218: A Penny Saved Is a Dollar Spent

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A Penny Saved Is a Dollar Spent

Discount games can be a great way to trim your entertainment expenses without having to sacrifice much. But the temptation of a good sale can also cause you to abandon restraint. Rob Zacny explains how trying to economize on games actually doubled his budget.

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Great article. I am the exact same way. I rarely spend more than $10 on a game, never more than $20. I'm even worse with movies. Rarely more than $5, never more than $10. Very good article.

heh i usually play only games that price range to (with a few exceptions for series i love (like empire total war). But yeah it can end up costing alot more. I'm sure i have icewind dale 2 and alot of the older things lying around waiting for a playtrough.

I suffer exactly the same problem. I haven't bought a full-price game for a while now (though that'll change by Friday), yet my collection keeps on growing.

"But I had to buy Lost Odyssey and Infinite Undiscovery, they were in a 2-for-£30 sale!" - same goes for Blue Dragon. Of course, I've never played the bloody things because I have no inclination to invest hundreds of hours in a JRPG right now, and haven't for a while, the last one I got really into was Final Fantasy 9.

Still, I got the PC version of Oblivion for £2.99 thanks to student discount and in-store loyalty card points, which was nice. I've had plenty of fun with that, despite already having ploughed 200 hours into the 360 version. We'll ignore the fact that I had to fork out £85 for a new graphics card to be able to play it...

Great article as ever.

You think that paying 59$ for a game is much?
In italy most of the new games that in america cost 59$, will cost 69€.
With the change and everything is about 30$ of difference.
So goes for Batman (ten hours of gameplay 70€?), Call of duty modern warfare 2 (same prices), Assassin's creed 2 and so on.
How could it be possible that european games cost so much more, even now, with recession and the euro that's 1,5 to 1 for a dollar?
And games like batman are region free and with multilanguage. It means that the same product cost almost 50% more if is bought in italy...
I'm not buying a game at its release since months...

While I generally do go for the highly rated games right just weeks after the release date, I find it hard to resist to Steam's sale offers too. Take the 2K huge game pack, for example. It's twenty games for about €50. The thought that I should check see which games in the pack would be worth purchasing by itself was quickly pushed away by twenty games for €50!!! As it turned out, I played three of the twenty and I actually don't have much desire to play the other ones.

Although I do buy the games I know I'm going to like before they lower in price, I don't have loads of money to spend. To keep the bank account from running low, I use a very profitable alternative to bargain bin hunting: Currency crunching! Being located in the Netherlands, I can purchase goods online (specifically downloadable ones) in at least three different currencies with relative ease: Euros, GB Pounds and US Dollars. A year or so ago, dollar rates were exceptionally low, and European tourists took this opportunity to go on massive shopping sprees in New York. During that time I bought the Orange Box on Steam, which still charged Europeans in dollars, three months early and €10 cheaper than local retail. Nowadays the GBP is at a comfortable position in respect to the Euro, and I can get my games up to €20 cheaper at sites like Amazon UK or Direct2Drive UK.

So here's a tip for those in advantageous economic regions: Pick your currencies wisely, because a Pound spent is a Euro saved.


These discounts CAN BE a trap, but they can ALSO be a good cheap way to introduce or to reapproximate you to some genre you already missed or never played before.

By paying cheap you can try the real thing, and maybe you realize how could you stay away from that fun all this time, just because you simply didn´t try it before.

And then you become a fan and a consumer for that new title/genre.

Of course you may hate the title even more, and then you either leave it away and lost the small money you paid for, or sell the game for someone else for the same bargain price you bought it. Anyway its not a DEAD END.

It happened to me this weekend, and I SHOULDNT DID THAT, but i bought Street Fighter 4 on Steam for 50% OFF discount after 1 month from release date.

Everyone knows that I simply dont play brawlers. Once I did when the 1st SF2 came for SNES, and then i quit the genre for all this time. Played a bit Tekken 3, occasionally...

BUT im excited to play Street Fighter again, and this time online, for 20$, so I´m comfortable with that spent.

I guess the safest way to keep on your feet is ask yourself: "do that title/genre is or was somehow appealing to me?"

