Nvidia’s RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 sales were the worst examples yet of how badly online bots are damaging product launches, and the company wants to prevent a similar event from happening when it launches the RTX 3070. To that end, Nvidia will delay the RTX 3070 debut by two weeks, from October 15 to October 29, in order to build inventory and ensure an adequate supply of cards.
This is going to be an interesting stress test of the bot armies, OEM manufacturing, and retailer attempts to identify real orders versus scalpers. I’m not terribly optimistic about the outcome. As I wrote earlier this week, Nvidia has every reason to crack down on bots and scalpers, but other companies in the distribution chain don’t necessarily see things that way.
According to Rob Fahey at GamesIndustry.biz, Amazon apparently took no action to prevent people from buying pre-order stocks before immediately re-listing those exact same products for sale at a substantial markup compared with previous listings. Companies like eBay have no reason to attempt to block preorder scams and scalping, given that they literally make their money from online auctions and will earn more from an inflated sales price than a normal one.
Up front, we have to acknowledge that the first come, first served paradigm is a disaster; it’s meaningless in the age of the Internet, when even a tech company with the prowess of Amazon can’t build store pages that keep up with the speed of traffic at a popular launch. The result is confusing, contradictory and frustrating for consumers who add the product to their cart only to see it disappear a screen later, or go out of stock while they’re choosing a delivery address, or flicker in and out of availability as they refresh browser pages. Using this kind of hare-brained system only gives the advantage to the scalpers, who can afford to set up bots and web crawlers to secure stock for themselves.
Fahey suggests the use of lotteries as one method to create a more fair distribution system. I’ve suggested either validated pre-orders or a return to retail distribution as a means of fighting scalping, though the latter obviously depends on the degree to which your state is open for business and how comfortable you feel shopping in it.
After the RTX 3080 debut/debacle, screenshots surfaced of individuals successfully ordering 18 to 42 GPUs for themselves. We don’t know if Nvidia or any other reseller successfully caught these orders and terminated them. If they did, then waiting an extra two weeks to build inventory might be sufficient to keep the market fed for longer than 2-5 minutes, which is how long Ampere stocks lasted in some online stores. If, on the other hand, the bot detection methods were less successful than previously believed, no reasonable amount of additional stock is going to solve the problem.
If the customer who bought 42 GPUs was an outlier, Nvidia is fine. If he represents the median bot purchase — or is even within one standard deviation of it — then we’re talking about bots sucking down 1-2 dozen cards apiece. If 1,000 to 2,000 bots can account for 12,000 to 48,000 video cards, it’s going to be much harder to overwhelm the collective credit limits and resources of the botters. Some scammers might take whatever profits they earned from the first wave of RTX 3080 and 3090 order abuse, then pour those profits into buying more RTX 3070s in the hopes of pulling the same trick again.
I’m glad to see Nvidia taking the situation seriously and I hope retailers and manufacturers do the same in order to make certain hardware gets into the hands of customers attempting to buy it as opposed to flipping it for profit, but the bots have definitely won Round 1 of our metaphorical match-up. Here’s hoping better detection methods and more inventory can hand a win to the good guys in Round 2. Nvidia has claimed the $ 500 RTX 3070 will outperform the $ 1,200 RTX 2080 Ti, and that’s going to have a lot of people eyeing the RTX 3070 as a potential upgrade.