Tips I’ve learned to game on a shoestring’s shoestring budget.
It’s mid-October. Where I grew up that meant the leaves changed colors to saturate the Coulee region of western Wisconsin in seas of vibrant yellows, explosive oranges and decaying browns. It’s one of the most majestic locations on earth…but I live in LA now. The thing that happens here is the temperature goes from 90 to 80. And if you’re a gamer, October means it’s time to spend lots of money until the end of November.
I spent pretty much most of my late 20’s unemployed or scarcely employed. During that time I also managed to continue my hobby with little to no sacrifice on the titles I was able to play. Between looking for jobs, thinking my thoughts and writing my writing, I played video games. A lot of video games. I have a separate article planned on the benefits of that lifestyle for a later date, but the short of it is if I was playing video games, I wasn’t spending money. And when you’re surviving on unemployment checks and eating a single dollar-menu fast food item a day for sustenance because it’s all you can afford, saving money is basically a necessity.
Thankfully my fortunes have somewhat changed. I’m by no means wealthy, but I manage to get by with less struggle. However, I still employ some of the tricks I used as a poor-ass boi to continue my hobby. It’s the difference between paying $60 for a new game and paying $0 to $15 for a new game.
1. Trade-in credit (I know, I know Gamestop is the devil)
This method requires you have a couple of older games lying around that you seldom play. Occasionally Gamestop will run specials where you trade in any 3 games and you’re guaranteed $40-$60 in store credit. Except if you play sports games, in which case, that’s a worse investment than buying a car. Or any annually released game for that matter. This method will only work if you don’t have any “hoarder” in your genes — because you’re going to trade in your new game as soon as possible. If you can manage to burn through a game in a week or two, the trade value is much higher. When you get in a good gaming rhythm you can ride the momentum of using your store credit to cut the cost of games in half — or eliminate the cost almost completely. There are a couple things you need to be okay with in order for this to work for you.
- You have to be okay with saying goodbye to some of your babies. I remember having to trade in Mass Effect 2 in order to buy Mass Effect 3 and that’s sad.
- You can’t build a library of games.
- Your fellow gamer friends will get pissed at you for trading your games in before letting them borrow them. Don’t listen to them, they’re just being cheap assholes. You’re finding a way to feed your hobby, they can do the same. Just show them this article.
- You have to be okay with standing in the slowest fucking checkout line in the history of any retailer, anywhere.
- You have to be okay with getting to the checkout counter after standing in that line of molasses for 10 minutes only to hear a sales pitch. “Do you want to purchase a $3 protection plan for your game disc?” (never say yes). When you say no, you have to be okay with being asked, “are there are any hot new titles you want to pre-order?” (never say yes). Then you’ll usually get asked, “are you sure, Skyrim Double Blood Dragon 3 is coming out in two weeks and we’re doing a midnight launch!” (Never say yes. Be strong, Skyrim Double Blood Dragon 2 was the best, but you don’t fall for this pre-order thing). Then you can finally pay and check out.
- Gamestop is kinda shitty at giving you what games are worth (but you’re paying for the convenience of not having to wait for payment like on eBay or craigslist).
2. Sell old games on Ebay
Honestly, this is my least preferred method to get money out of my used games, but it’s usually the best way to get the best price. If you’re more patient than I am, you’re totally cool with waiting 5-7 days for the item to ship and another week until the money is freed up from PayPal. If I have a used game that Gamestop is jokingly telling me they’ll give me $2 for and they’re going to turn around and sell it for $20 — I look the clerk in the eye and say “Mr. Black is NOT going to be happy about this. You’ve made a big mistake today, bucko,” and walk off. He or she will have a story to tell their coworker and you get walk out with them assuming you’re A) Crazy, or B)On a very important mission for Mr. Black. Here are some of the pitfalls of Ebay, though:
- You have to wait “for-fucking-ever” to sell your game and get paid. Ironically enough, ebay is the one instance where the internet is slower than the real world.
- Getting set up and approved on eBay is a long process.
- Getting set up on eBay is a confusing process.
- Getting set up on eBay makes you look at other things on eBay you can’t afford.
- Why am I looking at the price of that Final Fantasy 7 Sephiroth action figure and seeing that it’s selling for… $200?!
- Goddamn man, why did I take that figure out of the box? I’m so stupid. I could be $200 richer today if I didn’t have to touch the goddamn thing. Wasn’t even that cool anyway…
- Rinse and repeat.
3. Diving into the internet dumpster and heading out to gool ol’ stabbytown!
It should be noted that this method is only to be used in case of an emergency. Or if you’re on the run from the cops or the mob or a clown-or-some-shit and need cash, stat. In all honesty, Craigslist is really hit or miss. It’s loaded with flakes and you’re never guaranteed to actually sell what you’re selling. You also have to answer a lot of emails/texts from people who try to nickel and dime you. But you will get more cash for your games than you would at Gamestop. And who knows, maybe you need the extra green to pay some bills or eat some food at some point. In a pinch, this is an adequate way to get something out of your spent gaming library.
4. Rely on the speed and accuracy of the USPS
Gamefly offers a pretty decent deal for budget-concerned gamers. For $14.99 a month you get to create a queue of games like old school Netflix (or “parents'” Netflix as it’s now known). The games arrive in 3-4 days if they’re in stock, but there’s no limit to how long you can keep them. Also, if you love the game you’re playing and never want to give it back, you can buy it from Gamefly for a reduced cost. Or just say you never received it in the mail. I know “people” who have done that before… Some of the downfalls of Gamefly:
- If you’re on a really tight budget $14.99 is actually a lot of money to justify spending.
- Once you’re done with a game and send it back it takes 2-3 days for them to receive it and another 2-3 days for them to ship you a new game. Sometimes it’s a week because of Sundays. I actually asked a Gamefly rep about this and they informed me that while they have the technology to scan the game when it arrives at the Post Office, signaling Gamefly to ship your next game, the technology doesn’t work “80% of the time.” Her words, not mine.
- You’ll rarely get the newest games shipped to you when they come out.
- It’s a gamble to see if you’re going to get a playable disc or one that someone apparently used as a coaster for sand paper.
5. Take a roll of the dice and maybe get a game, or maybe get an empty case?
I don’t know if this is just something in certain cities in the United States, or if Redbox is prevalent everywhere, but you can’t sling a crack pipe in LA without hitting a Redbox. The premise is pretty simple. You pay $2 a day for any game. Not bad, but unless you plan on not sleeping or eating while sitting in a pile of your own excrement, you’ll probably have to rent your game for more than 24 hours. So this is a bad idea for long RPGs or games with lengthy campaigns. Maybe you’re up for the challenge of besting Final Fantasy XV in a weekend and the end of November. That’s absolutely bats, but if you’ve got the fortitude, go for it. I use Redbox to tear through a game like Battlefield or Overwatch during a weekend. You’ll see some of the same downfalls as Gamefly though:
- A bit expensive if you take your time with games (like I do).
- Discs are usually in pretty poor shape.
- Sometimes the game discs aren’t discs at all but a photocopied piece of paper! Fuck yeah!
- Redbox is really bad at customer support, especially when you’re scammed like the above ^
- Refunds are almost never granted, instead Redbox issues free rental codes (which on more occasion than one didn’t work for me when I went to use them).
Even if you’re not pinching pennies, there are some pretty useful tricks above to cut back on the costs of being a gamer. With holiday gifts and travel demanding a good portion of your income, it’s easy to forget there are cost-effective ways to stay in the game.