As for me, if Blizzard offered me 2 years of WoW, or Starcraft 2 for free, I´d pass both. :)

I'll admit it's very tempting to grab a new game the minute it comes out. But here in Wales - you'd be looking at a very long wait until a game comes down in price. By the time one can afford the game you were wanting - there's another 50 other great looking games all winking at you like the stars in the sky.

I just did this on Ebay. In two days, I bought six games that I'd missed out on because they were all so cheap, and I know there's no way I'm going to get to play them all as a student and employee who's busy six days a week. I ended up spending more than I would've on a used copy of Arkham Asylum, which is what I really wanted.

nice to know im not the only one who every half our has to announce that every console game would be better whit a mouse and a keyboard, and i am also a sales junkie, every weekend i think that steam are angels for lovering the prices and every Monday i think they are evil for making me use the food budget in a few clicks.

For awhile I used to be the guy who grabbed a big title the day it came out at full price. I recall picking up The Orange box release day for 50 bucks only to find it in the bargain bin in a few short months. After switching jobs I pretty much had to force myself into looking around the bargain bins finding those few decent titles. I didn't have much room to complain I suppose since the bins were usually updated every month or so, picking up God of War COO for 15 bucks, Silent Hill Origins for 10, and Mercenaries 2 for 15.

These days I usually wait for a game to go down to a "greatest hits" price at the very least (20-30 bucks) before I pick it up. Currently I've been waiting for Killzone 2 and Fallout 3 which I don't expect to drop for at least another year or so while developers are still milking them while they're still hot. It's a pain waiting, I used to do this with my old XBox back when I was a teenager, wanting to play Doom3 and Half Life 2. I must have waited a year for the two to drop in price and another 6 months before the Doom3 expansion.

In the near future, considering that I'll soon be joining the Navy, I expect I won't be waiting for price drops on titles so much as trying to finding the time to justify purchasing a game.

My most amazing bargain bin gaming experience was System Shock 2. For some reason I only remembered bits of the extensive praise my friend gave the game, but just like in this article the price tag was the last bit of convincing I needed.

I still buy a lot of games right when they come out, but my method of budgeting comes down to a lot of self-discipline these days. I try and make it a point to beat old games before buying new ones, and I generally will try and play catch up with my catalog rather than cram it full of fresh releases.

Still, the part about Steam also spoke far, far too true to me. Weekend discounts are the devil :(

As much as I am in totally the same situation as the article writer... what was the point of this article? It basically just felt like "Hey guys, anyone else like this? I know right?"

I was hoping for, I don't know, some tips or something.

I got Bioshock for $5 on steam. I was completely blown away, but I suspect some of that comes from the $5 price tag. In all, I've spent probably $100-150 on bargain bin games in the past 2+ years and maybe $30-50 of that have been games so terrible I wish I could delete them permanently from my Steam games list I am so embarrassed I bought them.

However, it has given me the opportunity to play games I never would have given the time of day before. I know publishers and devs don't want to hear all their hours of blood, sweat and tears reduced to "hey that's a pretty good game for the bargain price of $xx.nn", but it's true - most games aren't worth their release price of $50+, and those that don't release a DEMO so you can play it before you buy it KNOW THEIR GAME ISN'T WORTH THE $60 they ask for it.

This really hits home for me, because I'm the exact same way. As a broke grad student, I usually try to save money all around, so naturally, when I see that Gamestop is having a buy 2, get 1 free sale, I HAVE to check it out. That ends up biting me in the ass (more correctly, my wallet) as I'll usually end up spending more money than I would have if I had just bought 1 really good new game. You bring up a good point. Yeah, certain titles weren't worth the $60 to some people, but at $20 you'll stop and consider. I think this constitutes a majority of games in my stack. I look at it as more of an opportunity to play games that I never would have given a second thought to beforehand. Cool that you bring up Steam too, because I'm always on the lookout for those sales where they drop the price of a game for a weekend or something. As a student, I think I spend more on gaming by "sale shopping" than I actually spend on food or rent...

Why should you care about playing a game like Prototype while everyone cared about it? You play games for yourself, not for others. It's a solitary experience enjoyed from the comfort of your home, not some frat party.

Good article though, I agreed about the deals and such. I haven't paid full price for a game since... well, Doom 3. Even games like Fallout 3, I've gotten cheaply through GoGamer or other places, even though it was around launch time. Gems can definitely be found in the cheap games pile (notice how I didn't call it the bargain bin?), and even those misunderstood games are worth it at $5, $10. That's why as a rule, I never buy DD games unless they're really cheap, on a deal, or is really worth it, like L4D.

