More than a year later, it’s still hard to buy a new PlayStation or Xbox without help. Flippers have become infamous for picking up the new restocks offered online using ultra-fast buying bots, forcing everyone to buy units from the secondary market for blatant, $100 markups. But after delving into the underworld of console resale, I was shocked to learn that resellers aren’t the primary problem. Instead, they are just the pawns of the… TRUE Industry power brokers: The enterprising developers who sell these bots primarily to aspiring flippers.
Dozens of what’s known as “AIO resale bots” have popped up in recent years, offering would-be flippers an “all-in-one” service that can snatch tons of sneakers, graphics cards, and consoles to run their own black market businesses. They provide a suite of tools that allow users to quickly move through the digital checkout infrastructure of retailers like Walmart and Best Buy with a heavy load of loot in tow. Most of these bots come saddled with a prepayment and recurring usage fee meaning they are just the middlemen for the scalping industry. The programmers all believe they are fighting the good fight; After all, what could be more American than supply and demand?
“Financial freedom is something the United States and all countries stand for. Ultimately, we all strive for it, not just resellers but also consumers,” Fuat, a German entrepreneur who is one of the partners behind the purchasing bot Dakoza, said in a Discord conversation with The edge† (He only shared his first name for the story.) “We have users who DM us and say, ‘Thank you so much for this opportunity. I could afford my wedding. I was able to buy clothes for my baby.’ The impact we have on people is not negative; it is definitely positive. With this software, they can change their lives.”
Dakoza’s pitch is simple. For an initial fee of $300 and monthly payments of $50, the bot lets its users turn their computers into an unparalleled price-pushing force of nature. In a demonstration of Dakoza’s UI plastered to the homepage, we see a trickle of receipts for Xbox Series X consoles, PS5s, and Nvidia graphics cards leaking like clockwork into a shark’s inventory. The service is optimized for Target, Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart.
The Twitter account “Success in Dakozaproudly promotes all bounties scored by the bot’s users. In a memorable post, a lucky rounder shows off nine newly purchased GeForce RTX 3080s stacked to the ceiling like LEGO bricks† It’s an image that evokes a crippling combination of envy and anger as it becomes increasingly apparent that the botters are always one step ahead of our regular keyboards and mice.
Fuat, like the other two partners involved in Dakoza, stumbled into the resale industry through the dark art of sneaker flipping. Enthusiasts and scalpers alike routinely queue for hours in front of Nike’s flagship stores so they can get their hands on a pair of hot LeBrons before the price tag hits the open market fivefold. †[A friend] asked me to go to a store and buy a pair of shoes so he could hand them over to a customer. He gave me $50 for it,” Fuat says, describing his own origin story. “He explained the whole scene to me.”
This was during the height of the pandemic when Fuat was stuck at home, unplugging from his day job in IT, seeking some form of distraction. Few people have the expertise to take advantage of a remarkable inefficiencies in the resale market, and with just a few lines of code, Fuat understood that he could act as an effective middleman – directing goods straight to the grinders on the street.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of people who run this scene, or have businesses in the scene, are in IT,” he says. “I thought, ‘Man, this community is super talented. There must be an opportunity here.’”
Botting has been a fixture in resale for over five years, but the combination of Covid boredom, mogul dreams and overwhelming mainstream intrigue brought a generation of amateur medics into the flipping ecosystem, says Anton, another German who co-founded Dakoza and refused to give his full name for the story. His case contains truth in the data. According to CNBC, Americans are buy more from scalpers than ever before†
There’s probably all kinds of shady trickery going on on the backend of a checkout bot, and I wasn’t surprised that my sources wouldn’t go into detail about how their apps worked. But the owner of Hayha, another popular resale service, the basics of programming broke out for me in a message sent over Discord chat. “When your browser checks out an item on a shopping site, it sends ‘requests’ to the site’s server. These requests are basically commands that tell the server what to do. Add this item to the cart, submit my order, and so on,” they wrote. “We send those check-out-related commands to the servers of sites that we automate without the need for a browser. In short, we can mimic what a human does, eliminating the unnecessary lags and slowdowns of a browser.”
