Explaining the great XBox shortage of 2005

15th December, 2005

Why you can’t get the one present you really need

Gaming enthusiasts camp outside electronics stores, desperate to buy the hot new game console. Corporate flacks are deployed to fend off PR calamity: “Consumer demand for the new console has exceeded our expectations, and we are doing all we can to fulfill the wish lists of people who want a new console under their tree this holiday season.”

Video-gamers are clamoring for the new Xbox 360 console, but that statement didn’t come from Microsoft: It came from Sony at the beginning of last year’s buying frenzy for the new slim-line PlayStation 2. In 1996, parents wrestled to get hold of a Tickle Me Elmo. 1988 saw parental panic sparked by shortages of Nintendo game cartridges. And we’re now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Cabbage Patch Kid craze: They sold $600 million of those things in 1985, and that was in the days when $600 million was worth something.

These spectacular sellouts have become as much of a holiday staple as turkey and stuffing. And, of course, they have inspired conspiracy theories. Isn’t it a little odd that the same story comes round year after year? Is Microsoft really running short of consoles? Yet, for economists, the Xbox 360 crisis is more alarming than a conspiracy, because these supply shortages make no economic sense whatsoever. Despite their suspicious regularity, the shortages benefit nobody.

Continued at Slate.com.

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