Bots have a bad representative. Shadow manipulators have used these automated computer programs on social networks to spread conspiracy theories, spit vitriol and scam people. But when robots are programmed to do good, they can help us achieve the seemingly impossible.
Bring a PlayStation 5. Since the Sony console was released in November, it has been difficult to find in physical and online stores, in part because a global chip shortage has slowed the production of all kinds of technological products, from graphics cards to cars.
As a result, when the new PlayStation appears online on sites like Amazon, Target and Best Buy, it sells out in minutes ̵
Some buy them, though, and the lucky few I’ve talked to relied on some form of automation.
“It’s very difficult to get one without bots,” said SV Yesvanth, an information security engineer who wrote a web script to automatically scan online stores for available consoles after his own battle to buy one in Hyderabad, India. After succeeding in buying a PlayStation, he said, he linked his fine to a Twitter account and helped hundreds of other eager customers.
This month I joined the club. I volunteered to help a friend who had been trying to buy a PlayStation for six months. After setting up several Twitter bots to blow up alerts on my phone when new consoles were in stock, I managed to catch one in a week. It was not easy – I failed three times on the Best Buy website and finally succeeded with GameStop. But the robots gave me the necessary advantage to beat thousands of others who furiously refreshed their browsers.
You can not choose any fine and expect to land the device. I interviewed several creators of automated tools that have helped people score PlayStations. They said there were pitfalls to avoid, like scary bots claiming to sell consoles. There are also some hidden tricks to get faster orders. Here’s what you need to know.
Bots can be your friend …
Dozens of robots online post on Twitter when a retailer updates its inventory of multiple PlayStations. They generally work the same way: They search the online store’s online code for a signal – like an “add to cart” button – indicating that PlayStation is back in stock. As soon as they discover that the console is available, they publish an alert on Twitter.
The first step is to follow reliable robots. Here are some trusted Twitter accounts I’ve researched:
@ PS5StockAlerts, who tweets when consoles are available at Best Buy, Sam’s Club and Walmart, among others.
@mattswider, who initially relied on information from bots to update inventory, but is now completely curated by Matt Swider, the editor-in-chief of the blog TechRadar. Mr. Swider gets a head start from sources at major retailers and some independent stores before updating the PlayStation warehouse, he said.
@ ps5_india, the account run by SV Yesvanth, has a small following with a focus on acquiring a PlayStation in India, where it has been particularly challenging to buy the console.
@ iloveps_5, a fine host for Kevin Hirczy, a software developer in Austria. Mr. Hirczy’s bot focuses on the availability of PlayStation in Europe.
You can scan your Twitter feed for stock alerts from these accounts. But a more effective route is to set up alerts to appear on your phone when accounts twitter. To do so, download the Twitter mobile app and let it send messages to your phone. Then follow Twitter’s instructions to set up specific accounts to send alerts to your phone when they twitter.
When you see that consoles have returned to stock, do not hesitate: Click through and add the item to the shopping cart as soon as you can.
… but most robots should be avoided
The risky part of relying on robots is that you more often than not will encounter scammers. Rule of thumb: Avoid Twitter accounts that offer to sell you a PlayStation 5 directly. Once they have received your payment, you will probably not hear from them again.
So be very careful about which Twitter accounts you follow. Some scammers use account names and avatars that are similar to the names of legitimate accounts. It is best to only follow accounts that post links to trusted resellers.
“The scary thing is that there are so many scam accounts trying to crack down on legitimate accounts,” Swider said. “It’s hard to tell them apart.”
Other robots to avoid are the automatic check-out tools, such as browser extensions that update websites and try to order PlayStation for you. Many reseller websites have systems that detect non-human orders, so using these tools can cause your order to fail, SV Yesvanth said.
There are hidden tricks
In addition to following some bots and setting up alerts for your phone, you can tilt the odds in your favor with a few steps:
On retail sites like GameStop and Best Buy, create a member account and fill in your postal address and credit card information in advance. This will increase cash by valuable seconds, Swider said.
In rare cases, PlayStation orders have failed in the middle of a credit card transaction. On some store sites, such as Amazon, you can buy gift credit for yourself, which allows you to skip the credit card verification process, SV Yesvanth said. (The downside is that this strategy obliges you to try to buy the console from a particular retailer.)
Some online stores have peculiarities. On Best Buy, for example, you should not update your site after clicking the “add to cart” button – this could cause you to lose your PlayStation. Mr. Swider regularly streams live YouTube videos that guide people through the various checkout processes, and SV Yesvanth and Mr. Hirczy are host groups in Discord where people discuss what works for them.
At the end of the day, the big effort to buy a product may sound absurd. But at a time when hectic customers are even competing for hand sanitizer and toilet paper, bots can lead to victory.