This article definitely struck a chord with me. I don't have much disposable income (or free time), but that doesn't stop me from "window shopping" at retail outlets. It helps to fall behind the curve of immediate release dates. Once you get over being the "first kid on the block to have it" mentality, it really allows you to see what games (movies, books, etc.) you wanted for their merit versus the marketing hype built around them.

Thankfully, Canada isn't hurting as much as the US when it comes to the recession. Still, finances are tight because the cost of goods keeps going up without salary increases to match them. I find myself having to pick and choose games too, often missing out on games that my friends really enjoyed. It's lead me to be more proactive about getting games, but with more free time than money, I've had to find another way to acquire them.

I'll be honest: I pirate a lot of things. Most of them I try once, dislike, and never use again. Some I really like and will even buy a legit copy of because I appreciated it so much. And many other things just never see a dollar from me for their use. It's not fair, but that's what happens.

If developers and publishers want to sell games to people in this penny-pinching era, they need to lower prices or face pirating. I'm not talking morals or ethics here, just economics. Pirating games has become trivial, and will be no matter how hard companies try to invent new ways to block people from doing it -- even enacting laws aren't enough; just ask the prohibitionists.

But people only pirate because it's so much cheaper than buying the game. Getting the games can be a lengthy process, fraught with the risk of viruses, fakes, and everything else you see in a black market. If it was only $5 or $10, many people would be willing to buy it just to save the hassle. I know even for myself, I'll pay $5 or sometime s$10 for a game if I think it looks worth it, even though I could download it for free in less than an hour. I still have respect for the companies and am still willing to pay for things that are worth buying, but $50 and $60+ is just ridiculous.

As the article noted, there's a different psychology associated with cheaper purchases. $5 or $10 is expendable -- it's worth taking a risk on because it's not much of a loss. But $50 is a significant investment, something you can't afford to do more than once or twice a month. That had better be a good game at that price. But how do you tell? Few high-priced titles have demos available, most reviews are full of hype and payola, and if you don't like it, you can't return it, and you may not even be able to resell it. That's a huge risk for $50. So it gets pirated.

But if people are pirating it because it's too expensive to purchase, then lowering the prices will encourage sales among people who are willing to pay the lower price. How much is enough? It depends on the numbers, but I'm sure it's fair to say that, at $5, almost nobody would pirate something, except a small group who will pirate because they want to. At that point, no amount of lowering prices will get more sales. But until that point is reached -- say $5, $10, maybe $15 -- you'll increase sales by lowering the price. There will be some curve of diminishing returns to this that I imagine would balance out somewhere around the $20 mark.

If they did this, everyone would win. The developers complain about piracy and the used market, but with games cheaper, piracy and used sales would be diminished because more people would buy retail. Gamers would get to keep money and would be able to buy more games, making them happy. The developers would win again, because people would buy more games -- they'd still spend as much on games per month, they would just get more of them. Imagine if they dropped prices from $60 to $20 and 3x as many people purchased games. But they still kept spending $60 a month on games -- that means the industry is getting $60/mo from 3x as many people!

Again, I'm not encouraging piracy, nor am I even excusing it, I'm just echoing human nature: if people can't afford it, but they can (and they can) pirate it, they will. If companies lower prices, fewer people will pirate because it makes pirating less appealing, and it will raise sales. Depending on how the numbers balance out, this could mean increased income for the developers and more games for the gamers. Everybody wins.

I got Bioshock for $5 on steam. I was completely blown away, but I suspect some of that comes from the $5 price tag. In all, I've spent probably $100-150 on bargain bin games in the past 2+ years and maybe $30-50 of that have been games so terrible I wish I could delete them permanently from my Steam games list I am so embarrassed I bought them.

However, it has given me the opportunity to play games I never would have given the time of day before. I know publishers and devs don't want to hear all their hours of blood, sweat and tears reduced to "hey that's a pretty good game for the bargain price of $xx.nn", but it's true - most games aren't worth their release price of $50+, and those that don't release a DEMO so you can play it before you buy it KNOW THEIR GAME ISN'T WORTH THE $60 they ask for it.

I know, Universe at War was atrocious, huh?

