The Tech-pert: Ways to Save Money on Console Video Games

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My kids are big fans of the LEGO Xbox games: LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Harry Potter, and so on. (Truth be told, I like them, too: They’re funny, fiendishly clever, and admirably non-violent.)

This spring witnessed the arrival of two new titles in the series: LEGO Star Wars III and Lego Pirates of the Caribbean. List price for both? An allowance-busting $49.99. Sorry, kids, but in my day we dropped a quarter in a slot and liked it. No way am I paying 50 bucks each for a pair of video games.

Fortunately, I don’t have to. I’ve learned the tricks of the cheap-gaming trade, and I hereby pass them on to anyone else who blanches at the thought of spending $50-60 per game. Try Before You Buy

Not every game is as great as it looks. (Exhibit A: Duke Nukem Forever.) And when you come to the realization that you’ve just wasted a big chunk of hard-earned cash on a disappointing game, that’s some serious buyer’s remorse.

To avoid this kind of thing, try before you buy: download the demo. The PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace are home to hundreds of games you can test-drive, playing either the first few levels or a time-limited version of the full game. It should be enough of a taste to let you know if the real deal is worth your money. Demos are free, and you can download as many as you have room for on your console’s hard drive or memory unit.

Alas, Wii owners are out of luck–sort of. Although the Wii Shop Channel offers demos for a handful of WiiWare titles, you’ll have to try my next tip if you want to try commercial games before buying.

Rent

Let’s face it: most video games get boring after a while. In fact, if it’s the kind of game you can “finish” (meaning you rescued the princess or saved the world), you might play it once and never touch it again. That’s why I’m a big fan of renting, which lets you play a game hot and heavy for a week or two, then return it when you’re done–all for a lot less than the price of buying it new.

You have a few options when it comes to renting. First, if you still have a video store in your neighborhood, it may offer game rentals. (Blockbuster definitely does; it’s arguably the single best local source for games.)

Redbox game rentals

Second, you know those Redbox movie-rental kiosks? They’re now offering video games as well. The rates are a bit steep at $2 per day, but if you’re just looking to try a game before buying it (or you just want, say, a dance game for the party you’re throwing), this might prove mighty convenient.

Finally, consider the Netflix approach to video games. Services like GameFly will mail you one or more games from your queue, let you keep them as long as you want, then mail them back when you’re ready for your next game(s)–all for a flat monthly rate. (GameFly plans start at $7.95; the service carries games for all the major consoles, including portable ones like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.)

Wait

Patience is a virtue–especially for gamers. Instead of buying a new title the day it’s released, buy last year’s hot game. See, while it’s rare to find savings on new stuff, games that have been out for at least a year often sell for half the original price–sometimes even less.

For example, Mass Effect 2 for Xbox 360, which debuted to much critical acclaim in January, 2010, originally sold for $59.99. You can now find it at retail stores like Target for just $24.99. And LEGO Harry Potter, last year’s hot LEGO title, is now down to $28.25 at Amazon–a much easier price to swallow than $49.99.

The longer you can wait for a game, the cheaper it’ll be. It may be hard to wait, but your wallet will thank you. (And if you’re married to a non-gamer, your spouse will, too.)

Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, “How to Do Everything: Palm Pre.” Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.

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  1. ChuckG

    3 years ago

    I think this is why my son stopped being a gammer. It appears that every cool game starts around $49.99. I’d buy him two games every Christmas then a few years ago he stopped asking. He got into another hobby, DJing. Like that isn’t expensive, but at least the downloads were free.

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  2. RobertPaulsen

    3 years ago

    My kids love playing games the most on the Wii, and I agree that the best way to play games is by renting them instead of buying. If you rent, then buying them won’t be an issue and it can save you a ton of money in the long run. You can play a game to its end and then return it for another title. I recently added the Blockbuster Movie Pass to my DISH Network employee account for $10 a month and now my kids can play the games they want and I can save a my money and spend it on other things instead of games for the kids.

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