How to Buy Video Games

You may be wondering “Why would I need to read about how to buy games? I know how to exchange money for goods and services.” Sure ya do. But do you know how to do it as advantageously as possible?

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The following is a guide of helpful tips on how to effectively purchase video games at reasonable prices. Here are a few things you need to know beforehand:

  • Most of what’s written here will only be useful if you live in the United States. I will touch on how to import some games from Japan and greater Asia, so that could be useful regardless of where you live, but the bulk of this is for Americans.
  • The majority of this applies to buying physical copies of console games. If you’re on PC or want to go digital only, some of the forum info I’ll provide may be helpful, but most of this is not going to help you.
  • Hopefully this goes without saying, but I’m not endorsed by any third parties or speaking on the behalf of any companies, yada yada yada. Everything here are just my personal opinions.

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Sign up for GCU

Best Buy’s Gamers Club Unlocked is your end-all, be-all of retail subscription services that you need to sign up for if you plan on buying at least a moderate amount of video games a year. GCU gets you 20% off all new game purchases from Best Buy, both in-store and online. It’s just $30 for two years, so if you save more than $15 a year (which you would if you bought just TWO full-priced games a year), then you will have saved money.

Of course, this also applies pre-ordering games. If you’re really looking forward to an upcoming game, you can pre-order it in-store or online, get your 20% off and be there to pick it up the moment it goes on sale.

Best of all, GCU stacks with other Best Buy promotions. Say a $60 game comes out, but you want to wait until it’s cheap. Then, three months after release, that game goes on sale for a week at Best Buy for $30. Now you decide to buy that game AND your membership stacks on that sale, making it $24.

The only downside to GCU is that last year, Best Buy did away with stacking GCU on top of Black Friday deals. Every other day of the year, GCU will apply to any MSRP price or deal price on games. The glory days of getting an additional 20% off of already insanely low BF prices is sadly over.

Consider Prime

Given that Amazon is the top internet retailer in the US, you may be aware that Amazon offers 20% off of pre-ordered and recently released games to its Prime subscribers. This was actually a service added in the last couple of years in response to GCU as Best Buy had been the originator. In fact, Amazon has gone so far as to offer respectable discounts (though not quite 20%) on select pre-ordered games to those without Prime memberships. Again, not all games, but select.

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The downside to Prime of course is that the 20% Prime member discount goes away after a game has been out longer than a month whereas GCU applies to every game, no matter how old or new. Prime is also much more expensive at $99 a year compared to GCU’s average of $15 a year.

The counterargument is that Amazon Prime offers many more benefits outside of buying video games. There’s free 2-day shipping on countless of items, access to Amazon Prime Video, $1 digital credit when you select no-rush shipping and more. Prime may be the way to go for the average consumer with many needs or the person looking to share an account with a family.

Another thing to consider is that for you fellow college students out there, you can sign up for Prime with a student discount at half the cost. Also, for any heavy Twitch users, Amazon and Twitch rolled out a partnership last year that allows Prime subscribers to get a free Twitch subscription to a channel of their choosing along with other perks.

Again, I don’t think Prime is the better option compared to GCU when it comes to games, but at least consider whether or not it’s a good fit for you.

If you’re into collecting, get PowerUp Pro

In the world of video game deal shopping, GameStop is the mortal enemy of many. When it comes to buying newly released games, avoid GameStop at all costs unless you really, really want some novel pre-order bonus that only they are offering. Unlike Best Buy and Amazon, GameStop offers no discounts on new games and if you’re unfortunate enough to be buying the last “new” copy of a game that they have in-store, that game will have been ‘gutted’ so that the box can be put on display in-store while the disc sits in a drawer behind the counter. It’s a practice that I will never understand how they get away with.

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Now all that said, if you don’t mind buying used games and may even be trading some games in, GameStop is a fine place to shop once you know how to handle yourself there. I actually do quite a bit of shopping at GameStop because I like to collect games and nowhere is there better to find good prices on Gen 7 games right now than GameStop.

For $15 a year, PowerUp Pro will get you 10% off used games and 10% extra credit on trades, as well as various other things like coupons and points towards goodies or certificates. GameStop will run promotions like Buy 2, Get 1 Free weekends for used games and the 10% discount will stack with that. Times like those are when people like me can cheaply expand our libraries of older games.

However, if you care about the condition your games come in – including whether or not you own them in the original cases – I would recommend, never buying used games from GameStop’s website. Far too often will GameStop ship used games in plain boxes with just the disc. Because of this, as a collector, I will only buy a used game that I can hold in-store before buying.

