Meet the Nvidia and AMD GPU hunters who turned battling bots into a full-time job

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Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Last September, a bored 24-year-old from South Carolina decided to livestream the launch of Nvidia’s RTX 3080 graphics card, little knowing the GPU was about to become one of the most difficult-to-buy gadgets in the world.

Now, Larry says he’s on track to pull in $100,000 a year — and another $100K for his software development partner Stu — as the proprietors of Falcodrin Stock Alerts and the Falcodrin Community Discord. They’ve become full-time GPU hunters, helping others find an estimated 50,000 graphics cards (and counting) in exchange for affiliate revenue. You sign up for alerts and get a ping when a GPU’s in stock. Like what you see? When you press the buy button, that retailer gives Falcodrin a piece of the action.

But if you’re hoping to find a GPU this holiday season, Falcodrin has a message for you: it might be a cold winter, because retailers, scalpers, and stock trackers are all locked in a software arms race that kicks the little guy to the curb.

“It’s a bot war,” say Larry, who asked us not to use his full name.

So what’s a gamer to do? Here are some excerpts from my interview with the Falcodrin crew about how they cheat the system, how the system cheats you, and how that scalper arms race is pushing Falcodrin to build bots of their own. Plus, some tips if you’re still trying to nab a graphics card yourself.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. Fun note: despite now living in different parts of the world, Larry and Stu tend to finish each others’ thoughts, and there were a couple times I lost track of who said what.

What is Falcodrin? What do you do?

Larry: I consider us to be a switchboard operator; we send you where you want to be. You set up Discord on your computer and on your phone. When something drops, your computer makes a noise, you get a link, and you do your best to buy. We try to let you know as fast as possible.

Stu: Role-wise, Larry is kind of the operations and community engagement manager. He engages with the community via Twitch and Discord, whereas I focus mainly on dev. When new people come in, they join our general chat, and our users fill them in on how the game is played. Everybody’s trying to figure out their own ways to get through websites and retailer protections.

Larry: It’s like they don’t want us doing that for some reason! Websites that prevent scraping are an annoyance for me, because the better we scrape … that’s a thousand fewer people who are pinging EVGA themselves on their own computer.

Alerts are pinging for various types graphics cards in a column on the left, while a chat window in the center lists each item with their price and link and emoji reactions from various community members.
A relatively representative sample of the Falcodrin Community Discord.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge

Stu: Our Discord is the focus. You come in and sign up for roles. What kind of alerts do you want to receive? Are you interested in buying a PS5, an Xbox, do you just want a 3080? As soon as something comes in stock, we ping an alert to that particular role, that particular product, and we try to be the fastest.

Why is buying a GPU so hard? What’s going on behind the scenes?

Stu: In a nutshell, retailers … I think the traffic load on their website really hurts them and they’re trying really hard to stop the volume of traffic. This is my speculation, I don’t run these servers, but the more volume hitting your website, the more server cost you have. It also hurts the purchasing process — you can see large holes in their websites which prevent anyone from being able to check out and purchase products. There’s a clear need for them to take action.

The actions we’ve noticed are things like implementing a queue system. Instead of having a huge volume of people waiting in the lobby of a building, they create a queue which puts everyone in the parking lot outside.

Larry: It’s the policeman who counts everyone who goes inside the building to make sure you’re within fire safety standards.

Stu: If we can get some kind of message across, it’s that the systems they’re putting in place to prevent the heavy load are preventing regular users, the users who want to buy just one, and enabling bots and software to win even more.

The bots go straight to checkout. They’ve figured out how to checkout without even going to the site. By putting up these queue systems they’re blocking the traffic load, but the bots are going through the back door and purchasing all the items — while shoppers are still sitting there in the parking lot.

They need to lock the back door, not the front door. It makes us question: do they care? Are they just trying to save on infrastructure costs? At the end of the day, it’s bots and scalpers that drive up the price of these goods and give them higher margins. Some retailers might even enjoy it because they get to ship them as a pallet, saves them a lot of money in shipping costs.

Source: TheVerge