Bidding Wars, Snipers & Split Second Scores: The eBay Game

The-eBay-GameIt's 2am. You're laying in bed, the rain beats against the window and cats are fighting outside. Your partner is in a dreamless sleep on their side of the bed, yet you're wide awake. Your face is illuminated by the harsh white glow emanating from your mobile phone. Your heart is racing, your palms slightly sweaty. You pray your children don't wake as your attention is focused and at this crucial moment you can't look away from the screen.

You're a gamer but the game you're currently so absorbed in has no levels. It has no princesses to rescue, or worlds to save. There's no continues, no extra lives. It has all boiled down to this moment. Timing is everything, you've set the stats, weighed up your chances and now there is just one button left to press. This one button is the culmination of weeks of biding your time, waiting for the best moment to strike. You must hold your nerve, go too soon and you'll be exposed. Leave it to late and you'll miss your chance. The on-screen counter has hit the minute mark.

Now is the time! Now is the moment, if you're to win you must act! Your finger finally plunges down on the touch screen, you press that button saying "bid". The screen changes, it’s covered in green text telling you the best news you can imagine at this moment: you're winning! The one thing you want is in your grasp and a smile flickers across your face mirroring the counter flicking down on the screen.

There's 38 seconds remaining, why did you go so early you wonder? Each second feels like an eternity! But then everything shifts up a gear, it’s the moment you've dreaded your bid total is going up, what's going on!? Another player has entered this game and they too want to win- only they have misjudged you. You're maximum bid is higher than theirs, they may have had the confidence to wait that extra 12 seconds before showing their hand but they have read you all wrong! They thought you were cheaper than you are, they have bid too low to top you and success is still in your sights.

24 seconds left, the total has not changed. Your opponent hasn’t pushed harder; this game is too rich for their taste. They can't compete with the big boy's mighty high bids. You feel your chest rise as you unconsciously hold your breath, frantically refreshing the screen .

10,9,8 seconds left. It's yours you think, finally it's yours. But wait! What's this! The green bar, so warm and satisfactory has changed. It's turned a horrible mocking red. "Outbid" it screams! You panic, who has done this? Who is taking away what's rightfully yours from right under your nose? Your fingers are on auto pilot you race to the bid window and put in a figure ten times larger than your first bid. “It doesn't matter how much it costs” you think - lost in the frenzy of if all. You can't let this sniper win it’s just not fair!

The counter reads 3 seconds, 2 seconds you desperately hit bid. Your eyes are closed. Your pyjamas are soaked in sweat, but you're scared to open your eyes. You already know what's happened and don’t need the confirmation.

Eventually one eye relents and the mobile screen before you shifts into focus. "This auction has ended. You didn’t win". Your head falls forward. You say something you thought was in your head out loud, stirring your partner. It's all over you lost. In a desperate futile attempt to avoid accepting what's now painfully obvious you check the item's bidding history. Another angry word sneaks out from your lips, this time you don't care who hears. 3 seconds from the end he did it, that awful opponent, that terrible person - 20p richer than you. That's all it was 20p, the difference between you owning that mint condition game and you having nothing.

20p! You lost that down the sofa and couldn’t be bothered to take the cushions off to find it. You dropped that on the street when you pulled your car keys out. You put that in a charity collection box when you couldn't be bothered to open your wallet to put loose change in. 20p?! You would have paid so much more but now you never will be able to. It's game over.

You're of course now too angry to sleep; you deserved that game, not Mr "Johnny Bid Lately". He won't value it like you would have, he hasn't read about the games history or downloaded the soundtrack in anticipation. I bet he doesn't even know that this cover is marginally different to the NTSC copy. He is a crook, he is a thief, he is everything you could have been if you just held your nerve those few extra moments and hadn't bid with 40 seconds to go.

You are about to turn off your phone, and least attempt to move on from the experience. After all you have some grovelling to do to your partner who is now annoyed to have been awoken in the middle of the night by an angry sweaty shouty geek of a partner. But before you can switch off both literally and mentally you have to make sure. You change the search criteria from "auction" to "buy it now". Oh thank goodness, there's another copy on the site and if anything it's in better condition! You've given up on rational thinking and before you know it your mobile is showing an altogether happier sentence "purchase complete". In your face Mr "20p Richer", you've just bought the best copy, you won the war. You try to forget that you could have bought this copy all along, you try to ignore the final "buy it now" price being twice what you bid before. You turn a blind eye to the fact it's missing a printed map, has a price sticker on the box and a scratch on the cartridge. Who cares about that, not you! All you can think about is this moment of glory. It's all been worth it, at the end of the day you bought what you wanted, even if you paid a premium for it.

Your eyes are blurry now, perhaps full of tears, perhaps just tired. The clock reads 3am and you have to get up in 3 hours for that big monthly review meeting. You need to sleep but when you close your eyes burnt onto them you still see listings and items.

