Updated on 01.21.08

Video Games and Frugality

Trent Hamm

wiiAs an owner of a Wii and a Nintendo DS, as well as a fairly frugal person, one of my biggest challenges is to figure out how to maximize my dollar – and my time – with a video game system. To this end, I use a wide array of tactics. These tactics also work if you’re buying video games for others as well, so keep them in mind if you’re a parent or a grandparent buying games.

My goal is to reduce the cost of the system and the games to a dollar per hour. This means that over the lifetime of the system, the total dollar cost of the system and all of the games is less than the number of hours that I’ve played with it.

Let’s look at my Nintendo DS, for instance. The system itself cost $129, and I own six games which cost me an average of $20: Advance Wars DS, Brain Age, Tetris DS, Planet Puzzle League, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Mario Kart DS, and Picross DS. Thus, the total cost here is $269. In order to get the value out of this system that I want, I would have to invest 269 hours in playing these games. Now, I’ve owned my DS for quite a while and I play it quite a bit while traveling, in waiting rooms, perking up my mind with puzzles, and so on, but has it added up to a total of 269 hours? I’m not sure, but I feel like I’m close enough to that number to be unsure about it.

The only way to get to that “dollar per hour” rate is to seek games that you can play over and over again. For me, that’s puzzle games and rhythm games, and that’s almost every video game that I own. I like games that are quick to pick up and offer a lot of replay value – a huge number of puzzles or a lot of songs to play.

For example, I was able to find how much time I’d sunk into my most played game of all, Advance Wars DS. It was a close companion of mine on many, many trips and many, many office visits. All told, the game reports that I’ve played it for a total of 105 hours. That’s replay value – for an original cost of $20, that’s quite a bargain, actually. Much of the value of owning the DS itself comes from this one game. On the Wii, the most played game of all is Guitar Hero III, which my wife and I both play regularly in the evenings and which has been played at countless social events at our house by a huge variety of people.

The aspect of video game ownership that makes it expensive are the “lemons” – games with very little replay value. Sadly, most games fall into this category – they don’t offer much repetitive gameplay, making them very expensive for the enjoyment and time that you get out of them. Almost all “crossover” games – ones that are tied in to a movie or other media brand – fall into this category, for starters.

The best way to find highly replayable games and to avoid lemons is to do the research. The best way to do this is to look at a wide variety of online video game reviews. Visit Metacritic and read a wide range of reviews. Although the reviewers talk a lot about graphics and such, one of the real consistent “make or break” factors is replay value – does this game have enough interest to keep people coming back for more? Gaming store advice is usually solid – they have no reason to point you in a bad direction and the people working there usually have a good grasp on what the “best” games are in most genres.

The biggest key, though, is knowing what you like (or what the person you’re buying for likes). The only way to find that out is to pay attention. If you enjoy doing puzzles in the newspaper, you’ll probably enjoy the surfeit of puzzle games for the DS. If you like playing strategic board games like chess and such, games like Advance Wars would be right up your alley. If you constantly find yourself drumming your fingers in time to music you hear, try out a rhythm game like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero (or try learning your own instrument, though that’s a very long slog).

Buying used is one good way to reduce the cost… Many game shops have a large used game selection, usually at a pretty good discount below the new price. Usually, the games are there because someone strapped for cash liquidated their video game collection. These games have been pre-tested to make sure that they work and they usually have a return policy, so if you do get a faulty game, you can often return it.

… but the best way is to buy old. My Nintendo Wii plays GameCube games. I can find most of the top GameCube games for just a few dollars by looking around. Similarly, my DS plays Game Boy Advance games where the same rule applies. Gaming reviews often refer back to the “cream of the crop” from earlier generations, so if you read a review of an exciting game and find that there’s a predecessor out there, try seeking that one out first. I found the original Advance Wars (for the Game Boy Advance) for just a couple dollars and played that one to death before getting the newer one for the DS.

If you think you’ve truly played a game to death, don’t be afraid to trade it. Since I’ve defeated all of the cases in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, I’m considering trading it in to get a discount on the next game in the series, reducing the cost of that game. Since I picked up the original for just $15 and played it for 15 or so hours, I feel like I got a good deal out of it and I’m eager to play through more cases (it’s a detective/courtroom drama game), and by trading in the original and getting the next one, the cost of the next one in the series is reduced, improving the value.

