How to Budget for Your Video Game Habit

Great -- your local store just got that game you've been waiting to play. Good thing you put some money aside to buy it.
Great -- your local store just got that game you've been waiting to play. Good thing you put some money aside to buy it.
Creatas/Thinkstock

Video gaming is big business. It's estimated that it cost $40 to $100 million USD to make hits such as Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV and Modern Warfare 2. And if you think that's a lot of money, consider that fans of Modern Warfare forked over approximately half a billion dollars in the first week of the sequel's release [source: Horvath]. The industry isn't just about fun and games; it's about fun, games and loads of money.

Unfortunately, loads of money is probably not something you have. So, how can you navigate the gaming world when you're not operating on a blockbuster salary? It's a tricky situation, but with a few insights and some strategic vision -- something that as a gamer you should have loads of, by now -- you can do it.

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Making assumptions and strolling blindly into the unknown will get you killed in just about any video game. Think of your budget in the same way. If you don't want your wallet to take a direct hit, implement the following keys to success:

  • Patience -- A new car depreciates the second you drive it off the lot, right? Likewise, a blockbuster video game will quickly drop in value after its release. You just have to be patient. While you're exhibiting that patience, you'll have a chance to read user reviews and find out if the game really does match the hype.
  • Consider the Source -- This applies not only to who you buy from but also to what you buy. Some brick-and-mortar stores will charge you significantly more for your games than you'll pay an online retailer. As for the game makers, experiment with an independent. You may discover that the lesser-known developers offer an equally satisfying product. If so, you'll be saving money and discovering a new source of entertainment [source: Pinola].
  • Staying Power -- Notice how your favorite games are still favorites months or even years later? The "replay ability" of a game is something a frugal player should keep in mind. In addition, think about how long it will take you to solve or master the particular title. Balance length with price. Buying a seemingly pricey game could be the best budgetary decision -- that is, if you end up playing it for a good long time.

Then again, buying a video game may not be the smartest choice. There are many options available for gamers who prefer to rent.

Cost of Video Game Rentals by Mail

If you're itching to try the new game everyone's talking about but you've got a hunch it'll end up being a door stop two weeks from now, consider renting it for a night instead of buying. Redbox kiosks offer rentals by the day, although the selection is limited. Blockbuster rents video games for five days at a time [source: Newman]. You can even rent certain games served by an Internet cloud from OnLive.

More avid gamers who want a wider selection and longer rental time can choose from several rent-by-mail services like GameFly, Gamerang or Gamemine.com. While there are some differences between these companies, all three offer thousands of titles for a monthly fee, and they don't penalize you for late returns [source: Top Ten Reviews]. When you finish playing with a game, you simply put it in the pre-paid envelope and drop it in the mail.

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A monthly subscription typically runs $8 and higher, depending on how many games you want at a time. Take note of your gaming habits. If you play "buffet style," sampling one game for an hour and then another for a few minutes and so on, you'll want a subscription plan that allows you to check out multiple titles at a time. If you tend to focus on one game until you've mastered it, a cheaper subscription model will serve you best. The good news is that rent-by-mail companies don't usually ask for long-term commitments and they'll allow you to change your specific plan with a few clicks [source: Top Ten Reviews].

Before selecting a rental service, make sure it offers games for your console. Few companies offer games for every available gaming system. Be aware that some rent-by-mail game services also rent DVDs. If you're a frequent movie-watcher, this added offering could provide more value for your money [source: Top Ten Reviews].

Buying and Selling Used Video Games

You can save some cash by opting for used video games, found locally, online or even by trading with your friends.
You can save some cash by opting for used video games, found locally, online or even by trading with your friends.
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

You might miss out on that "fresh out of the box" smell, but otherwise, why not buy used? Games can be purchased at a fraction of their original cost and many stores back their used purchases in the same way they back their new games. You'll have to show some patience until just-released titles make their way to the used section of your local game store, but otherwise buying used can prove beneficial.

Notice that you've got some games on your shelf gathering dust? Don't miss out on this opportunity to upgrade your library. Just because you've grown tired of those games doesn't mean someone else wouldn't love to have them. One person's trash is another person's treasure, right? Take your used games into your local game shop -- they can tell you what they're willing to pay for those old titles. It's all a matter of supply and demand. If the game you've mastered and put on the shelf is extremely popular, you'll probably be surprised how much it's worth. Even an old game console which is of no value to you may be worth a great deal to another gaming enthusiast -- particularly if you sell it on eBay or Craigslist. Check around to get an idea of what your old property is worth before you hand it over.

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If you're a buyer, don't forget that new doesn't always mean better. Smaller retailers like Gog.com specialize in older games at cheap prices. If you're new to gaming, an old classic can be every bit as exciting to play as a pricey just-released game.

Buying New Video Games and Game Consoles

This is where the qualities that make a great gamer -- focus, quick reaction and attention to detail -- can also save your budget. If you want the latest and the greatest, you need to keep your eyes open for sales and be ready to pounce. Holiday sales are common, whether they're through big-box sites like Target or Amazon or smaller retailers. If you plan for sales, you may be able to buy a year's worth of games in one cost-efficient swoop.

Another way to soften the blow of new game console and game prices is to be well-positioned come release day. Loyalty bucks and game site (or brick-and-mortar store) subscriptions can put you in a prime spot for a bargain. Investigate online sites or purchase a membership card to your local game shop. If you're an avid gamer, it'll pay off.

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Finally, consider going old school to get something new. Remember the days when you could put something on layaway that you really wanted? Well, consider yourself a layaway service. If there's an upcoming game that you've just got to have the second it comes out, then set some money aside with each paycheck. Come release day, you'll be able to walk out of the store smiling and guilt-free.

Budgeting in the gaming world isn't much different than making smart financial decisions in your day-to-day life. You just need to understand the gaming community, your personal preferences and tendencies and decide when it's OK to pull the trigger.

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Sources

  • Gameinformer. "The Low Budget Guide to Buying Video Games." (Nov. 8, 2011) http://www.gameinformer.com/blogs/members/b/tognick_blog/archive/2011/09/06/the-low-budget-guide-to-buying-video-games-with-a-psa-at-the-end.aspx
  • Game Hunters. "Netflix Still Weighing Video Game Rentals." Oct. 26, 2011. (Nov. 26, 2011) http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gamehunters/post/2011/10/netflix-still-weighing-video-game-rentals/1
  • Horvath, Stu. "Most Expensive Video Games." NY Daily News. March 8, 2010. (Nov. 8, 2011) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/money/expensive-video-games-worth-money-gallery-1.45415
  • Kotaku. "$40 For That Old Thing? How Used Games Are Priced." Aug. 19, 2009. (Nov. 21, 2011) http://kotauku.com/5338979/40-for-that-old-thing-how-used-games-are-priced
  • Newman, Jared. "Redbox Game Rentals Go Nationwide." Technologizer. June 17, 2011. (Nov. 26, 2011) http://technologizer.com/2011/06/17/redbox-game-rentals-go-nationwide-filling-a-void-left-by-blockbuster/
  • Pinola, Melanie. "Trim Your Video Game Budget By Shopping Strategically." Lifehacker. (Nov. 8, 2011) http://lifehacker.com/5777184/buy-video-games-at-the-right-time-and-place-to-save-money
  • Top Ten Reviews. "2012 Online Video Game Rental Comparisons." (Nov. 21, 2011) http://video-game-rental-review.toptenreviews.com/
  • Top Ten Reviews. "Get Your Money's Worth from Online Game Rental Clubs." (Nov. 21, 2011) http://video-game-rental-review.toptenreviews.com/moneys-worth-from-online-game-rental.html