You tell yourself that you need to quit this game, but you know you won't. After all an item you've wanted weeks for ends in 23 hours 12 minutes. You'll be back in exactly the same place tomorrow lost in the frenzy of the Internet auction.

I'm sure I'm not only one who has experienced this. After all anyone who retro collects must know that old games and Internet auction sites are excellent bed buddies. We all dream about finding mint condition rare SNES games at boot fairs but that's the stuff of forum legend rather than weekly occurrences. Unless you live in a city and have ample spare time traipsing around charity shops too is hardly a viable method of game getting. eBay is consequential one site that's in the ‘Internet history’ of every retro gamer (and considering the relative niche nature of our hobby there's a chance that if you're reading this you have bid against me at some point!)

I'm sure everyone plays this eBay game differently. Perhaps you're like me and wait as late as you can before you bid, trying to hold your nerve as till the last moment. Alternatively you could be someone who avoids all this bidding hoopla and just goes for "buy it now" auctions using a complex system of alerts to make sure you never miss a new listing. Maybe you are one of the underhanded cheats and use an automated program to bid at the last second; you're that end of game boss we all fear "the illusive auction sniper".

We all have our methods but although we criticise and despise it we all depend on this site to build our collections. We also secret enjoy it I suspect.

When I first started collecting games I viewed eBay as a means to get games, nothing more. Quickly though , I found myself looking on it several times a day to see what was new and if any other collector had missed an under priced gem or a rare variant. When you look at anything that regularly you can't help but build a familiarity with it, you learn its quirks and how to best exploit the features within to your best advantage. There's an excitement that comes from winning coupled with the crushing disappointment of loosing. There's an exhilarating chase to be enjoyed, racing to a newly listed item and grabbing it before any other collector can. There's a joy experienced in the hunt, a thrill to be had when a cheeky "best offer" is accepted. These are the emotions we go through playing the "auction site game", a game we play probably more than any other game in our collection.

It can consume our waking life, prevent us from sleeping and become an addiction but I for one am glad eBay exists. Without it I'd have 5 games in my collection rather than ten times that. It thrusts us into cruel competition with each other (where the only people who benefit are eBay and the seller) but at least it helps us get a sense of value for a game.

So my opponents on the battle field, what tips do you have to avoid "Mr last minute sniper"? Do you put in an “I’m going no higher bid” at the start, and if an item ends up selling for more just chalking it up to experience? Do you only look at “Buy it Nows” avoid all the bidding hoopla and take advantage of those who don’t know how much their bits are worth. Or of course, are you one of these watch and wait pouncers, with patience and restraint that makes ‘The End’ in ‘MGS3 ‘ look like an eager go getter.

If eBay is a game it's a bullet hell shooter. We may practice and memorise patterns but no matter how we play this game, even the most experienced player will lose more times than they win. The process angers us all but the next day guess who is coming back for more?


Last Updated ( 16 February 2014 )  

Julian Hill

Julian is the author of the popular blog Boxed Pixels, and is currently on a mission to document his thoughts as he buys boxed complete SNES Games.

Described by PlayStation Access as a "gamer, Dad and all round hero" he has been playing games since they had four colours on screen and blips for music.

Other recent articles:

Comments 

+3 (Link to this comment) dean15380 2014-02-16 19:44
Had to comment, this sums up the 'game' brilliantly. I am ashamed to say I have been in that very situation, 2 in the morning, bidding on some game stateside, losing and then having to have a word with myself.

Anyway, great article!
+2 (Link to this comment) ewjim 2014-02-16 19:56
Very well described! I white noise scream at my poor phone when it happens to me. I am unfortunate enough to also have my phone play 'outbid roulette' - sometimes it will text me, sometimes it wont. It enjoys my frustration!

It is bad enough being sniped but I seem to get sniped by the same person each time on an item I really want. If we ever meet o****o we will be having words!
+1 (Link to this comment) Darkstalker90 2014-02-16 21:04
Amusing article but I can't relate to it myself. I just decide what my max bid is, bang it in and if it goes higher then it will be higher than what I was willing to pay so no loss.

I much prefer paying a little extra for a BIN because I can't be bothered with bidding and messing about with snipers if I'm honest.
(Link to this comment) JulianHillUK 2014-02-16 21:18
Thanks I really like feedback. It's ironic this article went live today - the day I sniped two items with 4 seconds to go. I've accepted an "if you can't beat them join them" mentality. I may have ruined someone's Sunday but at least I own two more CIB Snes games!
+1 (Link to this comment) tcdev 2014-02-16 22:51
Unapologetic sniper here. It's dog-eat-dog these days, and I'm sure more often than not you're up against someone who is just going to flip it anyway. I've been collecting for almost 2 decades now and never, ever sold a single item, let alone for profit. In fact, I've given away items I no longer want; items I've since seen go for upwards of $100 on greedBay.

