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Even at full price, video games offer excellent value in terms of cost-per-hour of entertainment. But with the typical asking price of $60 for new games, it can be an expensive hobby if you’re trying to stay on top of all the year’s biggest releases.
Luckily, the savvy shopper can avoid paying full price for all but a few games each year, assuming they know where (and when) to look. These days, even the most popular titles typically go on sale within a few weeks of launch, with some games seeing early pre-order discounts as well.
To help you keep up with all the new releases without wrecking your budget, we figured out the best strategy for getting games as quickly as possible while also spending as little as possible.
When Should You Look for Discounts on New Games?
If you’re not the kind of gamer who needs every game right on launch day, one of the best ways to save is by waiting for retailers to introduce post-launch discounts. But how long do you have to wait and how much can you save? To find out, we took a look back at some of the best games of the past couple years to see how long it took for them to receive discounts after launch.
- Release date: December 10th, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: Yes, Amazon and Walmart offered the game with $10.05 off the retail price. Best Buy and Google Stadia also offered $10 discounts on pre-orders.
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: Launch day — $49.94 (Amazon, Walmart)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 3 months and 25 days after launch — $29.99 (Best Buy)
- Release date: January 20th, 2021
- Pre-order Discount: Yes, Amazon, Target, and Walmart offered the game with $10.00 off the retail price. Slickdealers were also able to price-match this offer through Best Buy.
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 1 month after launch — $49.94 (Amazon)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 2 months and 11 days after launch — $44.99 (PlayStation Store)
The Last of Us: Part II
- Release date: June 19th, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: No discounts offered
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 5 months and 1 day after launch — $29.99 (Best Buy)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 5 months and 11 days after launch — $25.49 (Target)
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
- Release date: November 10th, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: No discounts offered
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 22 days after launch — $34.99 (Best Buy)
- Additional discount seen on Slickdeals: 7 months and 12 days after launch — $28.50 (Amazon)
- Release date: August 14th, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: No discounts offered
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 23 days after launch — $49.99 (Costco)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 7 months and 6 days after launch — $26.99 (Newegg)
- Release date: September 4th, 2020
- Pre-order discount: No discount offered but freebies included
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 1 month and 22 days after launch — $35.09 (Newegg)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 2 months and 15 days after launch — $29.99 (Microsoft Store)
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
- Release date: November 10th, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: Yes, Amazon and Walmart offered the game with $10.05 off the retail price.
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: Launch Day — $39.99 (Amazon)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 4 months after launch — $27.99 (Amazon)
Final Fantasy VII Remake
- Release date: April 10th, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: Yes, Amazon offered the game with $18.00 off the retail price.
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 1 month and 2 days after launch — $49.94 (Walmart)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 7 months and 12 days after launch — $24.99 (Target)
Madden NFL 21
- Release date: August 28th, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: Yes, Walmart offered the game with $9.05 off the retail price.
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 9 days after launch — $54.99 (Newegg)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 6 months and 26 days after launch — $19.99 (GameStop)
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
- Release date: October 2nd, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: No discounts offered
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 27 days after launch — $44.99 (Best Buy)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 2 months and 20 days after launch — $29.99 (PlayStation Store)
- Release date: November 3rd, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: Yes, 10% off for players of previous Dirt titles on Steam.
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 1 month and 18 days after launch — $39.99 (Amazon, Walmart)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 4 months and 30 days after launch — $23.99 (Microsoft Store)
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
- Release date: March 20th, 2020
- Pre-order Discount: Yes, Amazon offered the game with $10.05 off the retail price.
- First Discount seen on Slickdeals: 9 days after launch — $49.94 (Amazon)
- Additional Discount seen on Slickdeals: 7 months 8 days after launch — $45.00 (Amazon)
What We Learned
It goes without saying that the longer you wait, the deeper the discounts get. But lowered prices on games aren’t coming as quickly as they used to. Some of the more popular games we tracked took several months to reach a significant discount. So what’s the deal? Let’s look at some of the factors in play and ways you can save even more.
The $35 to $40 sweet spot tends to crop up one to two months after launch
While it’s pretty easy to snag $10 off a game soon after its released, if you’re hoping to save 33% or more you’ll need to wait more than a couple weeks. Most of the games we tracked sold for $40 or less within two months of their release, and it seems like general reception is a good indicator of exactly how long you’ll need to wait.
