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.
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.
Annnd they yanked it right out of my cart. Great shopping experience once again, @BestBuy pic.twitter.com/hycn1LoGXW— Sean Hollister (@StarFire2258) December 2, 2020
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 wineven 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.
Recently, Walmart is one of the really bad examples. They just put in a queue system where you could just go to your cart where you’d ordered a PS5 and reorder it. “You scalped a PS5 before? Here’s a free ticket to get another one.”
We haven’t yet done the full auto-checkout, auto-buy-now because that’s associated with scalpers. We develop scripts and helper tools. You’re still manually checking out, but we help you get through some of the tricky stuff by offering little scripts you can run.
We are just to the point now where we’re starting to develop bots because a lot of the retailers are so bad, so heavily botted we have to develop auto checkout tools just to compete — just to get past the other bots. It’s a bot war.
At the end of the day it’s our users versus some other Discord users. We represent the little guy, or at least that’s what we’d like to think.
How do you know your users are gamers?
Larry:There’s no way to be certain, but there are users who post their one win and then they’re gone. The ones posting two to three a week, we don’t always know, but they talk about mining and they show pictures of their rigs. It gets a little iffy when people are buying tons of cards and not showing pictures of their rig, and buying LHR cards, then it’s hmmm ... but most of them are staying quiet. I think the scalpers are keeping a very low profile, keep it to themselves.
I don’t get upset at people who stand in a line, because if they’re standing in line to resell a graphics card, they probably need that extra $500. But if it’s someone who’s botting and gets 70 cards in a drop and will resell them for thousands of dollars in profit, that’s when you get pissed.
Stu:You can’t stop them all, we’re going to have scalpers and miners.
Larry:At least they’re smart enough to keep their mouths shut because otherwise they know we’re going to ban them on the spot.
Share some tricks of the trade?
Stu:Some of them are very basic: enabling a buy button that’s been disabled. You open up the inspector in Chrome, open up the network requests, and you can right-click on it and turn off its disabled state. Set it to enabled, and then you can click on it. GameStop — it’s still there!
Stu:Or you can right-click if you know any HTML, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out. One of our competitors created an extension for Best Buy — it recently stopped working, but what Best Buy does is you’ll have a little bit of a queue, a five-minute queue or 30-second queue, and the trick is called re-rolling the queue.
It lets you click Add to Cart again, which gives you a new queue time. You just click the button until your queue time is 30 seconds instead of five minutes. That could be the time between getting one and not getting one, and so that’s crucial.
With AMD, we created a Tampermonkey script which added an add-to-cart button to every item.
Larry: It became a problem because AMD would go out of stock before the cards were visible to anyone on the planet. The inventory would show on their website, but nobody globally would see any stock. It harmed people who weren’t in the know enough to see that there was a card out there.
Stu:Now AMD has a queue instead, but the queue is random: you might be put at the front of the line, the middle, the end of the line — it’s not first-come, first-serve. But somebody realized if you open up multiple sessions that don’t know about each other, you can open the queue 10 times, and it’s like rolling the dice 10 times instead of just once.
Larry:We actually created a tool that makes it easy for you to open 500 independent sessions and we call it the AMD Queue Buster. The problem now is that AMD is dealing with 500,000 sessions.
This is the kind of stuff we have to resort to, because bots were going through theback door — they didn’t even have a queue! By the time you got to the front of the website, your really good time would be eight minutes. You know what was left in eight minutes? Nothing.
Stu:We have so many hacks. Just before a Newegg Shuffle — this is good old-fashioned social engineering — you call up customer service, you hope you get a newbie. You say “your website shows Add to Cart, but when I click it doesn’t add to cart.” Hopefully their manager approves purchase of said product. It works because you know which cards are going to be in the Newegg Shuffle before it opens, so you know what’ll be in stock.
Will you charge for your own bots?
Larry:It was never part of our business plan, but it has become the plan ... we’re going to do it because we have to. In January, I think we’ll have quite a few retailers as part of our checkout bot. Our plan is to be super cheap; we could make absolute fortunes, but that’s not our goal. It’s more of a lifestyle business for us. We’d just ask to pay for development costs, because we’ll have to pull in a few more resources. Stu is just one man.
How should our readersactually get a GPU?
Larry:If you’re trying to protect your mental health, you sign up for EVGA’s queues, you enter the Newegg Shuffle, or if you’re willing to spend a little extra, go buy a bundle on Newegg or AntOnline. Just give up on the Founders Edition cards, they don’t exist anymore. For the cheaper cards, you’re going to be searching for a long time. If you’re not willing to spend your entire life on a Discord, hunting, you got to be willing to wait and let the systems work the way they do.