Of course, 95% of the time the bids will exceed my budget long before the end, so it gets deleted from my watch list before I need to bother with sniping. And to be honest, most of my snipes have gone un-contested anyway. Most of my recent purchases have been BIN, and I think a lot more sellers are starting to offer that option.

IMHO, if you're not a sniper, you're only cheating yourself!
+2 (Link to this comment) Barry.Pearson 2014-02-17 01:41
Oh dear. I'm waiting for an auction to end in 10 minutes and thought I'd just have a quick look on here... Now I feel a little better knowing I'm not the only one however.
+1 (Link to this comment) Britmod 2014-02-17 12:53
Great read. Yeah i snipe auctions too, i do think though that most the time, the person who is willing to pay the most gets the auction, i use sniping to try and be lucky and get it for less than that but its 50/50 at best as to whether it works.
(Link to this comment) Mayhem 2014-02-17 15:23
I don't bother staying up any longer. A bid process gets used and I find out in the morning if I've won. Life is too short to waste the early hours staring at a screen heh. If it's during the day, then yes, I'll be manually sniping.
+2 (Link to this comment) ninjabearhug 2014-02-17 16:06
Great article, but you missed out on an all too familiar occurrence since I've moved onto using my phones to bid on the go: bad internet reception! It really makes that last minute decision a bigger gamble, do I wait til the last five seconds and hope my ever changing signal stays high, or go in early and show my hand to the enemy...
(Link to this comment) nakamura 2014-02-17 16:43
I don't really get annoyed at missing an item as I normally put a max bid in and leave it to the fates. I do have the odd snipe mind but again I always have a max bid in mind and never go over.
However this was a gripping read, superbly overblown with its description at times. There is one part that doesn't really make a lot of sense though.

'Oh thank goodness, there's another copy on the site and if anything it's in better condition!'

'You turn a blind eye to the fact it's missing a printed map, has a price sticker on the box and a scratch on the cartridge. Who cares about that, not you!'

That part seems like something of a contradiction really. Other than that, fun to read.
+3 (Link to this comment) MRCL 2014-02-18 15:58
The auction platform where I bid (I abandoned eBay long ago) doesn't know sniping. If the counter is at one second and someone bids, it resets the counter to two and a half minutes I think. This continues ad infinitum until someone lets the timer run out. Frustrating sometimes, when you have to get ready and the auction goes way past its initial zero time. But less frustrating than losing an auction at the last second.

There's but another problem. You're in bed at 2am, browsing the game section of your preferred auction platform, see something you like, put a highest bid in, go to sleep... awake and immediately think "oh God I hope someone outbids me"...
+1 (Link to this comment) Darkstalker90 2014-02-18 18:27
Quoting MRCL:
The auction platform where I bid (I abandoned eBay long ago) doesn't know sniping. If the counter is at one second and someone bids, it resets the counter to two and a half minutes I think. This continues ad infinitum until someone lets the timer run out. Frustrating sometimes, when you have to get ready and the auction goes way past its initial zero time. But less frustrating than losing an auction at the last second.


I wish ebay would implement something like this to neutralise sniping. At least then it would be more like a real-life auction!
+1 (Link to this comment) tcdev 2014-02-19 06:43
Quoting Darkstalker90:
Quoting MRCL:
If the counter is at one second and someone bids, it resets the counter to two and a half minutes I think. This continues ad infinitum until someone lets the timer run out.


I wish ebay would implement something like this to neutralise sniping. At least then it would be more like a real-life auction!

To be honest, I really don't know why eBay didn't do this years ago. It can only mean higher sales prices for vendors and higher fees for eBay!?!
(Link to this comment) Louie 2014-04-11 18:51
Quoting Darkstalker90:
[quote name="MRCL"]If the counter is at one second and someone bids, it resets the counter to two and a half minutes I think. This continues ad infinitum until someone lets the timer run out.


I third that motion. The current EBay system for auctions is fundamentally broken. In a live auction the bidding continues until nobody is willing to go higher. The auctioneer does not look at his watch and say "sorry, times up" when there are still hands in the air. He gets the best price that he can for the client. It stuns me that EBay will not do that.

I was reminded of this when I got sniped recently on an English copy of Faselei for the NGPC. Of course, I did exactly what the author said and immediately purchased a BIN copy of the same game for 30% more than the final auction price.
+1 (Link to this comment) jimmkd84 2014-02-19 06:22
Lol when I read this I thought, have you been watching me ? I can easily relate to this
+1 (Link to this comment) Aegelis 2014-02-20 03:21
Fun, enjoyable read. I don't play games I have no chance of winning, E-bay included. I set my mark when I find what I like and if the price goes above it, oh well, maybe next time.
+1 (Link to this comment) DaveOwl 2014-09-05 10:47
It's as if you know what I'm like on eBay and wrote about me :D
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