Games are Breaking the Bank. What Do You Do?
Unless you’re the luckiest trust-fund baby on the block (and if you are, can I be your friend?), odds are pretty good that you’re concerned with your finances. As a gamer, that’s an especially tough problem because there are so many good games available these days, and at $60 a pop regardless of which system you rock, you’re either gonna go broke or hungry. Maybe both, if you own multiple systems. So what’s a gamer to do? Is there a fool-proof system to get the games you want and save money doing it? The answer is yes, but with a caveat: it’s not a trick, there’s no magic to it, and you’ll have to make some conscious choices. But you know what? You can do it.
Save Money on Console Games via Patience.
I’ll start with the most important tip, because it leads to all the others. What a gamer trying to save money while still enjoying a lot of games needs above all else is: patience and persistence.
The first part is obvious: don’t buy games early. Don’t preorder, ever. These are two of the dumbest mistakes gamers make. With very few exceptions, even among the “limited edition” games, there will almost always be plenty of stock. This is especially true of the big name titles. If you’re looking for an Uncharted, Halo, Killzone or virtually any other big name, there will be a lot of stock. Why do you care about that? Because store stock takes up space, and if there’s one thing a retailer hates, it’s a product that takes up space and doesn’t move.
Save Money by Avoiding Launch.
On launch day, most games will cost you a cool $60. Some games might even be worth it, but you can still do better and enjoy the same game. The first thing to note is that no matter how big and popular the game is, it will get a price drop eventually. Many times, major retailers will even offer 10-20% off new release games within the first month after launch, on the hopes that it’ll entice customers to buy extra games, accessories or even systems along with it. And while 10-20% isn’t huge, it does add up. Do that a handful of times and you’ll wind up getting later games for an effective “free” compared to paying full price every time.
In virtually all cases, the games you want will drop to less than 50% of retail inside of 3-4 months. Those sales might be temporary, or permanent, depending on the game’s review scores and initial sales. Some games are more resistant to price drops than others (Nintendo first party exclusives are a common example of games that stay high-priced for a long time), but no matter how good it is, the price drop is always going to happen, unless the game is incredibly limited.
Save Money by Realizing “Limited” Games are Almost Never Limited.
We’ve all done it: jumped at a “limited edition game because, well, it’s limited, right? Wrong. Years ago, when a publisher called a game Limited Edition, it generally was. They’d include extra stuff, and for the most part if you didn’t preorder it, you didn’t get it. Working Designs, for many years one of the industry’s most respected publishers of import RPG’s to the US, was famous for this, and games like Lunar: Silver Star Story and its sequel Eternal Blue, shipped loaded with extras, and if you didn’t get them at launch, the next shipment would be a disk and case only affair. That doesn’t really happen these days.
Most of the time you’ll still see the big, goodie-laden versions of big name games on store shelves months later, often at a discount. A famous example of this was the Halo 3 game, which shipped with the Master Chief “Cat helmet” (so-called because that’s about the only head it would fit on), at $150. Months later, it was sitting in bargain bins for $30. This is a common occurrence, so don’t be too tempted by these. Have patience; they’ll be there, and they’ll drop in price because the manufacturers will almost always flood the retail channel with too many copies.
Save Money, Buy Used.
Now, this one’s obvious, but it’s also often overlooked thanks to places like Gamestop, which tend to not only overcharge for used games, but also accept trades of scratched, possibly unplayable disks. Many gamers, me included, want our games to look as good as new, even if they aren’t. On top of that, it’s common now for games to include codes for DLC, and when you buy used they’re almost always used. Especially in the case of Gamestop’s used game prices, this can sometimes mean that buying used, then buying the DLC from Xbox Live or Playstation Network, can end up costing more than used. That’s lame.
But it’s also not the only way. You’ve almost certainly heard of Gamefly, the rental service that mails game disks to your address with a small monthly fee. But did you know that they also sell their used games? Yep, they do. But why should you consider them over Gamestop or other sellers? Simple: their games always include the original cases in flawless condition, because they don’t send them out with the disks, and they also always have any DLC codes that came with the game when it was new, for the same reason.
And as if that wasn’t enough, every month Gamefly has a sale where they clear out a bunch of games at sub-$20 prices. And even better, a couple of times a year, notably near Black Friday and again in the summer, around July, they have massive sales that cut prices as low as $5. Sometimes they even include free shipping.
Save Money, Buy Digital.
There’s another way to save some cash, and that’s by purchasing digital copies of games. Both Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have sales every month, in addition to the “free” games you get just by being a paid member of their services. Particularly during the week before and after Black Friday, and again during the lead up to Christmas, both services offer ridiculous numbers of deals on downloadable content ranging from full games to levels and addons. It’s enough to slake your gaming thirst for months, if you’re willing to wait a bit and bite when the deals are at their best.
