During the global coronavirus pandemic, demand for the Nintendo Switch console has skyrocketed and retailers have repeatedly run out of stock. Seizing that opportunity, some price gougers on Amazon and eBay are selling Switches for hundreds of dollars over the recommended retail price.
Like lots of money-making opportunities in online shopping, many of these resellers aren't just stumbling upon their in-demand product of choice. Instead, developers are creating dedicated tools to automatically buy Switches from stores when they come back in stock, and before others get a chance to. Motherboard has traced some of the bulk Switch buying to a community revolving around a new, particular bot. Hundreds of people looking to jump on the gold rush or who are just desperate to get their hands on a Switch for themselves have joined a Discord group where users share tips on how to effectively use the tool.
"I decided to make it as a joke, but I quickly realized just how powerful it could be," Nate, the creator of Bird Bot, the open source tool for quickly purchasing Switches, told Motherboard in an online chat.
Right now it is open season for profit seekers. Some resellers on eBay are asking for over $500 for a Switch, with some vendors successfully getting around $750 for the Animal Crossing themed bundle of the branded console and the game within the last week. The typical retail price for those products are $300 and $360 respectively.
Resellers or collectors of sneakers as well as ticket brokers sometimes use automated bots for identifying whether an item is back in stock, adding it to their cart, and completing the checkout process as quickly as possible in order to beat other buyers (in the case of ticket brokers, they use bots when tickets go on sale). Websites will often try to block automated buyers like these, but the bot designers and users will then route their traffic through various other computers before ordering the item or use other tricks to avoid the website's mitigations. The bots can be tricky for the average user to deploy properly, so bot creators run Discord servers to provide customer support. Some of the communities can even have insiders from companies leak the URL where a hot new item is going to appear, finalphoenix, a researcher who presented their work on fashion bots at the annual DEF CON hacking conference, previously told Motherboard.