Also, I do not recommend buying games from GameStop’s retro storefront on their website unless the retro game you’re buying is common and unlikely to be a forgery. GameStop got into the retro market a couple of years ago and has had a myriad of problems. If you’re curious about getting into retro collecting and want to know why you shouldn’t buy retro through GameStop, watch this video from Pat the NES Punk’s podcast.

If you’re shopping for retro, go to local stores first and eBay second

It really is that simple. Mom and pop stores or any kind of local business that specializes in retro are your go-to for those kinds of games because of how specialized the market is. The sad reality is that when it comes desirable NES, SNES, etc. games, they are very easy to forge. If you go to a retro store, the people there will know what they’re doing and you’re not going to be sold a fake.

Here in Texas (as well as a few locations in Washington, I believe), we have a great small chain of stores called Game Over Videogames.  Game Over is my go-to store in Austin for retro. Their prices may be a little higher than the average on PriceCharting.com, but that’s the small price you pay for getting the kind of service and reliability that can only come through a local store that specializes in retro.

Buying on eBay is another route, as there are plenty of reputable sellers there that sell retro. In many ways, good retro sellers online are not drastically different than a retro shop. However, you lose the advantage of face-to-face customer service and being able to personally inspect a retro game before committing to buy it.

Imports!

The past few years has been a renaissance in importing games. We live in a world where after the release of the Nintendo Switch, every major home console on the market will be region free, so you can buy games from anywhere and play them on your system.

Amazon Japan has begun to ship new games sold directly by them internationally. If you want a physical copy of a newly released game in Japan, I really recommend going through them. Signing up for Amazon JP is no different than Amazon US and their site has even been more aggressive in adding English for international shoppers.

Also keep in mind that other Amazon international sites follow suit. If by chance you’re looking for a copy of a physical game that got an EU release but not a US one, Amazon UK may be a good place to go – like for inFAMOUS First Light.

One of my favorite new markets is what’s known as ‘Asia English.’ Occasionally, Vita or PS4 games that only get digital releases in America will receive physical prints in English for Asia countries like Hong Kong and Singapore. Such was the case for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven. In this case, you may want to try hitting up Play Asia, HeavyArm, or a reputable eBay seller. Seller mariio1228 is based in Hong Kong and has been good in my experience.

Finally, if you’re on PlayStation, know that it’s also possible to sign up for other regions’ PSN accounts. This can be an alternative to importing physically, but know that it will require you to buy prepaid PSN credit, as the PlayStation store will not allow you to use a credit card or PayPal account that is registered to a different country than the one you’re shopping for.

Read CAG and SlickDeals

The bow to tie all this knowledge together is to peruse CheapAssGamer.com and SlickDeals.net. CAG in particular is one of my favorite forums on the net and you may even find me posting there if read long enough. Want to hear about new deals as they’re discovered? Read CAG. Want to know what next week’s in-store flyers for Best Buy and Target will be advertising? Read CAG. Want a reason to spend money on a game you previously had no intention of playing? Read CAG.

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CAG is useful for literally every type of game purchasing you can think of. From buying from retail stores, to online sites only, to Steam, PSN, Xbox Live, etc. If there are video game deals of any kind to be had, you’ll find them on CAG.

Slick Deals on the other hand is a more popular site overall that specializes in a lot more than just video games. However, the gaming forum can still be supplemental information on top of using CAG. In my opinion, a lot of SD users are more in the game for finding quick ways to make profit as opposed to buying for personal use, however.

Twitter accounts to follow

The following accounts will regularly tweet out gaming deals for you so that you don’t even need to leave Twitter to hear the latest.

@Wario64: A bot account created by Japanese game director Suda51. (not really)

@videogamedeals: CAG’s official twitter account that will tweet out some deals that don’t even get posted to the forum.

@CAGNewDeals: An actual bot that will tweet links to new CAG threads as they’re posted.

Be careful with your money

My last piece of advice is to be heady and not recklessly spend money on games just because you can get good deals on them. Honestly, this is advice that I need to do a better job of following myself. The goal is save money on games, but it can be far too easy to waste it by buying for the sake of buying.

Other than that, just have fun and enjoy the hunt. Buying a game you really want to play at a great price of securing a physical copy of a game that all your friends had to resort to downloading can be a very rewarding experience. Just don’t be like me and have to put up a new shelf every couple of months.