Gaming without breaking the bank

Though J.D.'s back on the blog, he's still a bit behind — so much e-mail! — so here's a guest-post from Tim Ellis, who writes Seattle Bubble when he isn't glued to a screen, zoned out on video games. You can find him playing as “TH3 T1M” on Xbox Live and on PSN.

Nintendo WiiI've been an avid gamer ever since I bought my first Nintendo Entertainment System when I was ten. Today I have a Wii, an Xbox 360, and a PS3. My library of games includes major titles including the big Mario and Halo games, LittleBigPlanet, Batman: Arkham Asylum… you get the picture.

Even with a serious untreated gaming addiction, I manage to spend just a few hundred dollars a year on my gaming habit. (I'm not rich, after all.) I bought all three of the consoles mentioned above for a combined total of about $400 (today's retail price: $800), and I rarely spend more than $20 on a game, despite the fact that most titles retail for $50 to $60. Here are a few of the tricks I use to indulge in my gaming habit without laying waste to my carefully-constructed budget.

Patience Pays

Exercising a little patience can pay off in a big way. After just six months, that $60 new release can often be found for $40 or less. A year after they hit the shelves, it's not uncommon for me to find some games for $30.

Patience can also pay off especially well when you also keep an eye out for sales. CAG is your best friend here. Check out their forums, or set up a Google Alert that search the whole site if you're looking for a specific title.

If you're a PC gamer, it's also worthwhile to keep an eye on Steam, where they frequently throw down major sales on all sorts of popular titles. Another trend that has cropped up lately is indie game companies teaming up to offer sweet discounts on bundles of great indie titles.

Tip: Patience pays off in another way, too. If you wait instead of buying a game the day it's released, you have time to get reviews, both from the pros and from other users. This can keep you from spending on a highly-touted game that turns out to be a dud.

Buy Used, But Avoid the big chains.

While some prominent gamers have recently raised potentially valid philosophical arguments against buying used games, one thing you can't argue with is that buying used saves you money.

Personally, I don't waste my time with a certain major brick-and-mortar used-game shop since their used games are usually priced only a few bucks cheaper than new. Instead, I tend to find most of my used games on Glyde.com, where I am frequently able to pick up games in excellent condition for 50% or more off the new retail price. I have also used Glyde successfully to sell games that I no longer play, which is another great way to keep costs down.

Craigslist can also be a good place to find cheap used games, if you are patient and make heavy use of their RSS feeds. I picked up the original Assassin's Creed for $20 from someone I found on Craigslist, while the game still retailed new for $60.

Can't Give up the new releases?
Remember when this was new?

If you're not the patient type, you can still enjoy games as soon as they come out while still not paying full retail price. In order to get people in the doors, retailers will often offer gift cards with the purchase of a new release during its first week. I even saw some stores giving gift cards with Starcraft II when it came out a couple months ago.

Don't forget indie games, either. New release games from independent developers are often much cheaper and just as fun as the big-name blockbuster titles. Two of my personal favorite developers are Telltale Games and Twisted Pixel, but your choices in indie gaming are nearly limitless.

Who Says You Have to BUY Your Games?

Another method that can work well for playing new releases when they're still fresh is using a game rental service like Gamefly (essentially Netflix for video games). This has the added advantage of helping you avoid accumulating stuff.

Speaking of monthly subscriptions, don't hesitate to drop a gaming subscription if you find you aren't playing it enough to get your money's worth out of it anymore. Got an MMO that's debiting your savings account $6 every month for a game you haven't touched in half a year? Cancel it!

Frugality is Not a Form of Asceticism

Just because you're smart with money doesn't mean you can't have fun. If you're into video gaming like me, there's no need to resign yourself to breaking the budget to enjoy your entertainment. With a little patience, some smart shopping, and a sharp eye for discounts, gaming can be a relatively inexpensive hobby.

More about...Budgeting

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Wil
Wil
9 years ago

Our local library has started carrying video games. I prefer board games myself (like Pandemic), but the video gamers out there might want to check out their local library. (Actually some libraries also have board game collections.)

Cole
Cole
9 years ago

Another great way to reduce costs for gaming is Goozex.com. It is a game trading website where you earn points for games you have traded to get other titles. The only costs are shipping and a dollar per trade.

