Though images of electronics stores adorned with snaking lines of pimply faced teenagers, desperate parents and eager technophiles searching for an elusive Sony PlayStation 3 blanketed the Internet before the holidays, the high-tech, high-priced video game console may no longer be so hard to find.
Blogs, recently filled with stories of gamers on the hunt for PS3s, are now littered with accounts of stockpiles of the machines uncovered at major retailers. Even scalpers have returned machines they picked up before the holidays to sell on Web sites like eBay but failed to unload.
One slightly frustrated wife of a wannabe PS3 scalper who didn't want to be identified said her basement was cluttered with several units they hoped to return after the demand for the machines took a post-holiday nose dive on eBay.
"I certainly haven't been to every store in the country, but anecdotally it's an issue," said Brian Crecente, editor in chief of gaming blog Kotaku.com. Crecente photographed a large stack of PS3s for sale at a major U.S. electronics retailer just after the holidays.
A visit to eBay finds the PlayStation 3 selling for a retail price of $500 for a 20-gig model and $600 for 60-gigs, a stark contrast to the $2,000 plus they went for before Christmas. As of this writing, Best Buy's Web site shows that the high-end model is available on order.
But as skeptics question the authenticity of the PS3 supply shortage due to overwhelming demand, others call it conspiracy theory hogwash.
"Rumors and speculation surround every console launch," explained Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at Jupiter Research. "Someday Oliver Stone is going to do a movie about the launch of a video game console and all the cabals and clandestine groups keeping them out of stores."
Gartenberg said that while the PS3 may be available in a store here or there, if you want one you're still likely to resort to paying more than the retail price in an online auction house.
"At this particular point in time there aren't enough PS3s to go around," he said. "The question is what happens when supply catches up to demand. Will consumers still want it?"
But is that true? Is there more demand for the PlayStation 3 than there is supply?
"Demand was outstripping supply at launch, but with so few units readily available, it would be shocking if that wasn't the case," said John Davison, vice president and editorial director of the 1UP Network, a series of Web sites and multimedia productions on gaming. "I don't think it'll be possible to assess whether it's truly a hit until this time next year."
Davison and others agreed that the real test for the PS3 would come next holiday season, after the system is readily available and developers have had a chance to produce some grade A games.
While not willing to talk about specific sales figures, Sony believes the PS3 is doing well.
"Everything that we put on store shelves sold out," said Sony spokesman David Karraker.
Karraker admitted that doesn't necessarily mean that every system Sony sold to retailers like Best Buy made it to the shelves and said that the units that Crecente posted on Kotaku.com were put out after the holidays and beyond the company's field of vision.