But that’s not all! Often, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo bundle game download codes along with their systems. Right now, for example, you can get an Xbox One with Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, or one with Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Similarly, Sony offers a PS4 with The Last of Us, and Nintendo offers a Wii U with Super Mario 3D World and another with Splatoon. In most cases (I’m not sure about the Splatoon bundle), these games come in the form of download codes printed on paper, and it’s very common for gamers who don’t want these games to sell them on eBay for much less than their going retail rate. It helps them defray the cost of their console, and if you want that game, it saves you money. Win/Win.
Save Money At Retail by Being Flexible.
If you’re a regular visitor to retail stores like Target and Wal-Mart, make it a habit to visit the endcaps at the back of the electronics departments. There’s usually a clearance section, and you never know what you’ll find there. Finding something you’re specifically looking for isn’t the most common occurrence, but when you do see something great, give it a chance. That’s how I found out about the Batman: Arkham Asylum series. I stumbled into a Target one day and found the Xbox 360 version sitting on the clearance rack for $7. I wasn’t really a regular buyer of comic book based games, because they mostly suck, but I looked up a couple of reviews on my phone and decided to give it a try. Turned out it was one of the best $7 purchases I ever made. You never know when you might find a treasure. Think outside your box.
Save Money by Knowing Your Genres
And specifically, by knowing how they perform. Sports games, for example, tend to drop faster than any other, because they go out of season in a hurry. It’s common to find brand new sports games for $10 just a few months after launch. Sometimes sooner. The same is true for fighting games, which are nearly always found in the bargain bin just 2-3 months after launch. It’s also common to snag these for $10 or even less. Popular FPS’s like Call of Duty tend to have a little more longevity, but then, when the new version comes out in a year or less, the old version tends to plummet. These days they’re even selling some of them in two packs for $20, brand new.
Save Money on “Game of the Year” Packages.
This one is a little longer term than most of the others, but hear me out. Most big name games that end up selling well eventually release a Game of the Year edition. These tend to include DLC packs that previously sold for a premium after the game came out, and often are worth as much as the original $60 price of the game itself. It’s common for a GOTY edition to give you what was once $120 worth of content to go for $20 or even less. The only down side is that these tend to come out a year or more post-launch. But still, this is a good place to consider trying out a game you might not have heard about before, when you can get a lot of bang for your buck. I recently picked up the Skyrim GOTY for $17.99. Pretty great deal.
Save Money, Watch Deal Sites.
There are a number of deals sites that track and post big deals in gaming when they become available. Cheap Ass Gamer is destination one for gamers, followed by Slick Deals and Techbargains. These are all sites that can guide you to deals, and it’s easy to track all of them just by subscribing to their RSS feeds on your phone or PC.
Save Money on PC Games, Too!
But saving money isn’t just for us console gaming schmoes, no sir! PC gamers also have a ton of great options available. Steam is the most obvious choice, but EA’s Origin service is also worth signing up for. Both offer a regular selection of deals and have seasonal sales that are pretty massive. On top of that, if you like older games (and you should!), GoG is indispensable if you like DRM-free games. Green Man Gaming has tons of deals on the regular, too.
Save Money: Make It Your Habit!
Finally, I’ll bring this down to three major principles.
First, have patience. Don’t be that consumer who’s “gotta have it now!” That’s dumb, and all it’ll do is give you less opportunity to enjoy games. Almost nobody has unlimited funds; don’t treat your wallet like it’s tied to Bill Gates’ bank account, because odds are pretty good it isn’t. For those of you who say “It’s only money!”, stop it. That’s dumb. It is not “only” money. Money is your time and energy, it’s part of the life you’re living. When you waste money, you’re wasting part of your life. Have a little more self-respect than that.
Second, be mindful. There are a lot of opportunities to save money as a gamer while still enjoying your favorite franchises, but you do need to keep your eyes open. Deals will sometimes come and go in a matter of hours, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. If one store has a game on sale, odds are good others either do or soon will, too.
Last but not least, remember that we live in a day and age where it’s common for games to ship broken and get patched later, just to meet a deadline. If you buy at launch, you’re paying a premium for the worst version of the game, with the fewest features and the least content. By waiting awhile you’ll not only save money, but when you play the game you’ll get the version that’s had its bugs patched (probably) and might even include new, free additional content. Look at the debacle of Assassin’s Creed: Unity. The game was so broken at launch that it took months before it was finally really playable, and the company gave away one of its paid DLC campaign packs as an apology to the fans. Just another reason it’s in your best interests to hold off awhile.
Do you have any tips I missed here for saving money on gaming? Let us know in the comments!
In the meantime, get out there and play some games on the cheap!