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

Cue the short, pointless comment from LifeAndMyFinances just to get another link to his blog near the top of another GRS post in 3 … 2 … 1 …

brokeprofessionals
brokeprofessionals
9 years ago

My favorite thing about being a board game “gamer” rather than video games, is that most of the “euro-games” hold their value, so if you get sick of a game you can often sell it for the same price you bought it for. Some of the games with time even increase in value. For example, the now out of print “Dune” Board Game can sell for at least hundreds of dollars. It is not a Euro game, but my wife and I bought Arkham Horror and had problems getting anyone else to play it. (it is not a great 2… Read more »

techlifepro
techlifepro
9 years ago

Checking CAG and Amazon daily deals really is a great way to score new games cheap, as long as you’re patient. I don’t think I have paid over $40 for a game in years, and most times I pick up the games for $20. Of course if you are really trying to be frugal used games are the way to go. I would just like to point out that while selling your used games on glyde might be a little easier, I think the seller makes more profit using half.com. I have had much more success selling and getting more… Read more »

Ian
Ian
9 years ago

My local library has video games as well. I have borrowed many games that I’m so glad I did not spend any money on.

Crystal @ BFS
Crystal @ BFS
9 years ago

I keep forgetting about GameFly. My husband would probably save some of his fun money when he starts gaming again if he could just pay a monthly fee to test games out first.

Lately we’ve been boardgaming like Wil said, we really enjoy Power Grid. I’m surprised how little we actually have been using our gaming systems…

couchoud
couchoud
9 years ago

Thanks to game/movie trading site goozex.com and a little patience, I haven’t had to make a game purchase for over 2-years. Check it out if your like me and have a few toddlers running around and little time to get to a new release.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Awesome post! This is definitely something that strikes near and dear to many of our hearts, or at least our spouse’s hearts. Over the years DH has definitely moved towards spending his allowance the way you suggest… not getting new releases, and so on. Another nice thing about Euro board games is that even in small towns, there are gaming clubs so you don’t have to buy every game yourself. (And, unlike miniature games, you only need one game for a group of people to play.) DH loves Boardgamegeek for figuring out what to buy and what to play. He’s… Read more »

ali
ali
9 years ago

Kevin at this point you are turning into a comment troll.

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

@ali: So, 2 posts on this topic makes me a comment troll, but LifeAndMyFinances posts short, meaningless comments on every topic, and it’s OK? Gotcha. @Nicole: I don’t mean to be a bully – I just want to elevate the quality of the discussions that follow the posts on this blog. As I said before, LaMF has been warned before, and no, not by me. By JD. He’s used the time JD was away to resume his obnoxious behaviour. One of the popular tips on “How to Grow Your Blog” sites is “Comment often, everywhere, as near the top as… Read more »

Brian B
Brian B
9 years ago

I still say that having an online gaming membership is a great and cheap form of entertainment. For ~$15 a month, you can play as many hours as you want on it. You would spend twice that going to one movie one weekend.

Vern
Vern
9 years ago

Playing video or computer games is a waste of time. Why not do something to improve yourself or to get out and experience life? Mostly it is just masturbation and fantasy and avoiding the real world.

Gwen
Gwen
9 years ago

Or here’s an idea: Man up and stop playing video games. Real men (and women) over the age of 18 don’t play with that crap.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

@13 Vern You would be surprised, but the evidence is actually against you on the waste of time aspect of video and computer games. We have a post on this in our queue that we’re not quite finished writing (we were hoping to link to the actual articles but haven’t gotten around to digging them up)… But… there’s an optimal amount of video games to be played. Most people are either playing too many or too few. Video games can be used with biofeedback to prevent violence in people who are naturally predisposed to it. Video games can teach impatient… Read more »

cc
cc
9 years ago

we get our games pretty inexpensively off of the used sellers from amazon- $20 is the most common price, and if we both end up playing 60hrs of a game- even at $60 a pop that’s a pretty good entertainment cost per hour (50c/hr).

