One of my fondest teenage memories is the time I wound up at a mall Circuit City in Nyack, New York, right as it was opening.
It was the day of the now-defunct electronics chain’s massive video game clearance sale, where literally hundreds of older titles were getting marked down to $US5. Someone, on some web forum, had somehow figured out which games would go on sale, and compiled a master list. I printed it out and took it with me.
When the store opened, it was total chaos, as dozens of nerds like myself swarmed the store. But it was also pretty cool: Since there were so few games and so many gamers, we started swapping them around like Pokémon cards. I myself traded the last “Timesplitters 2” for a copy of all-time Xbox classic “Panzer Dragoon Orta” with a broken case.
Ultimately, I wound up with “Orta,” “Gun Valkyrie,” “Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance,” and at least a half-dozen more games, coming in at about $US50 total – the regular cost of a single brand-new game at the time.
Since then, video game deal hunting has become a hobby unto itself, for me. I have less time than ever to play video games, but I still spend my free cycles hunting down deals. There hasn’t been a single huge event like the Circuit City sale, but I would dare say that I save hundreds of dollars on video games in an average year.
Here’s how I do it – and how you can be as neurotic as me when it comes to saving money on video games:
The first best way to save money on video games is … patience.
It’s not right for everyone, and I totally get that there are some games that you need to play on release day. But the single best way to save money on so, so many blockbuster games is just to wait a little bit.
When I was in high school, I insisted on having every new game right on day one, so I could pick it up right after school and have it all finished by the weekend.
Nowadays, as a thirtysomething, I don’t have that luxury. I pick up a game, and I might not even take it out of the case for a week. It stinks, but it happens.
This cloud has a silver lining, though: It’s made me realise just how fast games go on sale these days. New and exciting games come out so often that old ones get discounted just to make way.
For instance: “Far Cry 5,” the gorgeous new blockbuster first-person shooter, cost $US60 when it came out on March 27, 2018. As I write this, it’s on sale at GameStop and Amazon for $US45. Given my limited playing time, I’m not sure I would have made a dent in those two mere months, so I’d feel pretty silly if I’d gotten it at launch.
It gets more dramatic as you go. “Assassin’s Creed Origins,” which came out on October 27th, and was one of the hottest games of the Christmas shopping season, has gone from $US60 to $US30 at many stores.
So if you can wait, maybe wait. It makes so much difference.
Take full advantage of your platform.
Again, this may seem obvious, but it’s good to take full advantage of the programs available to you.
For instance: Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all run weekly game sales from their digital storefronts. Plus, if you’re a member of the $US60/year Xbox Live Gold program, you can get a discount on Xbox One digital games, and the same for PlayStation gamers on the $US60/year PlayStation Plus plan.
Better yet, Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus offer their subscribers a selection of free games every month, which you can play on an unlimited basis for as long as your account is paid up.
Think of these plans like a Costco membership: It’s a fee you pay up front to save later.
On the PC side, Steam, the megapopular digital games store for Windows, Mac, and Linux gamers, has regular blowout sales several times a year – though they’re rarely announced in advance.
But if you’re <i>looking</i> for a bargain…
The first and best site in the world of video game deal hunting is CheapAssGamer.com, run by David “CheapyD” Abrams. CAG was one of the first forums dedicated entirely to finding and discussing deals, and still one of the most active.
Week in and week out, you can expect CAG posters to find and list out all the video game sales at retailers like Target, Best Buy, and Walmart, with helpful commentary explaining if the price is a good deal or not.
Beyond that, the CAG community is always on the ball, spotting flash sales at Amazon or Fry’s Electronics, alerting you to discounts on iPhone and Android games, or surfacing a helpful 20% off coupon for the PlayStation Store.
(Side-note: Back in 2005, it was my neurotic refreshing and triple-checking of CAG that enabled me to find my Nintendo Wii, back when that console was in extremely short supply.)
If that’s not active enough for you, let’s get nuts.
Beyond just CAG, I heartily recommend Wario64 – an extremely prolific Twitter user who never seems to sleep and always posts the very latest deals. When I was looking for a Nintendo Switch last year, I set my Apple Watch to notify me every time Wario64 tweeted so I could find one in stock.
And then there’s SlickDeals, my favourite deals site. SlickDeals isn’t limited to video games, and helps you find great deals on flights, kitchen appliances, and junk food, too. But it does traffic at least a little in video game deals, and its app offers push alerts when a deal comes around.
Because of SlickDeals, I was recently able to snap up a copy of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” for the Nintendo Switch for a mere $US15, down from its normal cost of $US60.
See, Best Buy’s website had the price mislabeled temporarily, and SlickDeals alerted me fast enough to hit the buy button before it went back to normal. It’s probably my biggest single win of the year thus far.
If you HAVE to have the game on day one, you have other options.
There are some games, like “Super Mario Odyssey,” or the forthcoming “Spider-Man” for PlayStation 4, that I have to have on day one, minute one, let’s go let’s go let’s go.
In those cases, I turn to Amazon. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you get the very nice perk of 20% off all pre-release video games. That discount applies up to the very moment that the game is officially released, so you can drag your heels a little.
It’s probably not worth getting an Amazon Prime subscription, which will cost $US119 as of mid-June, just for this deal. Still, we do a lot of our other shopping there, and make regular use of the free two-day shipping that comes with Prime, so this discount is icing on the cake.
Other stores sometimes have their own offers. Best Buy recently discontinued its “Gamer’s Club Unlocked” program, which boasted a 20% discount off all video games for subscribers. But Target REDcard credit card holders get 5% off everything in the store, always.
If all else fails, there are very often deals on gift cards.
If you look on sites like Rakuten, you can sometimes turn up small discounts on gift cards for the Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch digital stores.
If you really want a game, and you simply can’t find a deal, you can just snatch up some gift card codes at a discount and use them to pay for it. It’s like getting a discount on whatever game you’d like.
There’s one special case in all of this: Nintendo has a history of making this difficult.
Somehow, some way, Nintendo always seems to keep an iron grip on the price of its biggest, most blockbuster games. It makes Nintendo-published games the exception to every deal-hunting rule, almost always.
For instance, “Super Mario Odyssey” came out in October, the same exact day that “Assassin’s Creed Origins” launched. But while the latter is now on sale for $US30, “Odyssey” will still run you a cool $US60 at most stores.
The moral of the story: If you see a game from “Super Mario,” “Pokémon,” “Legend of Zelda,” “Donkey Kong,” or any other big Nintendo franchise on sale, you might want to snap it up, because deals and discounts don’t happen very often at all.
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