What are my “best buys”? In terms of value for my dollar, I feel that the Nintendo DS is the best bargain out there. It has a huge library of titles (since it can play older Game Boy Advance ones as well, the total count is several hundred) with a lot of gems in there. I’ve played the following games for at least 40 hours each for the DS: Advance Wars DS (perhaps my single most-played game of all time), Brain Age (because it includes a ton of sudoku puzzles, which I often do in the morning to limber up my brain), Picross DS (another puzzle game that I use in the mornings to limber up), and Planet Puzzle League (perhaps the easiest pick-up-and-play-for-three-minutes game ever made). Those four games, plus the DS, cost me less than $200 total, and I’ve gotten at least 200 hours of play out of the set – it’s entertained me on flights, in the doctor’s office, at the DMV, in the mornings when I’m trying to get my thinking cap on, and so on.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Yera Meyahu says:

    Not to be glib, but what about Gamefly? Blockbuster apparently hates gamers, but this seems like a good solution in terms of money per time, especially for even more expensive games. PS3 titles, for example, are almost universally $60, while the Gamefly rental is $15/month. Takes care of the lemon problem, as well as addressing the fact that a significant proportion of games, even non-lemons, are basically ‘beatable’.

  2. Kim says:


    I love the Phoenix Wright game. :-)

    Great tips! Don’t forget about renting- http://gamefly.com/help/howitworks.asp

    Gamefly is Netflix for videogames. One monthly fee, -no- late fees, and a great way to play the games that have little replay value without forking over $50 for them.

    I haven’t used the service myself, because for the past couple years I’ve been sucked into World of Warcraft. Yes, there’s a per month fee of $15, but since I play it way more than 15 hours a month (more like 15 a week…) it’s a very cheap form of entertainment.

  3. justin says:

    First of all, thank you for your blog. I read it regularly and appreciate your time and advice. I do have a question about this post though… It seems like your missing the point here. Once you’ve purchased a video game it becomes a sunk cost (and therefore should not factor into you decisions thereafter). Tracking price/ratio would give you the incentive to “invest” your time in playing video-games just to get the price/hour ratio down. This seems pretty illogical/unproductive. Am I missing something here?

  4. Brian says:

    I recommend checking out websites like swaptree.com to swap your games out. I’ve used swaptree and found it to be incredibly helpful (and this was after I built a similar tool myself, spitgamer.com).

  5. Money Management and You says:

    I think the best way to reduce of impact of buying games is to sell them (ebay or a local store) or trade them. But if your buying a new game you need to set a timeline, the longer you wait the less the game will sell for. But if you put into a place a time restraint of 3 months, at which point you sell the game. You could probably reduce the costs significantly.

    Of course its kind of annoying to sell a game that you may want to play in a month or two

  6. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I usually view a game as a sunk cost when I buy it, because there’s no guarantee I will be able to resell it. Since I know this up front, I try to seek games that will have a lot of personal replay value, so I don’t have the urge to buy more games and get more out of the games that I have.

  7. @ Justin:

    I think the point is to find cost effective entertainment value. If he regularly spent $60 on a game that was only fun for a couple hours it could become an expensive hobby.

  8. Joe says:

    I find it highly highly ironic you are so adamant that tv watching is a waste of time and money but you spend so much time and money on video games. And don’t give me the “Wii gives us exercise and is a great social tool” because a lot of what comes on television such as good movies and sports are also great for social gatherings. And please don’t tell me video games such as Wii is better than tv-watching because it allows you to “exercise.”

    What the Wii means to you is what a tv means to another person – a great form of entertainment. The point to emphasize is moderation, instead of declaring that one form of entertainment is bad in and of itself

  9. I commend you for attempting to rationalize the purchase of video games and video-game systems. I myself just jumped back into the foray (after many many years of abstaining) with the Nintendo Wii.

    I think this is one of those times where we (as frugal people) are allowed to say: “Hey, look, I like playing video games and while it may not be uber-frugal, it entertains me.”

    We don’t have to rationalize each and every decision we make, after all, no one is perfect.

  10. Matt says:

    As an avid gamer myself, I’ve made many attempts over the years to reduce the cost of my hobby. Here are some of the things that have worked for me. For starters, if you’re going to buy used, don’t get them from game stores like Gamestop, or EB. Their markup is rather large. Instead try places like Amazon or Craigslist. Just like with used cars, you’ll save money by cutting out the middle man.

    Second, before you buy a game, think very hard about how much you’ll play it. If you’re just going to play it one time, it’s probably better just to rent it. I would recommend going to a site like Gamefly, which is basically just Netflix for games. For about $16/month you can play those games as much as you want. Gamefly even has a “keep it” option where you can buy the game at a used price if, after playing it a bit, you decide that it’s more than a rental after all.

    Third, if you’re going to trade a game in, try and do it sooner rather than later. If you sell a game within a month after its release, you can get top dollar, but after that the price goes down pretty sharply.

    Fourth, if you buy a lot of games, try switching to gaming on your PC instead of a console. PC gaming costs more up front for the hardware, but the software usually sells for about 20% cheaper than their console counterparts and get discounted faster too. If you’re buying more than about 10 games a year, the savings on software could more than make up for the costs on hardware over time.

    And last, try and get behind the new release pricing curve. You don’t have to buy games from 2 or 3 years ago to be saving money. Games get their steepest price drop after about 6-8 months on the market.