Stu:You spend a bit more, or you buy things you don’t really want to buy in a bundle, or you spend your time, like our users do, to learn the ropes. It’s still possible to get GPUs, but it’s a time investment to get them at MSRP.
Today it's just $540 for a $330 video card.If you win a raffle.Madness. https://t.co/mY4nPEpoE7— Sean Hollister (@StarFire2258) March 15, 2021
Larry: You’re going to spend hundreds of hours to save a hundred bucks, and the time investment doesn’t make sense. If you get a card within three to four hours at this point, you’re doing really good.
Stu: There’s a side note to that, and that’s due to COVID, I think people enjoy the community because they’re kind of a bit bored and locked away at home. It isn’t just, “I’m going to spend a hundred hours here because all I want is GPUs” — it’s the social aspect, the community, having a common interest with other people.
When and where are the best chances?
Falcodrin:Times and dates are all over the place. Sign up for the Newegg Shuffle, obviously. We’re actually seeing a lot of people win the shuffle now. It’s a really annoying system, they should penalize people who sign up for things and don’t buy them.
Best Buy’s been weekly recently, sometimes Friday but mostly Thursday — early mornings, 10, 10:30AM Eastern.
Amazon is just whenever, all the time. EVGA B-stock is usually Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, usually in the afternoon or evening.
Zotac is just whenever Zotac wants ... but recently their prices have gotten so high: $2,800 for a 3090, that is just nuts. So Zotac has really pushed a lot of people away. Most of the people who click a Zotac link are there for the entertainment, very few are there to buy.
GameStop drops like once every four months.
If you’re looking for an AMD card, that’s pretty consistent: 9:50AM Eastern time, on Thursdays.
Aftermarket prices are bonkers. What kind of premium should you actually expect to pay at retail?
Falcodrin:3060s, we’re seeing anywhere from $550 to $750. 3060 Tis are close to the same range, but there just aren’t as many ‘60 Tis compared to ‘60s.
3070s are about $700, $800 now for most of them — ‘70 Tis have been pretty steady at $1,000.
3080s, $1,200. I was pretty happy recently when I got an ‘80 LHR with headset and mouse for $1,200 flat.
3080 Tis you can regularly find for $1,400 to $1,600, sometimes $1,750, but most of the really nice ones are like $2,000. The Strix is like $2,199.
3090s are extremely rare now because they’re the only cards that guarantee the full hash rate and people are hunting them ... you could get them for maybe $1,800, $1,900, but a lot of them are currently $2,200, $2,300.
How has the business changed?
Larry:Right now people are generally discouraged. A lot of buyers are really good at what they do and get cards regularly, but the rest find that upsetting, and we have to do mediation. “Why are these other people getting three cards a month?” It’s been getting worse.
We’ve also been seeing more new people recently. People want to get a card for Christmas or they’ve been having issues with their funds for personal spending, so we’ve been seeing a trickle of people who’ve been gone for a while.
Stu: How we’ve adapted is by affiliating with more retailers ... Walmart, Best Buy, GameStop. We also expanded our product offering; we started tracking consoles. People on Twitter who had no followers started focusing on consoles last year, and now they have 100,000 or 200,000 ... we were really kicking ourselves wishing we’d done both GPUs and consoles. So we’ve diversified, we’ve broadened our scope, moving into computer parts and prebuilts because a lot of folks just want to tear into the GPUs.
Are you making a comfortable living?
Larry:I’m currently doing okay; I’m in a lower cost of living area.
Stu:We’re not filthy rich.
Stu: But we’re making enough that this is a comfortable income.
Larry:I just bought a house, so I have something if I ever screw up bad enough.
Stu:Money-wise we’re doing okay, but we’re constantly 24/7 plugged in. Mentally it’s stressful on both of us. There could be drops at 3 or 4 in the morning ... If we had kids, we would not be able to do this.
Larry:It requires constant interaction. If there’s a big drop, it’ll be several hours straight of typing responses. You feel nervous because you feel responsible, you want to give your customers maximum opportunity. If you mess up, you’ve ruined someone’s Christmas.
Any last tips?
Larry: The biggest thing a normal person can have is determination. Most of these websites aredyingwhen you’re trying to check out. It can be five minutes later and you’ll have a card. A console at Walmart, it’s going to take an hour of trying before you’ll be sure that you’re not going to get it.
Why would you just click it once and think it must be gone?