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PlayStation 2 shortage rattles shoppers

Sony says it's shipping new product as fast as it can. Meanwhile, consoles are selling for nearly $100 more than list price on eBay.

Don't panic.

That's the message from Sony, which Tuesday confirmed what a growing number of holiday shoppers and eBay bargainers already knew--the company's PlayStation 2 video game console is in short supply at many retailers.

But the company said it's ramping up production and doing all it can to get more consoles in stores quickly. "Consumer demand for the new PlayStation 2 has exceeded our expectations, and we are doing all we can to fulfill the wish lists of people who want a new PlayStation 2 unit under their tree this holiday season," a representative of Sony Computer Entertainment America said.

The shortage stems from the new slimmed-down PS2 design Sony announced earlier this year. Sony has been clearing out supplies of the original PS2 configuration for the past few months, and the company has been unable to push units of the new design into the market fast enough to meet holiday demand.

The extent of the shortages was difficult to gauge, but the trusty old eBay-meter indicated mild shopping alarm. New PS2 consoles in the revamped design, nicknamed "PS2 Slim," were selling for as much as $230 on Tuesday, well above the $150 list price.

Availability was spotty among major online retailers. Amazon.com showed "PS2 Slim" units available only from Amazon Marketplace affiliates, who were charging as much as $350. CompUSA had units available only for in-store pick-up, with none in stock at San Francisco Bay Area or Manhattan stores. Specialty retailers GameStop and EB Games both showed all "PS2 Slim" packages as back-ordered.

Shortages appeared to be most acute in Europe, where London newspapers reported some desperate shoppers were paying the equivalent of $750 (400 pounds) for a new PS2. "Everywhere I try seems to be out of stock," "Bill C." wrote in a posting on a Usenet group for British bargain-hunters. "The standard response seems to be, 'Sorry, there is a national shortage; should be in by Christmas though.'"

Analyst P.J. McNealy said the shortage could be a boon for competitor Microsoft, if Sony can't restock shelves before shoppers get really impatient. "We believe that Microsoft...continues to benefit from Sony shortages with Xbox console sales," he wrote in a report published Tuesday.