Is your backlog filled to the brim yet? If not, this handy guide will help make sure you will always have quality games to play on hand. While some methods may require a little bit of luck, there are also some tried and true ways to make sure you are getting the best deal possible on certain games.
Where to Start
The best service to begin with is http://isthereanydeal.com/. This site allows you to track what PC games you are interested in, and then sends email notifications anytime they go on sale. This does not simply include Steam sales – it includes sales from all major and minor online PC game retailers such as GamerGate, GreenManGaming, and GOG. Furthermore, it allows you to import a Steam wishlist if you are already wed to that system. Best of all, it even provides voucher codes for additional discounts with each sale, and shows you the historic low price for the game. All in all, this is the best all around service for tracking PC game deals.
Next Step: Basic Big Deals
#1 Humble Bundle
Humble Bundle provides a pay-what-you-want system for a collection of games. This typically includes the lowest tier (pay at least $0.01), a beat-the-average tier (typically hovering at about $6-$7), and the top tier which is usually a minimum amount ($10-$15). One caveat is that you must pay a minimum of $1 to get Steam keys. Either way, you typically get DRM-free versions of the games. Normally, the Bundles focus on smaller indie-styled games, but exceptions have been made and the included games now include everything from AAA to single developer side project.
The bundles come in several varieties: the normal humble bundle, a weekly bundle, books bundles, and the humble store. This gives you a good chance of finding something worthwhile nearly every week. The strength of the bundles varies, but can really pack a punch. One example is the Humble Origin Bundle which included the Deadspace 1 and 3, Mirror’s Edge, Crysis 2, Red Alert 3, and Burnout Paradise. Not bad for $1. The Humble WB Bundle had Batman Arkham Asylum and City, along with LOTR: War in the North.
The trick is stay up to date on the bundles week-to-week. Throwing a buck at the weekly deal will get you a small cache of Steam keys that can quickly build a collection and also let you explore some lesser known games with little financial risk. If you want to get your big AAA current releases on discount you should turn to….
#2 Seasonal Steam Sales
So you’ve got a solid collection of smaller indie games and older AAA games but you want to get GTAV and Cities: Skylines at a discount. That’s where Steam comes in. While the strength of the proverbial Steam sale has waned in recent years, it is still the best way to get current games at a reduced price. The Summer and Winter sales (normally December and June/July) are the strongest sales, but sometimes Steam will have a Spring or Fall mini-sale.
Steam sales discount nearly everything in the inventory by at least 10% and some titles go for up to 90% off. I got Witcher 2 for $2.50. While slightly older games get more generous discounts, the Flash and Voter’s Choice Sales give a temporary (normally 24 hours) drop that rewards people paying attention.
Steam normally has Midweek and Publisher sales every week or so, giving you a chance to get certain titles outside of the major seasonal sales. Between Steam and Humble Bundle you should have your PC game collection in proper order. But what about your physical copies and console games?
Building Up Console Collection
You watch Humble Bundle, monitor Steam, and have alerts for smaller websites. But you have a Playstation/Xbox sitting around collecting dust. What do you do?
The best way to find console game sales is to use the almighty Reddit Game Deals to find up-to-minute deals at retailers and online outlets. r/Gamedeals lists the current ongoing deals at places like Best Buy, Walmart, Target, as well as online places such as Amazon. It also lists deals in other countries, so is not entirely US-centric. Best of all, it tags the deals that are over/expired and the crowdsourcing of the comments gives directions on how to get the harder deals, or even the best places to price match (ie. Kmart and Sears recent liquidation sales that could price match at Walmart). Checking this subreddit everyday will get you cheap console and PC games and also let you know the strength of the deal in the comments.
The above strategies will get you pretty far. But sometimes the thrill of the hunt is the best part of finding the deal. A little work on your part can reap the best of deals. While these methods will result in the best deals, they are also likely to turn up fruitless on most occasions.
Goodwill has hands down the cheapest prices However, most days they only have junk such as Madden 2004 for PS2. With Goodwill, persistence is key. Visiting every week (they get weekly shipments of new stuff) is the most efficient method. Some Goodwills have gotten smart as to the value of some of their stuff and will have auction sections for better games or consoles. My personal best finds include a working Gamecube for $5, Zelda for NES for $2, and a Sega Genesis with about 15 games for $6 (which also had Crash Bandicoot for Playstation in the box). The real fun is the search for the perfect deal, since they are infrequent. Most of the stuff will be older, but last-gen stuff is now beginning to trickle in.
#2 Half-Price Books
If you live in a state with a Half Price Books, then you are lucky. Half Price Books normally boasts a solid collection and has extremely reasonable prices. While it typically has slightly older stuff, they generally will have a good deal everytime you visit. They have games for all systems (as well as consoles themselves) as well as physical new copies of nearly all solid PC games from the past 10 years. Their restock and collection is normally dependent on people trading in their collections so there is variance from location to location. My favorite part is the plethora of old strategy guides they keep in stock. You can also trade in for credit here.
Methods to Avoid
Given all the solid methods of collecting, there are some strategies you should avoid to protect your wallet and your efficiency.
Don’t Trade In at Gamestop
While certain games may give a decent trade-in value, in general Gamestop will only give you pennies for your games. This only results in store credit. While Gamestop has a good used section, most of the titles can be found cheaper elsewhere using the methods above. This is not the worst thing to do to build a collection, but should be used as a last resort.
Don’t Expect Deals at Resale/Specialty Game Shops
We have a couple of video game specialty stores around my area. While I enjoy having such shops, the prices they charge for some of the older titles is just not fair. Paying $35 for used SNES Donkey Kong Country is just not an efficient use of money. The benefit these stores provide is the selection, as they are likely to have harder to find older games that may be hard to find on eBay or Amazon. Sometimes you can find a cheap deal or two at these types of locations, but in general, its better to search out online before resorting to the gouging that can occur.
In sum, this guide should get you up and running on the basics of finding quality game deals. I have utilized this strategy for a couple years now and now suffer from an enormous backlog (a good problem to have). It also helps when you just want something fresh to play, but don’t want to drop $60 on a new game. Let me know what deals you have found, or what methods you use in comments below.