5 Simple Ways to Stretch Your Gaming Dollar

Geek Culture

The New Dollar BillThe New Dollar BillImage by Simon Davison via FlickrBeing a geek is both time-consuming and expensive, and being a gamer-geek even more so. Sadly, with our economy in perpetual shambles, the latter seems to have become an even more difficult issue than the former. So how’s a gamer supposed to afford new titles as well as incidentals like, y’know, food?

Subscription-based rental services like GameFly can alleviate both the sting of current generation game prices and the hassle of driving to your local retailer to stand in line with the rest of the yahoos, but this comes at a cost. That cost, of course, is the lack of personal ownership. The disc isn’t yours; it’s merely in your possession.

While renting is a fiscally responsible move, it goes against that innate nerdy urge to procure, to collect. But for those of us who are unable to resist that damnable desire to acquire there is a solution. To paraphrase Ash Williams, one merely needs to shop smart.

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Stay Informed:
The first step to properly budgeting your meager gamer dollar is simple; do a little research. Familiarize yourself with release dates and prioritize. This is especially important during the inevitable rush of top-shelf titles that flood the market in the fall and early winter months. Sure, we all want Little Big Planet, Fable II, Gears of War 2, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, Dead Space, and Animal Crossing: City Folk, but the fact that their release dates are so closely clustered means that we probably can’t snag them all on launch day. So pick your pony. Remember that with the rare exception of titles that are somehow perpetually out of stock (and thus subject to eBay price gauging) and a few first party exclusives that manage to retain their value far into their lifespan, game prices generally drop after several months on-shelf. So pick up your must-have titles now, and don’t be afraid to wait a while on your second-tier choices.

Read Reviews:
Another way to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck is to keep a keen eye on game reviews. Remember, it’s the uninformed consumer who propagates the steady flow of shovelware to systems like our beloved Nintendo Wii by making indiscriminant purchases. Of course it is important to note that reviews are, by their very nature, fairly subjective, so sites like Metacritic that compile multiple reviews for easy digestion are quite helpful. Also keep in mind that the score is not always the sum total of a videogame review. As time permits, read (or at least skim) through the reviews themselves, and look for common themes and complaints. If multiple reviewers call a title to task for poor enemy AI or sloppy level design, chances are there’s a notable problem.

Embrace the Demo:
The best barometer by which to gauge a game’s true appeal is actually trying it yourself. Whether at a game kiosk at a local retailer or via downloadable demo, taking a title for a test drive on your own terms is a great place to start. Xbox LIVE Marketplace and the Playstation Network Store offer scores of free demos for practically every game imaginable, and, while Nintendo doesn’t generally make Wii demos available, their new Nintendo Channel does afford you the opportunity to download demos of some DS titles using your console. Take a game for a spin. Kick the tires. Smell the tiny pine tree dangling from the rearview. Then make the call. A demo should feature a game’s strengths, and, should you find yourself yawning through this virtual highlight reel, chances are the title’s not for you.

Don’t Be Afraid to Trade-In or Buy Used:
The game industry abhors the buying and selling of used games, and with good reason. While Activision didn’t see a dime in additional revenue from that used copy of Guitar Hero III you scored, GameStop made a killing by essentially selling the same game twice. (It’s been estimated that EB/Gamestop makes about 31 cents on the dollar on new software sales, as opposed to nearly 50 cents on the dollar on the sale of used games.) Sure, chances are you’re getting hosed on the trade-in price, but a couple of extra bucks in-hand is a bit more functional than an entertainment center full of games you’re never going to play again. The same can be said for buying used games; that five or six dollar premium you pay for a new game over a used copy might not seem like much, but every little bit helps.

Harness the Power of Gaming Communities:
In addition to chain stores and local independent retailers, you can also trade games via online communities like Goozex. This example uses a point system to quantify the value of titles that you trade, and said points can be used to "buy" games from other users. They typically charge a nominal fee for the privilege of using their trade matching system, but, assuming you’re using a reputable service, it’s a small price to pay for a fair trade. Community sites can be used not only for trading, but also to find great deals at online and brick-and-mortar retailers. The most obvious example of this is Cheap Ass Gamer, a robust and interminably active BBS-based community that’s users are quick to point out gamer-centric Gold Box deals at Amazon, special trade-in promotions at EB/Gamestop, universal price drops, previews of Sunday ad circulars, and discount deals at big box stores. In the continuing struggle to stretch your gaming dollar, a site like CAG is your WMD: not necessarily elegant, but deadly effective.

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