  11. Frugal Dad says:

    My wife and I have come close to getting a Wii for some time. We were in a Toys R’Us before Christmas and they actually had one in stock. My wife wanted to get it and I told her no, “Wii” needed to save our money. She wasn’t amused!

  12. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “What the Wii means to you is what a tv means to another person – a great form of entertainment. The point to emphasize is moderation, instead of declaring that one form of entertainment is bad in and of itself”

    First of all, kindly don’t tell me what I think. You have no idea what a Wii “means to” me – you’re merely stamping your own opinions onto me for some reason.

    The chief problem I have with television is the intellectual passivity. You don’t have to think at all about what you’re watching – just absorb it. That’s why television ads are so effective – many people watch without critical thought. There are big pieces of the internet that do the same thing – YouTube, for instance.

    Both books and video games require cognitive interaction to participate. It’s fairly easy to find studies that demonstrate this, try Green and Bavelier 2003 for starters.

    That, to me, means the time spent on such things is more valuable by far than time spent watching television. For example, when I first wake up in the morning, I often do a sudoku puzzle or a picross puzzle on my DS – that takes about fifteen minutes. That boost alone gets me in a good cognitive gear for the day – and it’s thanks to video games.

  13. Taylor says:

    I’ve outlined similar principles with my PS3. The first couple games I bought, I really took a wash on. You pay $50+ for a game, beat it in a weekend, then never play it again; not a good value for per hour fun.

    After doing some research, I bought Call of Duty 4 which has a heavy following of online players and I’ve probably logged 30 hours on it so far and I still haven’t overplayed or bored myself to death.

    The key for me is finding a game that has online play and the game progress isn’t linear. Good games are sports, racing, and first person shooter games.

  14. Here are some more great tips!! First sign up for Gamestop.com weekly newsletter they send you a coupon every week and one just for signing up for any game. Also, sign up for their trade in card. You get more money back on your trades and used games cost less when you use the card. I always trade in, and never buy new. That is how I save the most on my games.

    On top of that, I want to add that you can also take away the cost of other entertainment. For example, if you and your wife are enjoying a game then you aren’t going to the movies or renting a video. Also, if you use it at parties you can take off the cost of other things you might have used to entertain your guests.

    To the poster who suggested gamefly, or renting… I think that is really a waste of money. You have to give the game back, can’t trade it, etc. But I think it is a great way to find out if you will like a game before you buy it. We have started doing this and it has kept us from wasting a lot of money on games we don’t like. In fact for Christmas instead of buying my husband a bunch of games for his new XBOX 360, I bought him one and rented two others I thought he would like. He loved the one I bought, but hated the rentals… I was SO glad!!!

  15. Matt says:

    “To the poster who suggested gamefly, or renting… I think that is really a waste of money. You have to give the game back, can’t trade it, etc.”

    I have to disagree. In most cases where you sell or trade a game in you’re going to receive somewhere between 40-60% of what you paid for it, assuming you didn’t keep it for more than 6 months or so. So if you spend $40 on a game, you’ll have sunk at least $16 into that game.

    $16 also happens to be the cost of a monthly 1-at-a-time subscription to Gamefly. On average, I go through about 2 games a month with Gamefly, which works out to $8 per game, significantly less than buying and selling the game.

    On top of that though, there’s a risk factor you have to take into account. Every once in a while I pick up a game that looks good to me at first, but I soon realize just isn’t my type of game. If I had bought that game, I would still be out that $16, but if I rent it, the opportunity cost is essentially zero, since I can just send it back and get another game within a couple of days.

  16. Dave says:

    That’s a good blog entry. Although the one thing I will note is that although I may not get the same replay value out of New Super Mario Bros compared to Tetris, I find the quality of the game to be well worth the cost, and with expensive DS games being $30-35, it’s not so bad, even if replay value isn’t extremely high. Besides, if you can get 10 hours of enjoyment out of a $30 game, that’s $3 / hour, cheaper than most movies.

  17. SammyG says:

    A little of topic from the console game discussion, but I’m a big fan of abandonware.

    There’s lots of great games out there that I didn’t have time for while I was in grad school that are free and lots of fun.

    Half the fun, of course, is trying to find the old games and getting them ti work – but maybe that’s more of a hacker pasttime than a gamers pasttime.


  18. MS says:

    “First of all, kindly don’t tell me what I think.”

    HAHAHA!!!! Go Trent, Go!!!

    You vey rarely respond to people’s comments directly, but this one is great and well warranted.

  19. Lise says:

    Good article – this is something I think about (and write about) a lot, because both my husband and I are gamers. He tends to tear through games quickly, however, even counting games where he pursues alternate endings, higher scores, etc, whereas I tend to play a little, get distracted, etc, etc.