Tom
Tom
9 years ago

I play a lot of video games not only because I love them, but also because I make them and this is a form of research. So I have a pretty large stock of PC, 360, PS3, and PS2 games. I almost always only buy games after they are under $20, which allows me to buy 3-4 times as many for the same cost. One trick I use is to add games to my “Save for later” list in my Amazon shopping cart. Then, whenever I go to my cart, I get the notices about the price drops and move… Read more »

Michael
Michael
9 years ago

A bit surprised that free-to-play games aren’t mentioned. I’m not talking free online flash games, though those are nice if that’s what you like. There are great high-quality major titles which are free to play, and in pretty much any genre. I’ve been playing The Lord of the Rings Online for a couple years now, and it’s by far my favorite MMO (big Tolkien geek here). Last September the game went free to play — the perfect price =) I had been debating getting my girlfriend an account while I was away at grad school, but now that’s an easy… Read more »

Heather
Heather
9 years ago

Great post! Very timely and relevant for me (as a poor gamer grad student). For a few years my only gaming was an online subscription to an MMO, much cheaper than going to the movies or buying new games every few months like I used to do. The past year I really realized how great Steam is for a frugal gamer. Indie games and digital distribution have renewed my excitement about the future for PC gaming. More games out there that don’t cost $60 at full price, and the opportunity for really fantastic sales through Steam if you are patient.… Read more »

Benjamin
Benjamin
9 years ago

CAG is a fantastic resource, as is keeping an eye on Slickdeals top deals. I was able to pick up a new game and controller bundle for 1/4 of the original retail price – less than the price of either the game or controller separately.

As others have said, gaming is a great hobby when both time and money invested are kept in check. Spending ~$8 to rent a great single player game that I wouldn’t otherwise play more than once is a far greater entertainment value than going to a movie.

Tom
Tom
9 years ago

Another bonus to patience that has not been mentioned, yet, is that this gives the developer plenty of time to patch bugs in the game that can be very frustrating. A possible negative to patience is that the online community for the game may have gone away, making it hard to find matches. In the worst cases, the developer/publisher may no longer even run the servers that may be needed for multiplayer. Not all games require servers to play, but even ones that don’t often use servers to facilitate matching when you are looking for a game with a random… Read more »

MikeTheRed
MikeTheRed
9 years ago

As someone who works in the video game industry, I have to make a very strong plea that you NOT buy used copies of video games. Wait for sales and coupons and other discounts rather than purchasing a pre-owned game. Why would I make such a non-frugal suggestion? Because when you buy that used game, not a single penny of that purchase is going back to the people who made the game. Purchasing items on sale or at reduced price later ensures at least SOME piece of the money you spent will go to those who made the product. Used… Read more »

imfromtheburgh
imfromtheburgh
9 years ago

I appreciate the shout out to gamers from GRS. Its nice to see other gamers out there that like to save a couple bucks here and there.

jldugger
jldugger
9 years ago

Timely post. I’ve been looking at this topic for the past week and dipping my toes in. A few observations: * The VAAAAST majority of stuff for sale on craigslist is overpriced. It’s very easy to price stuff out online, so there’s little point to craigslist arbitrage. * I don’t trust anything that doesn’t cash out. Goozex points, for example. Or Gamestaq until recently. If I can’t pay rent with it, I’m not interested. * Depending on your appetite and backlog, it’s usually a better deal to buy from Gamefly than rent. An example: I bought Bioshock 2 from them… Read more »

squished18
squished18
9 years ago

I think there hasn’t been a lot of mention for one of the most frugal ways to game: free games! There are lots of free games either online or for download. There are also some very good freemium games that can entertain for quite a long time without paying much if anything. On a related note – While I develop mobile apps and not games, I do not agree that buying used games (or other software) damages developers. That’s like saying don’t buy a used car because not a penny goes back to the original manufacturer. Some people buy games… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
9 years ago

@Tom #19 That is a very good point when it comes to the “wait for it” approach. Often times if the game isn’t extremely popular to begin with in the online community (think Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Starcraft) it can be difficult to find a game even a year after launch. Therefore I find myself to be much more of a single player gamer most of the time with older games. However I have started a kind of habit where about every year in the fall I will buy a game new that has a big multiplayer component (this… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago

My husband cooks in a movie theatre restaurant so gets home very late at night. Video games on his PS3 allow him to “wind down” before going to bed. He plays many games, at least 20-25 a year but keeps his annual gaming costs down to make us both happy. He usually asks for gift certificates from family for his birthday and Christmas to GameStop. He also likes to be patient and wait for the prices to come down before purchasing his games, usually, but not always, buying if they are $15 or less. Now he combines his gift cards… Read more »

