Matthew Milic, an 18-year-old in Canada and dedicated flipper who says he’s scooped up huge quantities of PS5s. Milic believes that the idea that anyone can purchase a piece of automation software and immediately rake in massive revenue is a fantasy. This scene has become saturated with questionable upstart companies, and most of them, he says, are overpromising what their software can do.

“There’s maybe only two or three bots that perform well on a consistent basis. Then all the other bots are just a waste of money,” Milic says. “Those are for new people who don’t know the industry. They’re like, ‘Oh, this bot is only $500,’ and they’ll buy it up and it’ll get them nothing.” (For what it’s worth, Milic says that he doesn’t know much about Dakoza or the quality of its product.)

The Hayha founder tells me that his user base doesn’t just include resellers. They claim to have plenty of casual collectors in the mix who “feel frustrated trying to check out manually on these sites” and simply want an Xbox to call their own. Never mind the fact that the “frustration” he refers to can be blamed solely on the secondhand market that companies like Hayha are making more predatory by the day; nobody wants to see themselves as the villain.

People would rather flip video game consoles than work a traditional job

In fact, the bot programmers pitch themselves as the arbiters of a beguiling new techno-yeoman fantasy: for just $50 a month, maybe you too can pull yourselves up from the grey muck of stagnant employment with the power of ludicrously expensive eBay listings.

“Instead of going to McDonald’s for $13 an hour, they’re trying to [make it] themselves,” says Fout, on Dakoza’s users. “They’re trying to buy a pair of Yeezys and make $200.”

He is not wrong, which is the scary thing. In this precarious economy, beset by mounting inflation and a structural breakdown of the very contours of full-time work, people would rather flip video game consoles than work a job with no agency or absolution on the horizon. The bot makers and the scalpers are both cogs in the same machine — a mad scramble for any leverageable commodity, as side hustles become a survival requirement, rather than, you know, a hobby.

Perhaps someday the supply chain will snap back into order and there’ll be too many consoles to scoop up. Until then, I’ll be refreshing the Best Buy homepage, hoping to finally edge out the machines. 

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed An hour ago The tablet didn’t call that play by itself

The Verge
Mary Beth GriggsAn hour ago
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.

Emma RothTwo hours ago
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.

Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther Wang12:00 PM UTC
Emma Roth7:16 PM UTC
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.

External Link
Russell Brandom7:13 PM UTC
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?

Richard Lawler6:54 PM UTC
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.

External Link
Russell Brandom4:29 PM UTC
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.

External Link
Emma Roth4:13 PM UTC
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.

External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins3:37 PM UTC
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.

James Vincent3:17 PM UTC
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.

Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
The Verge
James Vincent3:03 PM UTC
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.

External Link
Elizabeth Lopatto2:41 PM UTC
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.

The Verge
Richard Lawler2:09 PM UTC
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.