    Plus, we’re still trying to find a good solution for games we can play cooperatively – right now we subscribe to two MMOs, which is not cost effective, although in general I think they can be. I don’t believe Gamefly subscriptions are particularly cost effective, either, especially if it takes you a while to finish a game.

    I will say, he got a PSP for Christmas (from a relative who works at Sony) and I got him Lumines II so he had something to play on it. We have both gotten a lot of fun out of that game (though not at the same time)… it’s a puzzle game sort of like Tetris, only with blocks instead of lines. Don’t know if they have it for any of your systems, but I think it’s a good buy and can be gotten used at most places.

  20. Yera Meyahu says:

    I’ve done the movie-price/hour comparison many times in my life, but I always remind myself that movies aren’t exactly the high bar for time-value. :) Besides, that sends us into the territory of comparative movie viewing values, Blockbuster, Netflix, etc. If you’re paying even 80% retail for games, it’s my opinion that it’s just empty rationalization. It’s better to just admit that you enjoy it enough to splurge.

  21. Lise says:

    Ooh, and sorry to be spammy and post twice, but do you play any PC games? I’ve found the Elder Scrolls to be great values for the time sunk into them. They are gorgeous RPG-style games that do have a central plot, but also have a million little side quests, bandit hideouts, ruins, etc to explore. Elder Scrolls III, Morrowind, would probably be the best value at this point – the older games are hard to run on newer computers, and IV, Oblivion, is still somewhat costly.

  22. One of the ‘tricks’ I use is a sort of ‘trailing edge’ strategy. Basically, I try to stay at least 3 years behind with the games I play. So, I won’t be playing today’s games for at least another 3 years. By that time the games will have come down in price and I’ll still be enjoying a ‘new’ game but from a bargain bin instead of the new release section.

    I’m more of a PC guy than a console guy though so I’m not sure how much console games come down in price over time. I guess you could just always stick with the second latest console version to get a similar effect.

    I’ve written in more detail about this strategy in the past. So far, it has been working very well for me … although the first 3 years of getting behind were tough!


  23. Helen says:

    Great article. I usually get games from EB games (australia) as they match competitor prices, and have a good exchange policy. I once returned a game within a couple of days because it was simply rubbish and boring – and told them so – and they gave me a full value exchange, quite happily.

    I find I’m often defending games to other parents – our kids get a lot of fun out of them, and they are active and involved, often generating discussion.

    Have you tried online gaming? I’ve wondered whether I should try any of the online services to get another type of game experience with some of the games we have with online capability. (Xbox 360. Not sure if the PS2 is networkable.)

  24. Lisa says:

    I did the most frugal thing I could in terms of video games. I bought Brain Age used at Game Stop for $17.99 and borrowed the Nintendo DS from my nephew who wasn’t using it! My cost per use is already under a dollar!

  25. Jim says:

    Glad to see you are having some fun with some of your money!

  26. Joe says:

    Trent – didn’t expect such an acerbic attack out of you. You have taken an irrelevant point of my post and made it the central point of yours. I’m sorry if I ascribed certain views of mine to you…

    My point was that most people view and use a tv and the wii as forms of entertainment. Surely you cannot think that most people use a wii like you – for intellectual stimulation? If not, then the difference between the wii and a tv is just that the tv has commercials, which is not a very meaningful distinction.

    Remember that despite your disclaimers, you are giving advice to people. You have never mentioned that people should play intellectually stimulating games on the wii and surely you cannot think that most people do that. My point was that you are just advocating replacing tv-watching with wii-playing and there is very little difference between the two. Just like you can use a wii for intellectual stimulation, I can watch informative programs on the tv and stimulate myself, but as we know, most people don’t do either of these things. In your repeated posts hyping the wii you should remember that…

  27. Dave says:

    Lisa, Brain Age is $19.99 new. The games are pretty cheap to begin with.

  28. Mike says:


    The one thing the game consoles have is a good resale market. Carts and systems can be found on Craigslist for a reasonable price. If you buy the games used, you can often resell them for almost the same price.

  29. Dave Diller says:

    Hah, funny that you should even mention this topic today – I have been debating between a PS3, XBox 360, and Wii for some time now. Today I was going to put a plan into action to get one of them. Here’s my thought process, essentially.

    PS3: My roommate has one, and I love Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and Call of Duty 4 on it. Additionally, it doubles as a BluRay player, which is actually the least expensive one on the market right now – sweet deal for that. A few hundred bucks, good games, free online.
    360: ALL of my friends from high school have a 360 and love it. Halo 3 and Halo Wars, Gears of War, and other great games. A few hundred bucks, good games, $60 a year for online play.
    Wii: None of my friends have it, but it’s an excellent party console for all ages. My parents love it, my friends love it. At this point, not too many games out – and I wouldn’t be able to play online which is, in my opinion, a HUGE factor of a games replayability. Cheapest of the three.