For example, Shadow of the Tomb Raider shipped about 4 million units in 2018 and was listed at $35 about seven weeks after launch. On the other end of the spectrum, Red Dead Redemption 2 sold about 17 million copies in the two weeks following its release, and it didn’t drop below $35 for over six months.
Disc-less gaming offers better deals, but it takes more patience
While it is gratifying to hold a physical copy of a game in your hands, the days of discs are sadly numbered. Digital downloads have become a big part of the way we get our games, and gaming companies are continuing to pivot in that direction.
There are definitely two sides to this coin, though. The bad news is digital games tend to hold their value longer, as they’re typically listed at full price ($59.99) unless they’re on sale. However, once a game is no longer the center of attention, developers can offer steeper digital discounts due to lower production costs. While it’s rare to see a physical game in a store marked below $5, this is a frequent ocurrance for older titles on both the PlayStation and Xbox storefronts.
One silver lining to the death of discs – physical copies of games tend to see deep discounts more quickly than digital downloads. For example, physical copies ofYakuza: Like a Dragon went on sale for $23.80 in February 2021, even though the digital version hadn’t been listed for less than $35 at that time.
Amazon and Walmart top other retailers for game deals
Amazon accounts for about half of all the discounts we found for the games we tracked. Clearly, the online retailer is hard to beat when it comes to prices. And that’s before considering Amazon Prime sales and occasional pre-order bonuses, which can slash new games by almost 20% right from launch.
Walmart is also great for gaming deals, as the company is committed to offering games for $50 or less as soon as possible after launch. The key is to keep a close eye on Slickdeals around a game’s launch date, and then snap up any early sale copies before they sell out. Alternatively, check your local store to see if there’s a brick-and-mortar discount on the game you want — we’ve seen a lot of in-store only game deals at Walmart.
Related: Shopping for Video Games In-Store at Walmart Saves you Money
Some games should only ever be bought on key sites
While game key sites like Eneba or CDKeys are totally legal (and often hold great deals), they aren’t always the best places to shop for new releases. It’s not unheard of to find a game on sale around launch day, but it’s usually a comparable discount to what’s seen on Amazon, and in many cases games actually cost more than $60, as the listing is targeting international markets.
At the same time, older games – particularly ones that have been given away at some point in the past – can be had for a fraction of their original prices, and are pretty much always on sale. For example, you can usually get Gears of War 2 for under $2 on CDKeys, even though it’s listed as $11.99 on the Xbox storefront.
If you’re looking to add a classic title to your digital library, we recommend you give the major key sites a quick search before shelling out MSRP.
Games with disappointing sales figures get better discounts
Despite a boatload of hype, Cyberpunk 2077 was many players’ most disappointing game of 2020. After countless delays, it launched with a myriad of bugs that made it unplayable on all but the most powerful gaming rigs.
While this botched launch was a serious bummer, it left space for nice savings opportunities. You could pre-order the game at $50 for around 12 months preceding the actual launch day, and it could be found for less than $30 within a few months of launch.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, deals on well-performing games are a bit harder to come by. Nier: Automata was a cult hit in 2017, and because of that it’s still difficult to find the game discounted (especially digitally). On average, it goes on sale less than 5 times per year, and you’d be hard-pressed to bring it home for less than $20.
Xbox offers a wider variety of deals, but PlayStation has deeper discounts
While many of the sale prices you’ll find on Xbox and PlayStation’s digital stores will be identical, each marketplace has its own distinct advantages.
Xbox has a more robust backwards compatibility program, so sales tend to feature all four generations of Xbox game. While this means you’re more likely to avoid paying full price on that digital copy of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic you’ve been eyeing, it also means digital Xbox games hold their overall value longer, since they can be played on multiple generations of Xbox consoles.
Conversely, the PlayStation Store is much less kind to older games. The PS5 is only backwards compatible with the PS4, and Sony is actually closing the PS3 digital storefront altogether. If you want to play classic games like Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed 2 or Mass Effect on a PS4/PS5, be prepared to buy the remastered version, and PS3 games that haven’t been remade are still unplayable without actually owning a PS3.
While this is frustrating from a collection standpoint, it also means digital PlayStation games tend to receive deeper overall discounts, since you may not be able to play them on every PlayStation you own. Most Xbox games have standard discount prices that appear for pretty much every sale – for example, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was listed at $15 for the majority of sales in 2020 – but PlayStation sales often have deeper, rarer discounts sprinkled in, like this $6 copy of Wolfenstein: The New Order.
PC is king for cheap games
Lots of gamers are dedicated to playing on the latest consoles, but if you want games at rock-bottom prices, PC is the way to go. Obviously, the barrier-to-entry for buying a decent PC setup (or building your own) is a lot steeper than dropping a few hundred dollars on an Xbox, but if you can manage it, you won’t struggle to fill your hard drive with cheap games.
Sales on digital downloads are common and often dirt cheap. Sometimes new games are simply cheaper on PC (Overwatch launched at $40 on PC versus $60 on consoles). And digital platforms such as Steam and Origin run huge sales with ridiculously low prices so regularly it’s almost difficult to buy a full-price game from them. Whereas console game deals tend to taper off once the price drops below $5, it’s totally common to see full-fledged, AAA PC games from years past on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.
Additional Buying Tips
You Don’t Need to Pre-Order Every Game You Want Day One
Pre-ordering and getting a newly released game right on launch day may make you feel like the coolest kid in school. But there is always some risk to investing in a game before it comes out, especially if the pre-order is months in advance.
Many of the pre-order deals offered by Amazon Prime are pretty enticing, but if the game is a total buzzkill, you may feel like you’ve thrown your money away. So it is important you look at your pre-order like an investment.
With any good investment, due diligence is key. Make sure you are caught up on the latest news and sneak peeks of the game. If previews don’t show actual gameplay (especially within a few months of release) that’s a major red flag, and you should always be skeptical of publishers who don’t give review copies to the press prior to launch day. Case in point — Bethesda announced it was going to stop offering early access to reviewers, then released Fallout 76 and Wolfenstein: Youngblood, two games that almost certainly didn’t live up to the pre-launch hype.
Digital downloads give you another layer of security when pre-ordering. If you’ve committed to paying full price for a game, you can pre-order at 11:59 p.m. the night before it comes out and still receive all bonuses. This gives you time to learn more about whether the game will be good, and whether it’s actually worth your money.
While the best deals tend to come early on, some retailers also offer pre-order deals a few days to a week before the release. With these, you can still expect to save around $10 for the game, but you’ll have much more information to base your purchasing decision on.
Consider PlayStation Plus / Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions
Both Xbox and PlayStation charge gamers for online gaming services. But — hurray for competition — both platforms push hard to sweeten the deal with free games every month and discount bonuses on dozens of weekly sale titles.
Generally speaking, having either of these memberships will get you an extra 10% off sale items. However, Xbox Live Gold has one major leg up over PlayStation Plus. While you have to maintain your subscription to access the free PlayStation Plus games in your collection, Xbox Live Gold lets you keep the free Xbox 360 games you download forever (though free Xbox One games follow the same rules as PlayStation Plus).
If you still enjoy 360 titles or want to flesh out your digital collection, keeping an Xbox Live Gold subscription is a great way to score 24 free games a year.
In addition, Microsoft is currently offering a 1-month trial of its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription for $1. The company is making a major pivot to this service, which now includes Xbox Live Gold and allows you to play over 100 Xbox titles for the price of a monthly subscription. If you’re already an Xbox Live Gold member, you can upgrade up to three years of your subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate with this $1 trial. The service costs $14.99 a month after the initial discount expires.
Free-to-play is thriving
Not so long ago, the term “free-to-play” meant “cheap and nasty.” Today, that notion feels outdated and archaic thanks to the rise of several premium, triple-A games that have capitalized on the free-to-play business model to great success.
Without spending a penny, you can get hundreds of hours out of massive games like League of Legends, Minecraft Classic, Killer Instinct, Fortnite and more.
One surefire way to make sure you get a good deal on the game you want is to set a Deal Alert for it. If you do, we’ll let you know the second we hear about a good sale, so you’ll never miss out on the lowest ever price.
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