Chris P.
Chris P.
9 years ago

I only purchase used games from Gamestop now, and I always take a game right back there to trade it in when I’m finished. I NEVER used to do this. I also broke down and sold a buttload of my games on Ebay. Those classic RPG’s really give some good cash. I mean, was there any chance I was really going to replay FF7, FF8, FF Tactics, and Chrono Cross while I still try to play some relatively new games? Now I put in something in the range of 20-40 bucks a year on video games where it used to… Read more »

Wade
Wade
9 years ago

Heck, there’s one retailer that I go to that puts games on clearance, I picked up a Tomb Raider game for the PS3 for $7 while it was still retailing for $30. I have actually picked up 1/3 of my collection through used and clearanced games. I refuse to pay more than $30 for a video game, especially since I don’t pay online. In the end, it is the exact same gaming experience as if you had purchased a game when it first came out. Also, another source for cheaper game purchases, new and used, is Half.com. It’s an Ebay… Read more »

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

I love video games, but I don’t have time to play much anymore. I’m way behind on games and that make it a lot cheaper. 🙂
Craigslist is pretty good, but people there are just so flaky. These days, I just check CAG and go to Gamestop. My time is more valuable now.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

I disagree with #13 Vern about games being a waste of time, or not useful, or masturbation or what not. Before I address the main argument, let’s get masturbation out of the way. Nothing wrong with a natural and pleasurable activity, unless for some odd reason you feel guilty or ashamed about your body functions, in which case you should consult a psychologist immediately. Now, about games: there are studies that show that computer games can make you smarter. Here, check it out: http://www.hulu.com/watch/36424/howcast-how-to-justify-your-video-game-obsession Also, there is an argument that the reason people are into computer games is because they… Read more »

Eric
Eric
9 years ago

Free MMORPGs are also a nice frugal option. Off the top of my head, there is:

* Champions Online ( http://www.champions-online.com/ )
* Lord of the Rings Online ( http://www.lotro.com/ )
* Dungeons and Dragons Online ( http://www.ddo.com/ )
* And I’m sure there are tons more…

jackowick
jackowick
9 years ago

Don’t knee jerk against the big chains right away. If you are a Best Buy rewards card member (like me, and it’s free) and you “join” the Gamers reward club (which is free) you get some sweet deals. I got a free copy of their gamer “magazine” and it had a $15 off coupon for Batman Arkham GOTY edition. I had to search 3 different stores, but I found a copy for $19.99 so with coupon I paid $5 for a brand new copy of a AAA title game. The key here, whatever strategies you use, is to shop around… Read more »

rageon
rageon
9 years ago

I’m super-duper cheap; but I freely spend $60 on certain games the day they come out, such as Call of Duty, and will do in a few weeks when Crysis 2 comes out. To me, a game with a strong multiplayer aspect is the best entertainment “value” around. It might take 10-15 hours to finish a Call of Duty campaign, but I could spend 10 times that amount of time playing it online. If you wait too long, the number of online players drops, and those games because more of a pain to play, or become less enjoyable. I probably… Read more »

Lon Elliott
Lon Elliott
9 years ago

I used to buy all the new releases. Just to have them. What I found though, is I would play them all for about an hour, then I would only play the one or two that kept my attention. Wasted a ton of money. Now, I buy one or two new releases, and rent the rest. There are also a ton of sites out there that will let you earn free games and things like that. I use a couple of these sites to get things. Like, I got a free 1600 MS point card and a free Xbox 360… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

@MikeTheRed: “As someone who works in the video game industry, I have to make a very strong plea that you NOT buy used copies of video games … Why would I make such a non-frugal suggestion? Because when you buy that used game, not a single penny of that purchase is going back to the people who made the game.” Who cares? When I buy a used car, not a single penny of that purchase goes back to the car manufacturer, it all goes to the last guy who owned the car. Should I only buy brand new cars because… Read more »

Jake
Jake
9 years ago

One thing i did with the kids is to be “behind” of the latest console maybe 2 generations and go on ebay and buy those incredible cheap. The kids dont really know the diffrence.