    Right now I’m leaning towards PS3 because of the BluRay player and Call of Duty 4 with my roommate…

  30. 1stopmom says:

    First let me say glad to meet another gamer. I have tried 2 online game rental sites. Gamefly and Gottaplay. Gottaplay I got to try free for 10 days, but everything is always out. Gamefly was pretty good until games that were shipped would not make it to me. But they have a big selection which is good since I have an xbox, gamecube, psp, gameboy micro and a wii. I have bought a few games from gamefly. They mailed out the instructions and case in new condition. I have found some great games at gamestop for my psp as low $12(it was work time fun) I found the best deals right before christms. I was able to nab cooking mama and zoo tycoon for ds for only $9.99! Sorry such a long post, I love video

  31. Ben says:

    “In order to get the value out of this system that I want, I would have to invest 269 hours in playing these games.”

    It may be a bit of a nit to pick, but I think that some of the disagreement may be your use of the word “invest”. When I was growing up, it would always set my dad off when people said “invest” instead of “spend”. According to him, and I don’t know if this is a general definition or not, the difference between investing and spending is that an investment has at least the chance of a direct financial reward.

    One could certainly argue that reducing the average cost of something like a TV or game system (or book or fridge or stove, or whatever) is a financial gain because of the inherently frugal practice of using something as long as possible, but this would be too indirect to qualify as an “investment” by my dad’s rule.

    And it just so happens that I agree with my dad!

    Using a game system enough (or long enough) to justify buying it, and getting the games that are actually fun to play for a long are a good practice. I don’t think that qualifies as an investment, though.


  32. Mrs. Micah says:


    One thing I’d think of for looking for hours/game ratio is that I’d want to buy fewer games in a year. So if I found one game that I could get 400 hours of game play out of, I’d consider that a good buy because otherwise I might buy 4 which have 100 hours of game play or so and pay 4x as much. I’d at least want to buy 4. If I played video games.

    I think that the Wii Play set would last me quite a while. I’m the sort who gets addicted to tetris and from my Wii Play experiences, that sounds about right. But I don’t have a Wii, so I’ll stick with tetris. :)

  33. riley says:

    Wii and TV are both a total waste of time in my opinion.

  34. Wendy says:

    Thanks for posting your favorite DS games- I got one for Christmas with Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, which I really enjoyed but finished rather quickly. I plan to check out a couple of your re-playable suggestions!

  35. daily walrus says:

    I personally love the New York Times Crossword puzzle game for the DS. I find it very challenging, but still fun – working my brain like Brain Age claims to do. Also, I agree that video game playing and TV watching can be quite different. Research is ongoing in terms of the cognitive benefits from playing video games (ranging from spatial abilities to problem-solving skills) – expect more publications in this area over the next few years. I do believe, though, that there are TV watchers who do engage in critical and abstract thought. So while video game playing works for me it may not be for everyone.

    PS – Lego Star Wars Complete Saga on the Wii is awesome. :)

  36. Actually as far as intellectual games go, that was a major selling point for me on the DS. Now they even have My Word Coach and a Spanish tutor both of which I am considering getting. So yeah, I also use them for intellectual purposes. Between me and my daughter we have both Brain Age games, and my mom bought my grandma a DS for Christmas just so she could play Brain Age to help her memory. And, I do consider the Wii a better console for the exercise. Anyone who has played the boxing game on Wii sports knows it is quite a workout… again, that was a major selling point for me. Of course, I also have a PSP, XBOX 360, original NES in mint condition and a super NES…. wish I had waited on that though since they are releasing so many of the good old games on the virtual console. I am hoping to get the new Wii fitness program with the balance board thing…. it is supposed to have Yoga. Whether it really burns that many calories or not, it is still better than sitting on your butt playing the game. Oh, and Trent, I love Sudoku also!! I have finished almost all of the ones on Brain Age though!!

  37. Simple Tam says:

    Trent, I bought an XBOX 360 4 months back, the entire package costing me close to $450. It was an impulse buy which I realized later on when I found myself using it basically as a glorified DVD player. And now I am starting to think about selling it. But e-bay research and inquiring at shops has told me that I will hardly get 50% of my money back. Considering I have not sold anything on e-bay, i have zilch reputation & the only place I can possibly sell it is the local Gamestop which will not give more than $200 for it. Thus, I am stuck with it. It is wise to get rid of it right away ?

    Anyways, I do not quite agree that dollar per hour is a right way of gauging the value of a gaming system. You have mentioned that the games you play on DS are intellectually simulating. I believe that dollar per hour coupled with learning/usefulness rather than raw entertainment would be a better measure of a gaming system’s value. True, this measure would be different for different people.

  38. girlrobot says:

    I use a supercard for my DS which lets me dl all of my games.

  39. Tim says:

    To girlrobot:

    Downloading all of your games is ripping off the people who make the games. The PC game market has been dying the past few years because of people copying games and not buying them because “$60 is too expensive”. I’m sorry, but I remember paying $60 for a game around 15 years ago and games come on sale a lot these days. If you like a game, you should buy it and support the people who make them.

