A lot of gamers are trying to save money right now. Between the dismal state of the economy and the financial crunch that the holidays bring, we're all trying to figure out how to get the most enjoyment for the least amount of cash. Here are some tips I've pulled together after years of gaming on the cheap.
1. Wait six months to a year, and buy used.
This may sound obvious; you already know that games become cheaper over time. But we gamers aren't exactly known for our ability to defer gratification, and you may not realize how much money you can save by keeping yourself just six months to a year behind the times.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you buy Xbox 360 games that have Metacritic ratings of 85 or higher. If you buy them right away, you'll often have to pay the sticker price: $60. Even if you shop around carefully, the best you'll usually find is a free gift card or a decent sale.
Wait six months or so, and you have a few more options. Retailers will often run Buy One Get One sales on these games to rid themselves of excess inventory. Even bestsellers will be available for less than $60 without a sale (Red Dead Redemption goes for around $45 new these days). Used copies will become available, and will typically knock $5-15 off the price.
But between six months and a year, the most dramatic drop occurs. Only the most in-demand games retain very much of their value past this point -- and they've hardly aged at all. As I write, new copies of Mass Effect 2, Super Street Fighter IV, Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Bioshock 2 can be found for $20 online.
2. Don't forget the classics.
If you've been buying brand-new games up until now, you don't need to spend the next six months twiddling your thumbs and waiting for prices to go down. Instead, find some old games that you missed the first time around. Recently, I bought 1997's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on sale from XBLA for a mere $5, and had an amazing time exploring the massive 2D world for hours. It probably had the highest enjoyment-to-dollars-spent ratio of any game I've experienced. Also, if you own a PC -- not necessarily a gaming PC -- you should definitely check out GOG.com, which sells lots of "good old games" that don't cost much and will run on pretty much any modern computer.
3. Consider renting by mail.
If you're the type of gamer who buys a single game and plays it to death over a period of months, this isn't for you. At $15 per month for a one-disc Gamefly plan, you might as well just buy the game and be done with it.
But if you go through games like I do (beat it once on medium difficulty, mess around with the multiplayer a little, move on to something else), a Gamefly subscription might be a good idea. Just bear in mind that you'll wait a few days for your envelopes to travel through the mail, and that it can sometimes take a week or more for the service to send out in-demand new games. I wouldn't recommend Blockbuster by mail unless you have no appetite whatsoever for new titles; they don't make games available to rent for several months. Also, be sure to cancel your subscription or switch to a cheaper plan if you find yourself ordering games you don't want just for the sake of getting your money's worth.