I sometimes can't stop myself from buying games online when there is a sale on steam or gog.com...
However, I only buy games that I actually know something about and actually want to play.

I do have a backlog of games that I own but I haven't played yet... but who doesn't really?

I think I have more of a issue with stopping myself from buying bargain bin DVDs then games.
I use the faulty logic "well it doesn't cost much more to buy it then to rent it..."
even when I know I probably won't watch the movie more than once.

Steam is evil for exactly this reason. It is especially frustrating because some of the older games that they feature don't work well, or at all, on newer PCs without some futzing around with an .ini or .config file, and look REALLY bad when blown up fullscreen on a 1680x1050 flatscreen monitor. Widescreen support is the worst offender, IMO.

Anyways, I've had to curtail my budget for games recently, and the 40 dollars per month I set aside disappears that much more quickly when budget games come into the picture.

You hit something I think every gamer has gone through at some point. With no school and a more hours on a summer job I found I had some extra cash (not much but enough for gaming away) and went on my a binge of my own. Now schools back and I can't work as often so I have decided rather than wait for deals to come to me, to go hunt for them. It has worked for me so far because now I don't feel compelled to buy every cheap game I see and now the games I do get I have properly researched so I feel that I get more bang for my buck than before. Also I agree that the whole hype about a new game is at root a social competition (and being the first to say "DUDE! THOSE GRAPHICS WERE AMAZING!") and while you maybe a little out of the circle around the water cooler you can always sit there and smile to yourself about what those other people have no idea what they have missed that you got super-cheap.

"Apparently this game is so crazy that multiplayer matches take like nine or ten hours. It consumes your weekend."

LoL... oops... I'm sure you realized that mistake as the words left your lips. Sins of a Solar Empire is a great game but two hours for a medium difficulty comp stomp and I feared-too-much-to-find-out-for-myself however many hours for a harder match made it a passing fancy rather than a lasting enjoyment. Still, gotta try Sins if it's 20 bucks. Download it from the Stardock Website because they earned it.

Cheapskates unite, brother. There's a few I'll still pay full price for, but the number dwindles. Used bins, amazon, eBay, Gamestop, E.B, GameCrazy, Hollywood Video...that lattermost, by the way, is a fantastic place to sell games. They usually buy used games at a much better price than anywhere else I've seen.

We really don't have a lot of Bargain Bins in Dubai. But right now, there is one that I always go to grab some old games.

Among them: Condemned 1-2, Stranglehold, Shaun White, Lost Planet and the Club.

Bought the following games from a bargain bin (or equivalent) for 15 Euros or less:

- Bullet Witch
- Ninety Nine Nights
- The Darkness
- Golden Axe - Beast Rider

That's four flawed games for the price of a single new one, sure they're not top of the line stuff, but I found plenty of enjoyment in them.
The only problem with switching to "bargain bin" titles is that you have to be careful to stay picky.

Good Old Games' "2 For 1" sale recently dug into my pockets rather deeply... for 8 titles, totalling about $25CAD. Even if I don't play some, I've still gotten my money's worth out of the Earthworm Jim and Fallout soundtracks (now ripped to my Zune, with their blessing no less) and somehow I doubt that Freespace and Fallout Tactics will go unplayed for long.

I'd have to agree that bargain titles do drift into "impulse buy" territory and make folks like me more likely to buy on whim. However, that's not going to eat into my "first run" game purchasing... simply because I buy so few, and those are planned well in advance and even budgeted for. Discount titles come out of my "incidentals" money... and it's hard to argue that it's better to spend $5-10 on beer or take-out instead of a game.

-- Steve

I picked up half a dozen PS2 games two years ago for about $10-$15 apiece. I never got around to playing them because I had moved onto my 360 by that point, and when I did hook up my PS2 (while the 360 was away due to the RROD) I discovered the memory card slot 1 was broken, rendering it mostly useless.
Maybe that's not really the point here.

A friend of mine handed me a budget title for the PS2 once: Yakuza Fury. I learned years ago that if the game case has the plot synopsis on the back in multiple languages, the game was a waste of time. Poorly made shovelware.
I was not wrong. 45 minutes later I had hacked, kicked and gunned my way to the end. There was an interesting aspect where using guns caused you to lose "honor" and when the game ended abruptly on a sour note, I assumed I had to play honorably to continue.
30 minutes later I had slashed my way to the end once more, only to be served up another steaming bowl of disappointment.