Another thing we are considering now is to join the local recreation center. They have pool,exercise etc. and a gaming room. With $120 per person /year it makes not only the recent games available it also gives them more healthy choices and most important their gaming time is limited by the time they are there

jeffeb3
jeffeb3
9 years ago

Gamefly is the way to go. It works really well for games that have great campaign or story modes, but not great multiplayer modes. The original assassin’s creed game, for example was $60 for PS3 and most people can “finish” it in twenty or thirty hours of playing. at $15/month for one game at a time, you only need to be able to play your rentals for more than 5-7 hrs/month for that to be worth while. I do buy some games though, like black ops, that I can play with friends right now, and log the dozens of hours… Read more »

KM
KM
9 years ago

My kids like video games—we have a deal: They can play them a couple hours every other day but only if their homework is done and they are getting good grades in school. And only if the games are free online and parent-approved (ie by me).

I honestly have no idea why anyone would spend $500 a year on video games with all the free stuff out there.

Lincoln
Lincoln
9 years ago

@Tyler K
I agree. Good comment.

the prudent planner
the prudent planner
9 years ago

I thought it is worth noting here that Blockbuster is going out of business. If you have not already checked out your local blockbuster then now may be a good time. They are marking down prices on gams/movies up to 75% off. There are a lot of good deals.

Pat S.
Pat S.
9 years ago

If you have to try new games all the time, renting is a great option.
Pat
http://compoundingreturns.blogspot.com

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
9 years ago

What I was wondering is how the author got the game systems so cheaply. I’ve been debating about getting a game system for a while because I can’t justify the expense in relation to the small amount of time I would have to play. There are some games out there for the Wii I would like to try (My last system was a Genesis. Yep, I’m old!), but I don’t want to buy a whole system just try out a few games. Are there any places that rent the systems, or are there cheaper ways to find a used one?… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
9 years ago

Man, Steam is great. I know I’ve gotten games at their sales that have provided me with 80 hours of gameplay, for $5.

Cely
Cely
9 years ago

I also work in the games industry, but on the casual games side. Our core audience is 35-60 year old women, and most of our games are downloadable PC/Mac games. You can play a demo free for an hour, then choose to buy (or not) for anywhere from $2.99 to $20. There are also plenty of free facebook games (well, you can play for free, but it gets tedious after awhile). The games are typically hidden object, light adventure games, or puzzle games. Our users tell us they primarily play to relax, and to keep their minds sharp (and studies… Read more »

Andy
Andy
9 years ago

I wait on new releases often to drop in the $20-$30 range, except for Nintendo games because they rarely drop in price.

I keep this site in my RSS reader to watch for price drops: http:dailygamedeals.com Just picked up Uncharted 2 because it finally dropped to $30.

strife25
strife25
9 years ago

There are also communities around the internet that provide ways to swap games for ones you are looking for. The one that comes to mind with this is Reddit’s gameswap community (http://www.reddit.com/r/gameswap).

The Tim
The Tim
9 years ago

Thanks for all the great comments, everybody. I’d like to address a few things from above in one reply. RE: Cole @ 2 – I tried to use Goozex, but the site often seemed to break entirely and the abstract points system was too confusing. When I found the polished, cost-friendly, clean experience at Glyde I forgot about the broken, confusing experience of Goozex entirely. RE: brokeprofessionals @ 4 – I’m totally into board games, too. My favorite outlet for picking those up cheap (other than patiently watching Craigslist) is Cardhaus Games. Amazing prices and only a 10 minute drive… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago

@Chickybeth – you can probably find a Wii to play with somewhere. We have a ton of friends with Wiis, but also our gym has one in the kids room that they break out occasionally – I bet if I said to the staff, hey, I’m thinking of buying a Wii, could I play that one for a few minutes when it’s slow in here? they would let me. Or in a store? We played a game on the newish Microsoft platform (the one you just move your body & a camera watches you) at the mall for a long… Read more »

JonasAberg
JonasAberg
9 years ago

I am a huge fan of the Halo-series. I can’t begin to explain how immensely I enjoy spending a couple of hours each Sunday with my brother, playing co-op. It’s not just about the game, it’s a bonding thing as well. We’ve spent hundreds of hours in total playing the various Halo games and even though we’ve bought three Xboxes (one original and two 360’s) I can say with certainty that the time and money spent has been well worth it. I have bought two of the last games from a big chain because I keep an eye out for… Read more »

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