  40. cv says:

    I think Joe has a point, even if it came across a little harsh. If you look at the post from a while about 10 reasons to give up TV, over half of them still hold if you replace “television” with “video games”. What I get from Trent’s other posts and from my own experience is that it’s best to consume TV, video games, and movies in a deliberate and conscious way – use a DVR or DVDs to watch shows that you believe are good, play games you think are worthwhile, etc. Don’t just plop down in front of the TV for hours every night watching stupid stuff to pass the time.

    Has anyone read “Everything Bad is Good for You” by Steven Johnson? It’s not personal development or I’d recommend that Trent review it here, but it’s an interesting look at how TV, video games and other media have gotten more intellectually stimulating over the years.

  41. slb says:

    Spending 269 hours playing video games? That is over 11 days of your life with a machine. Not how I want to spend my time. I came to this conclusion as I was on a different website, and it kept track of your cummulative time there. Once it hit 24 hours for me I thought “what am I doing?- this is a day of your life!” Made me rethink my priorities.

  42. Mitch says:

    Scanning the comments, I don’t think anybody’s mentioned this yet: Almost every high-profile game drops in price by 50% or more within a year of its release, usually as part of a “Greatest Hits”-style repackaging. That means as little as $20 for a fairly new game, in some cases.

    As with most aspects of personal finance, the thing that will really kill you is a compulsion to keep up with the Joneses. If part of the reason you’re buying games is to be up on the latest happenings in the industry, you’re naturally going to be spending more than you might need to. But if you can stay a little bit behind the leading edge, you can save tons of money. It’s even better than buying used, in most cases — a place like Gamestop typically charges about 90% of retail, which isn’t what I’d call a bargain at all.

    Also, keep an eye out for promotions. Circuit City often runs clearances where they’ll sell older games for about $5, and there’s usually at least something decent in there. And Best Buy has often run promotions where you can buy two “Greatest Hits” games for ten bucks off the total. There are plenty of deals out there, if you look for them.

    Another great idea is to make money writing game reviews, if you can get in the door somewhere. Then you get the software for free, and get paid to play it!

  43. Matt says:

    @Simple Tam

    You’ll never get as much of a return on video game hardware as you will on video game software. If software is cared for properly, a used copy is essentially identical to a brand new one. Hardware, on the other hand degrades with use and is susceptible to mechanical failure.

    The Xbox 360 is particularly bad to sell used because it has a defect in the design that causes a very high failure rate (many have speculated upwards of 30%). Microsoft has extended the warranty to 3 years to compensate for this. A used console could be as old as two years, and therefore only have a year left on the warranty. Hence the low prices that you’re seeing for your used Xbox 360.

    If you’re seriously planning on selling your console though, it would be wiser to sell it sooner rather than later even if you’re not getting as much as you would like. Retail prices for consoles only go down over time, and when the retail price drops again, so will the resale value.

  44. Schizohedron says:

    Go truly old school. Cut a slit in the top of an empty jar lid. Each time you start a new game (resetting counts), drop in a quarter. I did this with Twisted Metal 2 in the 1990s and filled a jar with about $200 in quarters.

  45. Lauren says:

    I’m suprised no one has spoken very much about RPGs (e.g. Final Fantasy series, Star Ocean) or the action adventure genre (e.g. Resident Evil, Parasite Eve). I am a quasi-gamer, but my husband is an avid one. We have a PS2 and will buy the “Greatest Hits” new for $20 or shop used games for that or less and even if you only play the game once (which never happens because we go through and play them to death), that can be 80 hours of entertainment or more. With Star Ocean,my husband has easily logged well over 300 hours trying to get all of the “Battle Trophies.” If you play them to completion, and not just to “beat them,” there are wonderful puzzles and story lines and many other things to keep you active and engaged for many many hours, and little of it is repeat play like with puzzle games.

  46. DivaJean says:

    Trent said “The chief problem I have with television is the intellectual passivity. You don’t have to think at all about what you’re watching – just absorb it.”

    It depends on HOW you watch TV. I like to compare, contrast character points, plotlines; tie in classical literature elements ripped into the storyline, etc and am a regular contributor to Television without Pity online. To me, it becomes an intellectual exercise and shows I watch reflect this- with a few escapist HGTV type favorites. Don’t write us all out as couch spuds!

  47. Steve says:

    We all love your video games thats for sure!!!

    I just figure if I am going to buy, I will never buy new. EBAY!!!!!

    ~Steve “thecheapone”

  48. Kat says:

    @ Dave- you can actually play some of the Wii games online. We play Mario Striker all the time online with friends and family. It is quite fun. I am sure there are other games, but we have a small game collection at the moment.