Good read, thanks for the article.

I have countless games I picked up for less than 5 dollars and only tried for a day.

And a few I never opened.

Like Deus Ex: Invisible War (got it, let a friend borrow it, saw it at his house, took it back, and never bothered trying it for myself.)
And Sudden Strike (1-3 and expansions) is still shrink wrapped.
And Trickstyle, there's one you won't think of. It looked like SSX Tricky on hoverboards, and I never opened it even though it's been several years.

Those are just a few off the top of my head. This doesn't count games I have but never played because we 'store' things in our basement for people, including older computer games that I should really get around to (Planescape Torment, Dungeon Siege one, Freespace one, etc.)

Some of the greatest deals I've gotten -and played- include the Unreal Anthology: 4 unreal games (UT99, UT2K4, Unreal, and Unreal 2) for 5 dollars. Both '99 and 2004 come with the game of the year edition/director's cut extra bullshit including some better maps and mods, etc...

Another one was a box of sequels:
-Dark Reign 2
-Heavy Gear 2
-Battlezone 2
-Quake 2

^ All of these combined for 10 dollars, and this was at least 5 years ago when they were almost new.

Another one was Unreal Tournament (when it was newish), and Total Annihilation in a group for 10 dollars...

Fallout 1 and 2 in a little case together for 5 dollars...

Descent 3 and expansion for 5 dollars (same little case thing)

Etc, etc. These are just package deals, I could go on forever. I got max payne and max payne 2 for 2 dollars together...


I'm 19 by the way, these purchases were from when I was 12-17.

I used to do that. Browsing sites like amazon.co.uk, ebay, play-asia and Steam more recently can be disastrous.

Now I only do it for games I really anticipate and want. I don't generally buy games when they have this low a price, unless I wanted them at some point in time. One would argue that this last sentence is the most destructive because we gamers that read about games and developments of the game world sometimes know more about games than we actually play them. Therefore, we've heard about and/or are acquainted with a great many more games than usual.

Yeah I dig the bargain games. As you said, the lower cost means lower expectations. Some of my favorite games of recent years have been bargain games.


I know, Universe at War was atrocious, huh?

Never played that one, but RTS isn't really my favorite genre. They had that one for $5 at the same time Defense Grid came out so I got that instead. Since I've never played tower defense, to me it was a great game - at $5. Though if it had a DEMO (hint hint), I probably would have payed the $20. I'd have been upset at the $5 price when it came out, but hey, their loss is my gain right? :D

An interesting point that was brought up in this article was how the cost of a game can affect the rating you give it or time you spend with it. I bought Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy VIII, and Chrono Cross for a bundle of 30$ about a year before I bought Call of Duty:World at War for $59.99 but the scary thing is I finished CoD and Chrono Cross around the same time. I'm a full time student and I take care of my grandmother so I have about 10 hours a week to invest in games counting I disregard hanging out with my friends, exercising.

It took me the stretch of nine months months to beat Chrono Cross investing 44 hours to beat. Why you ask? Because I was also juggling playing time with FF IX and FF VIII! I beat Cod:WW in about two weeks and still enjoy the multiplayer and I just sold both Final Fantasy games because I couldn't invest time like I did Cross. While Cross it was an amazing, gaming experience, I ended up losing a couple friendships and gaining about fifteen pounds! It's just unrealistic to invest in a bunch of bargain games instead of committing to one buy and taking your time plaing and experiencing singularly. You could get one bargain game, but, like the writer perfectly described, it's so hard passing up a great bundle...

This might be a topic to itself about juggling a bunch games to play and in the end not enjoying any of them but I think there's a connection to it and bargain hunting.

I have never understood the point of rushing to have a new game when there are so many good old games you haven't played yet. Nor do I understand the point of playing crap because it is cheap. The very least I understand playing crap because it is new.

The only times where there's a real point in buying games early is when it's the kind of game that completely eclipses earlier ones. Suppose you are back in 2003 and want to play a fighting game; you'd be silly in buying Virtua Fighter 4 for cheap when you could buy Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution at full price. OTOH you'd pretty much always want to play rail shooters #1, #2 and #3 rather than just #3 over and over again, so you might as well buy #1 and #2 from the discount bin now, and #3 from it later, and pay only as much as if you bought #3 immediately.

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