More than two-thirds of young Americans play video games. And since the World Health Organization encouraged more gaming during the pandemic, those numbers have been steadily rising.
Despite being fun, safe, and healthy (yes, healthy), gaming is certainly not cheap; between new games, accessories, and subscriptions, gamers spend a ton of money.
Furthermore, 2021 is an upgrade year. Unless you’re Team Nintendo, you’re probably going to pony up soon for an Xbox Series X ($500), PS5 ($400-$500), or a new graphics card ($700+).
With costs rising and budgets tightening, how can you save money on video games without making any sacrifices to your existing habits?
1. Sign up for rewards programs
Did you know that all four platforms (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, and PC) have their own rewards programs? And I don’t mean gamerscore; I mean real points with monetary value that you earn through making purchases and yes, by gaming.
Gamers on Reddit report accumulating around $5 worth of points monthly; enough for an indie title or, every few months, an AAA title on sale.
Here’s a breakdown of how to earn points on each platform:
Sony Rewards is essentially a free program that grants you 1% cash back on all of your PlayStation Store purchases. That’s, of course, in addition to the 1% to 1.5% cash back on all purchases your Sony credit card gets you.
1% may not sound like much, but if you’re the average gamer spending $112 per month or $1,344 per year, that amounts to $13.44 or enough for a AAA title on sale.
Plus, there are other ways to accelerate your earnings. Here are just a few examples from their earnings page:
- Invite friends to join Sony Rewards (you’d be doing them a favor): 100 points each.
- Double your points by joining two PlayStation subscription services, i.e. Plus and Now.
- Earn a whopping 10x points by opening a Sony Rewards Visa.
Speaking of, the Sony Rewards Visa might make sense if you’re a PlayStation die-hard since it’ll offer you some lucrative benefits:
- 10x points on PlayStation Store purchases through 12/31/20.
- 5x points thereafter.
- 3x points on mobile phone bills.
- 1x points on everything else.
- 0% APR for six months to help you finance a large purchase (like a PS5).
- 5,000 bonus points the first time you use it.
Keep in mind that opening a new credit card may hurt your credit and shouldn’t be done lightly, but if you’re in the market and know you’re going to spend gobs on PlayStation goodies, it might make sense.
Microsoft rewards offer more broad ways to earn, but the points are worth less. You can earn points by taking quizzes, searching using Bing, and trying out new apps. Unfortunately, you don’t earn a blanket 1% on all Microsoft Store purchases like with Sony Rewards.
However, earning rewards through Microsoft is a bit more fun. In addition to using Bing and taking quizzes online, you can earn a few hundred points per week by completing specific “quests” within Xbox Game Pass games. For example, hunt down some hidden collectibles in Batman: Arkham Asylum and you’ll get 250 points worth about $2 in rewards.
Microsoft Rewards might not be a money tree, but if you have a Microsoft account (and especially if you use Bing) you can earn back around $60 per year without changing your existing habits.
Nintendo Rewards is the most generous by far, offering up to 5% cash back on digital purchases made through the Nintendo eShop. Curiously, they offer points for completing “missions” just like Microsoft, but not through Switch games: only through apps and websites.
For example, you can earn 20 points for reaching a milestone in Super Mario Run for mobile, but not in Super Mario Odyssey. You can score another 50 points if you “Pluck the hidden Pikmin” on the website for Pikmin 3 Deluxe.
Points for playing first-party mobile games make sense. The websites are a bit more head-scratching. But still, Nintendo is pretty generous with its points, and if nothing else you’ll get 1% to 5% cash back on all Nintendo eShop purchases, so that’s a no-brainer!
Steam will reward you with 100 points for every $1.00 spent on Steam. However, you can’t use the points to purchase games – only content to customize your profile. The Points Store is exclusively filled with “Animated Avatars, Frames, Backgrounds, Badges and Chat items.”
If you’re an avid Steam user and were already paying for these items, well, racking up points will save you a few bucks. Hopefully, Steam will soon follow its competitors’ models and begin offering ways to save on games, even on top of the Summer Steam Sale.
2. Buy game codes on eBay
To be completely honest, I don’t entirely understand how or why this phenomenon exists. I only know that it does, it’s awesome, and it’ll save you a lot of money:
You can buy 100% legitimate, working codes for popular games and gaming subscriptions on eBay for a fraction of their regular price.
How it works is pretty simple. As soon as your payment clears, the seller will automatically and instantaneously email you a code to your PayPal email address. After that, all you need to do is punch it in. Easy peasy, and you’ll save bundles.
I was as skeptical as you at first, but I’ve bought codes for all four platforms and they’ve worked every single time. Now it’s my go-to way to subscribe to any gaming service. I don’t really feel like I’m “robbing” Sony or Microsoft since, well, they’re the ones who created the code!
Here’s a breakdown of how much you can save on each platform:
The going rate for PS+ these days is $10 monthly or as low as $50 annually. However, head to eBay and you’ll find one-year codes for as little as $30.
Don’t get me wrong; both Nintendo Online Xbox Ultimate Game Pass and are pretty good deals as they stand. Nintendo only charges $3.99 a month or $19.99 per year for Nintendo Online, which includes online play, cloud saves, discounts, and a suite of free NES games.
