Stop Paying Full Price for Video Games

Photo:  Shuang Li (Shutterstock)
Photo: Shuang Li (Shutterstock)

It’s November, which means it is once again Black Friday season (the Friday after Thanksgiving now somehow lasting an entire month), and retailers across the internet—and the brick-and-mortar chains that remain—are dropping deals. Traditionally, this is the best/worst time to be a video game fan. The best, because tons of A-level games are on generous sales, some of them for the first time. And the worst, because you probably bought a lot of those games for full price when they came out and—if you’re anything like me—you have barely played them since.

That’s why, in the interest of never feeling the sting of unrealized savings, I have vowed to never pay full price for a game again—and you should too.

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FOMO versus reality

Before you rush to tell me I wrong, I’ll start with a caveat: If you are the kind of gamer who simply must play the hot new game when it’s at its newest and hottest, then by all means, do so*. But be honest with yourself before you pre-order: How many games are in your backlog? How likely are you, really, to start your play through on launch day? Waiting even a few months can net you a substantial discount from that $50 or $60 list price, whether because of a sale at Target or a price drop on a digital download.

*Another post-publication caveat: If you are the kind of gamer who wants to support an indie developer by paying full price, that’s great! Do so. But when it comes to the major franchises, Activision doesn’t need your help.

I’m not exactly a hardcore gamer—I currently only own a Switch, which I didn’t pick up until last year. Even still, I have accumulated dozens of games over the past year and a half, almost all of them purchased at a deep discount, to the point that I currently have more titles in my backlog than I am ever likely to play. You probably do too. So why not just play one of them while you wait for the hot new game to go on sale? I promise you, Celeste is still as good as it was the day you first downloaded it.

Bonus: If you aren’t clamoring for the latest games, you’ll also feel more content waiting to buy that PS5 or Xbox Series X without tearing your hair out—and by the time you finally score one, you’ll have a large library of older, cheaper games to choose from.

Avoid the bugs, enjoy the DLC, and don’t get burned

Waiting a bit also means you won’t have to suffer through the frustration of launch day bugginess—which plagues more big name titles than it really should (two recent examples: Cyberpunk 2077 and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet). By the time you pick up a game on sale, the biggest bugs are likely to have been patched—or are too big to fix, which means you’ll be able to steer clear if need be.

Relatedly, you’ll also be able to pore over way more reviews. Yes, the biggest games are usually reviewed by major outlets (like our sister site Kotaku) within the first few weeks. But a review from a pro trying to cram 20+ hours of gameplay into a few days so they can file a timely critique might tell you less that’s applicable to your own gaming preferences than a writeup or video from a smaller outlet or content creator published weeks or months later. And due to the sheer volume of games dropping every week, many indie games aren’t widely reviewed until weeks or months after release anyway.

Moreover, these days many titles—from both major developers and indie studios—receive new features and gameplay enhancements via DLC, which might arrive weeks, months, or even years after the initial release. Sometimes these updates are free, so you’ll get to enjoy them right away if you wait. Other times, DLC will cost you a few bucks—but again, often waiting means you’ll be able to buy a “deluxe” version of the same, including all the DLC, at a lower price than you’d have paid for the base game at launch. (A good recent example of this: Indie hit Children of Morta was $22 on Switch when released in 2019; earlier this year, I picked up the Children of Morta: Complete Edition, including $7 worth of DLC, for about $10.)

There’s also the fact that even after doing your research and reading all the reviews, you might just not like a given game. And since returns are rarely an option these days—especially if you favor digital downloads—you’ll be a lot less annoyed about it if you paid $7.99 instead of $25, or $40, or $60. (Children of Morta is actually a good example here, too: I’m really glad I only paid $10, since despite enjoying the vibes, it turns out I’m really bad at it and I can’t get past the first dungeon.)

It’s easier than ever to never pay retail for a new game

In the olden times, buying cheap games was a lot harder. (I am ancient in gaming years, which means I remember when the only way to get a Nintendo game for less than retail was to hope it eventually earned “Player’s Choice” status.) Now, though, the magic of the internet means you probably don’t have to do much at all to find every game on your wishlist on a generous sale—other than develop some healthy patience.

Sites like DekuDeals (for Switch games), CheapAss Gamer, and many others allow you to create a wishlist of all the games you are interested in and sign up to receive alerts when they drop in price. My DekuDeals wishlist is currently about 30 titles strong, and on any given day, four or five of them are on sale. Helpful bar graphs tell me how that day’s price compares to past sales, so I can make an educated decision as to whether it’s really a good time to buy, or if I should keep waiting and hop back into my backlog instead. Just this week, in a flurry of early Christmas shopping, I picked up both the latest Mario Party and the critically adored Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga for a total of $60—which is what I would have paid for either one of them on release date.

And that’s not even mentioning subscription services like PlayStation+ and Xbox Game Pass, which net you access to dozens of top-shelf titles every month for a monthly fee cheaper than the cost of a single game on sale. Many major titles will eventually make their way to one of these services, and give you plenty of other stuff to play in the meantime.

Exceptions prove the rule

Occasionally there will be those games that capture the zeitgeist and seem to demand to be played immediately: Elden Ring and Animal Crossing being two pandemic-era examples that come to mind. But think of how rarely those juggernauts come along. Much more common are examples like recent indie sensation Neon White, which commanded huge pre-release buzz and had everyone talking...for like five days. Then the gaming media’s interest moved on to the next thing, leaving you ample time to pick it up on sale.

I’m not saying I will never buy a full-price game again. But every one I don’t buy until it’s on sale frees up $10 or $20 or more in my gaming budget that I can put toward older (cheaper) games that will be just as satisfying. Just don’t wait too long—you don’t want to risk your must-play title turning into a vintage collectible.

This post was edited on Nov. 23 to include an additional note about supporting indie developers.


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