“It’s not really difficult,” Anton adds. “We’re just mirroring what the user would do.”
Of course, Anton notes that the Dakoza membership experience offers more than just a sly bit of code. Like other bottling cartels, the company employs a great team of human moderators to keep subscribers constantly informed of incoming store additions, so they’re ready to strike at the exact moment Target rolls out a new line of consoles. “We are basically able to tell people when to run [Dakoza,]he adds.
There is a shocking number of resale platforms that offer the exact same promise as Dakoza. I was reaching for about 10 as I wrote this story and started to run into some strange recursive quirks. All the websites for these platforms are suspiciously similar, right down to the interface and graphic design. Can you detect a discernible aesthetic difference between, say, drip and Viper, two popular bots in the scene? Anton tells me this is just a coincidence. “New software products always have a standard design,” he says.
What’s even more bizarre is that no one can buy Dakoza right now – or most of the other bots on the market. Any prospective flipper should instead be put on a waiting list indefinitely before finally getting a chance to license the software. This is remarkably common throughout the scene. In fact I haven’t come across any only botting company that allowed me to buy their automation service off the shelf without signing up for an endless queue first. Like the sneakers and game consoles they were designed for, these apps are offered in limited supply to a lucky few buyers.
It’s a strategy that doesn’t make sense economically. Wouldn’t Dakoza make a lot more money by expanding their subscription device to anyone interested in the scalping lifestyle? But Anton tells me he wants to keep the number small to ensure the company can meet the tailored needs of all of its customers. The limited number of members, he says, all contribute to a better user experience. “Restricting access to the bots makes it easier to run anything without making a profit,” he says. “There is less troubleshooting and software handling. We have a weekly Twitch stream where one of our moderators answers questions live.”
Manufactured scarcity is critical to a bot’s notoriety, says one person who knows the sneaker industry and wants to remain anonymous due to employment concerns. It makes us imagine the sea of PS5s that could be ours, if only we could break through that locked door. “Making FOMO is part of the business plan,” the person says.
This sentiment was echoed by Matthew Milic, an 18-year-old in Canada and dedicated pinball player who says he’s picked up massive amounts of PS5s. Milic believes that the idea that anyone can buy a piece of automation software and immediately generate huge revenues is a fantasy. This scene has become saturated with questionable startup companies, and most of them, he says, are over-promising what their software can do.
“There may only be two or three bots that perform consistently well. Then all the other bots are just a waste of money,” says Milic. “They are for new people who don’t know the industry. They say, ‘Oh, this bot is only $500,’ and they buy it and it gets them nothing. (For what it’s worth, Milic says he doesn’t know much about Dakoza or the quality of the product.)
The Hayha founder tells me his user base doesn’t only including resellers. They claim they have a lot of casual collectors in the mix who are “frustrated when they try to manually check out these sites” and just want an Xbox to call their own Xbox. Never mind that the “frustration” he refers to can only be attributed to the second-hand market that makes companies like Hayha more predatory by the day; no one wants to see themselves as the bad guy.
In fact, the bot programmers are profiling themselves as the arbiters of a tantalizing new techno-yeoman fantasy: For just $50 a month, you too might be able to pull yourself out of the gray mud of stagnant employment with the power of ridiculously expensive eBay listings.
“Instead of going to McDonald’s for $13 an hour, they try… [make it] itself”, says Fout about the users of Dakoza. “They’re trying to buy some Yeezys and make $200.”
He’s not wrong, which is the scary thing. In this precarious economy, ravaged by soaring inflation and a structural collapse of the contours of full-time work, people would rather flip video game consoles than have a job with no agency or absolution on the horizon. The bot makers and the scalpers are both cogs in the same machine – a frenzied battle for any product that has leverage, as collateral becomes a survival requirement rather than, you know, a hobby.
Perhaps one day the supply chain will get back in order and there will be too many consoles to boast. Until then, I’ll be revamping the Best Buy homepage, hoping to finally beat the machines.