    I love the Brain Age for the Wii. Everytime we show it to people, they think the games are easy and are for kids. But they really do make you think and use all parts of your brain.

  49. NoDebtPlan says:

    I look at video games the same way — except I’m a PC gamer. This clouds the picture because the computer is used for more than just gaming.

    I recently bought Team Fortress 2 for $29.99 online. It is fantastic. The best part is it tracks your statistics, including play time for each class of the game. I’ve almost played a full 29 hours thus far, and I’ve had it for about a month.

  50. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Most of this game play was done in little spurts, not in big doses – at doctor’s visits while sitting in the waiting room, on airline flights, on boring evenings stuck alone in a hotel room while on a business trip, while sitting on a step waiting for a bus, on a bus ride, and so on. A DS fits spectacularly in a pocket.

  51. Marcy says:

    We have 2 boys who both have DS’s that we bought used, and between them approximately 7 DS/GBA games, all but 1 purchased used. For our household I would estimate we’ve sunk ~$350 total into systems and games in the past year, and the boys (ages 8 & 6) have played countless hours. At that age, there is a lot of repetitive play of favorites (Pokemon, Yu-gi-oh, etc) and learning to “talk” to each other on the DS communication system, which to me as a parent is a “safe” way to learn the babysteps of social networking for elementary kids. They get a lot of enjoyment doing that with each other!

  52. Simon says:

    With the handheld systems, there is very little need to EVER buy games at all. There are select individuals out there who dedicate there time to “hack” handheld systems and provide free games throughout the web. My cousin owns a Nintendo DS and he says that he gets free games with the “R4”. I own a PSP and I also tweaked my handheld so that I can play “ISOs”, which are pretty much all the data inside a game. I even get games online that haven’t released!!

    On the other hand, this practice does compromise one’s integrity as opposed to actually purchasing the game from the store. But, when compared to the financial benefits, I’d say screw it.

  53. Adam says:

    Hi Trent, first time I’ve actually stopped in here, though I see you quoted lot’s elsewhere.

    As a gamer trying to pay for a wedding and having other financial responsibilities as well, this post struck a definite chord with me. Also, seems that we buy similar DS games :)

    With that in mind, just thought I’d recommend a few more.

    Age of Empires: Age of Kings – Turn based strategy, a la Advance Wars. You should be able to pick this up for cheap. I got a new copy from Costco for $18 this past summer.

    Meteos – very addictive puzzle game, can go from pick up for 2 minutes to play for an hour

    Puzzle Quest – Bejeweled meets RPG, turns out suprisingly well.


  54. Christian says:

    Great post Trent. Long time reader, first time commenter. Three things. First I want to plug pen-and-paper D&D. By your proposed metric it is the ultimate entertainment and intellectual value! (Or even better, Castles & Crusades, the resurrection of old-school D&D gaming.) If you have to go to silicone, I will simply note that my monthly gaming bill has actually gone down since I started playing world of warcraft. Haven’t bought a single title since early 2006.

    Second, I think you have a serious blindspot when it comes to TV, but maybe you are really arguing that you shouldn’t plant yourself for 8 hours day in front of the tube. Surely drama, comedy, tragicomedy, farce, all of the elements of the classical theater, are present on TV (and in movies, which one can watch on TV.) You wouldn’t argue that Shakespeare, Tennesee Williams, Kushner and Mamet are not worthwhile would you? It’s the message, not the medium, that counts.

    Finally, and I write the following with the greatest fondness and respect for you and your blog, I propose that one cannot disregard the massive value of Google-X itself. Trent, you are a wise, strange man! I’ve learned more about personal finance from you than I did my own family and your blog has changed my life, really.

    But in what style! We get to read about your deep frugal logic upon scrutinizing a rust spot on your bumper. We get to read about your exacting, almost frightening financial self-actualization (isn’t there a post where you took like three days to analyze all of the daily/monthly/yearly tasks that you have, and then ruthlessly cut out everything that wasn’t necessary?) We get to read an awesome home-made hot chocolate recipe that happens to be accompanied by a detailed argument regarding its economy. I conceive of Trent as part Ned Flanders, part Inspector Gadget, part Ben Stein, and part Rooster Cogburn. Few of us can say our dads taught us so much. Or were so dotty!

    You are a truly eccentric fellow my friend but that’s what makes your posts so much fun to read!

  55. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Christian: the same old boring takes on personal finance are just that, boring. I try to regularly look at things differently and think through details – it’s enjoyable and often revelatory for me and apparently enjoyable for others, too.

  56. Ryan says:

    Dave Diller,

    The 360 has all of those games plus Halo and Gears. And I’m not sure it’s accurate to compare Xbox LIVE and Playstation Network, I don’t currently have either, but I’ve read that LIVE is far superior. And you can usually find a 12 month subscription for under $50.00.

    The Blu-ray player is a sizable advantage, but Microsoft can always release a add on blu ray player when they feel it’s necessary.

