At Sony's recent PlayStation Experience conference in Las Vegas, one of the biggest, most anticipated announcements wasn't a game. It wasn't even a surprise, having been teased days earlier. It was instructions on how to purchase the PSOne-themed, 20th Anniversary, limited edition PlayStation 4 console—instructions that were followed by a near-immediate sellout of the consoles with resale listings on eBay going for as high as $15,000.
Was this really a good way for Sony to celebrate twenty years of PlayStation fandom?
The root problem here is one of simple supply and demand: Sony’s artificial supply constraint (only 12,300 were produced) created an unnaturally high demand, with collectors immediately taking notice. While I don't begrudge the idea of rare or limited items, having a flagship commemorative item like this (especially during the holiday season) be so limited seems shortsighted for Sony.
Put simply, a lot of PlayStation clearly want this console, and most of them won't be able to afford it.
My biggest issue with limited consoles like this is the ugly secondhand (or "grey") market that springs up around the release with eBay kingpins swooping in to block regular fans from getting the package at Sony's price only to sell them at a profit. Some economists might argue that this is simply the free market adjusting to supply and demand, but it doesn't need to be this way. All Sony has to do is say, "okay, we get it—we’ll make more of these!"
Certainly, part of Sony's strategy here is to keep the console limited: it's more desirable that way, creates more buzz, and makes the people who do get one feel like it's an achievement to own one. But the extremely small production run of only 12,300 seems arbitrary and far too limited.
My suggestion is simple: make future limited console releases time-limited, not quantity-limited. Even if Sony gave consumers a 24-hour period during which to place an order, they would still create a limited run, but they could create the run after knowing the demand. The console would most definitely a collector's item, not everyone would get one, but they would be greatly restricting the need for egregiously-overpriced eBay aftermarket sales.
Because, in the end, it's neither Sony fans nor Sony itself who benefit from the current arrangement.