Xbox Ultimate Game Pass
Xbox Ultimate Game Pass is more expensive at $15 monthly, and with no annual discount, it’s a hefty $180 per year. However, many still consider it to be the best deal in gaming since it includes Xbox Live Gold, EA Play, and hundreds of AAA and indie games on rotation. With Microsoft’s promise that all first-party and Bethesda titles would launch on Game Pass, subscriptions skyrocketed to 15 million Xbox owners.
Thankfully, eBay sellers have a seemingly limitless supply of 14-day codes, with rates fluctuating between $2 to $2.50 a pop. Plus, you can buy a year’s supply in bulk and save even more. I’ve been using them for years, and they’ve always worked. The downside to buying these Xbox Game Pass Ultimate codes on eBay is that they don’t stack in your account, so you have to manually key in a code every two weeks to renew.
The upsides, however, are twofold: first, you’ll save at least $10 per month or $120 per year on your subscription. Second, having a stack of 14-day codes on your desk means that you decide whether to “renew” every two weeks. You don’t have to keep paying $15 monthly for a service you might not be using.
For example, when I got a copy of The Witcher 3: Complete Edition, I knew I wouldn’t use my Game Pass subscription for at least two months. So I let it lapse, saved $30, and simply input a fresh code so I could play Destiny: Beyond Light for $2.50.
Nintendo only charges $3.99 a month or $19.99 per year for Nintendo Online, which includes online play, cloud saves, discounts, and a suite of free NES games.
However, you can still save a few bucks with an eBay code. Head there now and you’ll find dozens of sellers competing to sell you a Nintendo Online One-Year Membership code for as little as $7.35, with instantaneous delivery to your email.
Steam Download Keys
There are no subscription cards for Steam users, but you can find some deals on download keys. Buying keys on eBay is a great way to get massive savings if you don’t want to wait for the next sale. Regret not purchasing Alan Wake during the Steam Summer Sale? Well, there’s a region-free Steam key waiting for you on eBay for around $2.50.
3. Stop buying games brand new
Imagine you’ve just bought a car marketed to have 400 horsepower and comfortable seats. You weren’t allowed to test drive it, but the people who made it make great cars, so you trust them.
As soon as you buy it, however, you find out that it has 220 horsepower, wooden seats, and doesn’t even start. You can’t return it for a full refund. You try to resell it, but now that everyone knows how bad it is, it’s worth a third of what you paid.
So you’re stuck with a clunker, wondering how the company keeps getting away with false advertising.
There are strict laws to protect car buyers from this sort of thing, but none for gamers. That’s why certain developers keep getting away with false promises and broken launches. And with publishers prioritizing microtransactions over late hour quality assurance testing, half-baked games aren’t going away anytime soon.
If you buy a game on launch day, you’re buying the buggiest, most expensive version. Aside from receiving critical updates, video games tend to lose between 33% and 83% of their value within six months. Even The Last of Us 2, launched in June, was on sale for $40 by September.
So if you tend to buy 10 new games per year, if you can just wait three months on each of them, you’ll save $200 right there.
However, if you really can’t wait for a new release to drop in price, there’s another way to get it without fully committing $65…
4. Buy pre-owned games at Gamestop… then return them if you don’t like them
Did you know that Gamestop offers a seven-day, no questions asked return policy on all pre-owned games?
They used to be more forthcoming about it. For years, I recall associates actually saying out loud “if you beat it or don’t like it you can just bring it back within seven days.” However, I think too many people treated Gamestop like Blockbuster, buying and returning games every six days until store owners had to cut them off.
Stores may not shout it from the mountaintops, but the generous seven-day return policy still exists. So instead of committing $59.99 for a copy you can’t return, grab a pre-owned copy for $54.99 and try it out. If you like it, great! Keep it and you’ve saved a few bucks. Dislike it? Take it back, but try to give that Gamestop business in the future.
Sometimes, I’ll buy a pre-owned game for $54.99 but decide it’s just not worth two grocery bills. So I’ll return it, wait for a sale, and buy a new copy for $30 so it benefits the developers.
Pre-owned copies aren’t available on launch day, but you’d be surprised how quickly they show up. Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War launched on a Friday and by Sunday morning three of my local Gamestops had pre-owned copies. The trick is to call up a store and ask for an internal search, since gamestop.com usually won’t advertise pre-owned copies for a week or so.
5. Keep track of deals and sales
Last but certainly not least is my favorite tip for gamers – keep track of deals and sales. While you can definitely get free games by visiting your local library, if you really want to own your own copy of certain games, I don’t blame you. With a little patience, you can get significant discounts on games that have been on the market for a while. The longer you wait, the lower they’ll be in price. To keep track of what’s on sale, you can follow the following Reddit boards:
But, the savings opportunities don’t stop there. There’s also an abundance of cash back apps out there that can score you even more in savings.
Capital One Shopping, for example, can automatically apply coupon codes for you at checkout, but they can also let you know when the best time to buy is, and if someone has found a lower price somewhere else. That way, you always know you’re getting the best deal. All you have to do is add the Capital One Shopping Chrome extension to your browser, and they take care of the rest!Disclaimer - Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links we provided.
If you want straight cash back, Dosh is another easy-to-use app that automatically gives you cash back at over 10,000 retailers. Simply download the app, connect the card that you use most, and shop as you normally do. When there are cash back opportunities to be had, Dosh automatically deposits the money into your Dosh account. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
I don’t want you to stop gaming or even slow down. In fact, like the World Health Organization, I want you to indulge more in this safe, healthy, and socially-distanced hobby. Just be sure to follow these five tips so you can game to your heart’s content without putting a dent in your wallet.