    Not trying to bash the PS3, but I think the 360 is the better value. While the PS3 does have wifi, bluray, and possibly a bigger HDD, I think games are the most important thing on a gaming system.

  57. Laptop says:

    You can play video games on laptops also. The idea is that you can play anywhere is a seat or a table. :)

  58. Jon says:

    If you already own a PC, a game like World of Warcraft can be a great value despite the fact that is has a monthly fee. I can guarantee I play more than 13-15 hours a month thus meeting a $1/hr. value goal.

  59. Colin Joss says:

    The fundamental issue of achieving most frugality into interractive hobby like video games, is to improve your power of imagination. I did this and have managed to stick with my PS1 and avoided purchasing a PS2 & PS3.

    Colin Joss
    East Lothian, Haddington
    United Kingdom

  60. J. says:

    I find that most of the game stores have terrible prices on used games, especially the most popular ones. My local Gamestops often sell used games for the GC & Wii for more than they go for new at the Target in the same shopping center!

    My favorite place to get used games, by far, is half.com… I like to grab several well-reviewed titles at once to save on shipping.

    I’ve learned to avoid game collections, though. You may think ‘hey, 5 games for the price of 2 that I want anyway!’ … they know that, and package some real junkers with the gems.

  61. AnKa says:

    Trent, if you’re plugging sudokus as a worthwhile use of videogames, may I suggest free websudoku.com? (warning, it’s addictive)
    If you’re honest, video games might be used for intellectual stimulation, but their primary purpose is entertainment I would say. To me, it’s perfectly fine to say ‘I like biking (or whatever). I find it perfectly acceptable to drop $X on a bike just because I want to and I get satisfaction out of it’. The cost per hour of enjoyment on my newest bike is still in the tens, I would say. So what? Not everything has to be frugalized or rationalized.

    PS: I made laundry detergent and love it. Thanks for that suggestion.

  62. Colin Joss says:

    Hi J.,

    I couldn’t agree more with your opinion. Although it is used games, we usually risk our self of losing some optimum satisfaction for those game in package. We’d rather save on shipping instead.

  63. Colin Joss says:


    You are right. websudoku.com is as addictive as the paper version :)

    The best part about the web is no additional hardware required. We just need to use our Web Browser.


    Colin Joss
    East Lothian, Haddington
    United Kingdom

  64. Andrea says:

    Forgive me if this frugal option was already mentioned, but what about checking out games from the library? I realize that not everyone has this option, but we are quite fortunate in northeast Indiana to have a _fabulous_ library system that has games for all kinds of systems. For us it’s free, just like books, and you get the game for 7 days, non-renewable. That is enough time to determine if we should invest in buying the game, and to have some fun with it, too. I, too, have appreciated Metacritic’s analyses of games, and have also used Common Sense Media to find age-appropriate games for the kids. Trent, I love the blog! Keep on truckin’!!

  65. ddcaz says:

    Two frugal videogame tips:

    * Instead of buying a DS case, i asked my grandmother to knit one for me. I just told her to pick the colors and showed her the DS. There’s two benefits to this: didnt buy a case, and got granny-lovin’.

    * I buy most of my VG on craigslist. If you look regularly you can find good deals. There’s a good chance that you get to sell it for more than what you bought it in the first place. We bought a wii + super mario galaxy with my roommates, played it for a month and a half, finished it, sold it, and earned a few bucks each (around 20$) meanwhile.

  66. *ds says:

    Use swaptree.com.

    You can trade books, cd’s, dvd’s, and most video game formats for the cost of postage.

    They have tons of ds titles.

  67. Geoff says:

    @Mitch: your idea of staying behind the curve reminds me of an XKCD comic where the main character decides to play video games five years after they are released to save money!

    Video games seem like a thrifty person’s worst nightmare, with new releases reaching over $70 at stores like Gamestop or EB Games, but it seems that this is largely a lazy tax. A lot of people recommend Gamefly, but if you want to own your games, you can still get them for about half price without waiting too long after their release, which gives you the added advantage of keeping your games. I wrote an article over at my blog, The Thrifty Lifestyle, about frugal gaming, check it out: http://thethriftylifestyle.com/2010/02/frugal-101-how-to-get-any-video-game-for-30/

  68. That is really attention-grabbing, You are an overly
    professional blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look forward to searching for extra of your excellent
    post. Additionally, I have shared your website in my social networks

  69. Awesome blog! Do you have any helpful hints for
    aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost
    on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There
    are so many options out there that I’m completely confused ..

    Any tips? Thanks!

  70. Alibris Coupon Code says:

    Howdy I am so happy I found your web site, I really found you by
    error, while I was browsing on Bing for something else, Nonetheless I
    am here now and would just like to say thanks
    for a marvelous post and a all round exciting blog (I also love
    the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all at the moment but
    I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have
    time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the fantastic jo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *