Welcome to Bartertown.
Because the holiday season this year was a hungry, rabid beast ready to devour us, wallets first, as we slowly drowned in a pool of recession, many folks are looking for alternative ways to pawn off those less desirable gifts (thanks for that copy of Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge, Mom). So where can you go to clean out your shelf of games you never play so you can make your credit card payment, or pawn off some of the random crap that your oh-so-unhip but lovebale grandma got you?
Everybody is getting into the used games business these days, so being the intrepid journalist that I am (yes, I am a real reporter), I actually decided to do some Consumer Reports-style research and find out just what options are available for the discriminating gamer looking to be less (or maybe more?) of a hoarder. I searched and scoured the four corners of the Internet and took walks through the mean streets of Oakland and not-so-mean but "filled with way too many college kids and hippies" streets of Berkeley to various retail outlets, just to bring you back the following information to help you make an informed decision.
I now present you with my findings. Just to get a good idea of what you’d be getting for an old game vs. a new one, I decided to use two games as a price reference, Borderlands for the Xbox 360 and the last incarnation of Prince of Persia for the PS3 just so you’d have a real-life example of what you can expect from dealing with various outlets. All prices were quoted in November 2009 and are subject to change at any time. I’m not making the rules here, people.
What it is: I would be very surprised if you considered yourself a hardcore gamer in America and you weren’t aware of the existence of this giant new and used game selling mega-corp. The love/hate relationship that we as gamers have with this company is complicated, at the very least. Over the last decade, they’ve made a fortune buying your old games for well below what they’re worth and selling them back to you for at least twice as much as you got for them.
The Good: While some would have you believe that there’s no way to get a fair deal outta these guys, that’s not always the case. The right time of year with the right coupons could have you finding yourself getting rid of a pile of junk you never play for a shiny new PSP Go or a refurbished Wii. Every week they send out an E-flyer with a deal like “20% off used PS3 titles” or “$10 Extra Trade-in Credit when shilling out your old 360 games”. Of course, some deals depend on how much you're actually getting rid of, but hey, it’s possible at least… in theory.
The best deals that GameStop offers are its tier trades which pop up every three months or so. Tier trades generally come in the form of "Trade in two games for an extra 10%, four games for an extra 20%, or six games for an extra 40%". So the idea is to save up a stack of games you don't need and then trade them all in when the tier trade comes around. With the GameStop Edge Card, you also get an extra 10% on top of that which means you get 50% more credit than you would otherwise. The only downfall with this is that some games will depreciate a lot if you wait for the tier trade to arrive, so much so that the percentage boost for that game won't mean much.
The Bad: It’s GameStop. They’re the greasy, sleazy used car salesmen of the game trading world, and they’re also the most prominent, meaning most of us end up using them out of convenience. Whenever I’ve traded anything there, I always end up feeling a bit of remorse – that I’ve just traded away my cow for some beans that aren’t as magical as I was led to believe.
How much you’ll get: Borderlands: $25; Prince of Persia: $5 (add anywhere from 20-40%, if they’re having a trade-in special)
Who: The Retailers – Toys’R’Us, Best Buy, Amazon.com
What they are: Other mega-chains that happen to carry video games are starting to see the potential behind allowing consumers to trade-in their old hardware for newer, brighter, and shinier objects. Hey, the used games market is pure profit for these guys. Right now, Best Buy and Toys’R’Us are only testing their programs at select locations, but anyone with an Internet connection can log onto Amazon.com to find out how much their old games are worth.
The Good: The fact that there is now competition for the folks at GameStop is good news for the consumer, because companies are like obsessed ex-girlfriends in a lot of ways. They’re unapologetically desperate for your attention and are willing to do filthy, dirty underhanded things to get to you, or in this case, your money.
Plus, since all these places sell things that aren’t games, there’s always the chance you could get something you actually "need" from your trade-in credits, like an upgrade for your PC or a new MP3 player. If you go through Amazon, you can ship your games to them for free.
The Bad: You’re still getting shafted on the overall value for the most part. But it’s not as unbalanced as GameStop. You’re really only getting a good deal if you go into a Best Buy store as they’ll charge you shipping fees if you do your trading online. Toys’R’Us only offers free shipping for games worth $10 or more; otherwise, they automatically deduct $2.50 from the overall trade-in value, which is weaksauce.
You also have to wait for the transaction to take place, whereas at a GameStop, you are getting the trade-in credit immediately. But if you have the time to wait, then you might get better prices.
How much you’ll get:
Amazon – Borderlands: $31.25, Prince of Persia: $10
Toys’R’Us – Borderlands:$30, Prince of Persia:$10
Best Buy – Borderlands: $30, Prince of Persia: $10
What it is: An online peer-to-peer trading service that works in point values. For example, let’s say you had a copy of Arkham Asylum that you wanted to trade. It’s a fairly new game and it’s good, so it’s worth 1000 points at the moment, which is about as high a point value as anything gets there. Goozex matches you up with someone who wants it and you then pay about roughly 3 or 4 dollars to ship it to them. Once the Bat-mantle has been passed and you’ve gotten good feedback from the trader, you’ll then have 1000 points to spend how you see fit.
The Good: You’re definitely going to get more points than you would cash. If you’re looking to round out your collection with some older games, it’s a good way to go as you’ll be able to get, at the very least, two older but still recent games instead of one used and abused game.
The Bad: Goozex acts as the middle man between all transactions and charges you a dollar for each one. Meaning no matter what, you’ll have to pay the initial cost of shipping and handling plus the cost of the trade token. Any request you make for a game you want puts you into a queue with a numerical hierarchy, meaning it could take you months before you actually got the game you want while some random douche is playing the hell out of whatever you already sent to them. And while the point system seems a bit more balanced value-wise than at GameStop, it still caps at about 1,000 (1,200 for special editions), which is okay… But when you consider that some XBLA titles like Shadow Complex can go for around 450 points on the site, it starts to seem a little less fair.
What you’ll get: Borderlands: 1000 points, Prince of Persia: 500 points
What it is: A new site that’s trying to change the way people get their games second hand by eliminating the middle man. Switchgames allows you to list your gaming collection and trade with other members for what you deem is a fair deal. So if you had a new game that you plowed through in a week of Mountain Dew frenzied insomnia, you can post it online for something of equal value or maybe pick up a few classics to round out your collection. If you’re the suspicious type or don’t have good stats on the site yet, you can purchase a "safe transaction" for around six dollars which will insure that you’ll get what you want either from your peer or the company itself, who’ll go out and buy your copy if the deal falls through. They even have the patented “switchbot” to help set you up with the perfect trade.
The Good: A system that lets you decide what a fair deal is for your property is a first for the second-hand online market, and if done right, you might never have to buy another game again. And not only does it offer games, but systems are up for trade as well, so if you’ve always wanted a vintage Colecovision, this may be the site you’ve been waiting for.
The Bad: Some folks just won’t want to bother finding what they want and trying to negotiate a deal. There can be a lot of back and forth between parties and not everyone has the same concept of what makes for a fair trade and it can take a while to establish yourself as someone who is trusted within the online community, even after paying to become a verified member. Also, much like Goozex, it requires some patience to really get what you want. Plus, since the site is still in its beta form, you may hit a few snags here and there, but also be aware that they’re also making constant improvements.
What you’ll get: N/A, the best deal that you’re able to barter
So who comes out on top? Well, no one really. It’s all a matter of personal preference and how much effort you want to put towards getting what you think is the best deal. As you can see, you’re pretty much getting the same deal from all the retail competitors with Amazon only barely moving ahead of the crowd by offering a whopping $1.25 more for Borderlands than the competition. And trade-in prices change all the time.
For me, Goozex and Switchgames are a good way to go. Goozex, because it allows me to trade in DVDs and Blu-Rays that I never watch and turn them into games for my collection (that I’ll never play… seriously, I’ve got about 6 or 7 games from here that I haven’t even touched yet). And Switchgames, because I can make straight-forward game-for-game trades. Anyone want a PS3 copy of WET for PS3? Or maybe Halo 3: ODST?). Overall, though, it does look like the second-hand market is slowly chiseling away at the giant mountain of the industry that is GameStop. The question is just how long will it take and will it be any better of a deal in the end?