I am an enemy of the video games industry. You see, I regularly buy, sell and trade used games and I do so without a lick of concern for how it affects the corporate bottom line. I have yet to see penniless game developers on the street, carrying placards that read “Out of work due to used games sales- will code for food”. Likely, the cut of sales that the little guys in the equation gets is exponentially smaller than what their corporate overlords bank anyway. For all of the paywalls, preorder bonuses, single-use save files and other tactics publishers are using to combat the dreaded specter of used games sales, I don’t see that the $70 billion+ industry is strapped for cash all that much or in its death throes so I engage in the aftermarket with a clear conscience. At least until digital downloads completely decimate the used market.
Apart from absolute favorite, top-shelf games and those that have endless replay value, I trade almost everything that comes through my door. I rarely play through story-driven games more than once and after that they gather dust on a shelf if I don’t move them out and keep my “games economy” fluid. I’m at the point now where, between the occasional review copy and trading, I rarely have to pay full price for any game- or console- that I want.
It may come as a surprise, but my primary trading partner is Gamestop. Yes, that hated, maligned name that causes gamers to gnash their teeth and wince in agony. But here’s the deal. If you know how to work with them and their trade-in policies, you can do pretty well there despite what others might tell you. The problem is that everyone has gone into a Gamestop at some point in their life with a game and come out shocked at how little trade value was offered for it, leading to “ripoff” complaints in internet forums leading up to and including allegations of Nazism and diabolism. Here are my exclusive tips on how to conduct congress with the devil and not get taken to the cleaners on your trade-ins.
1) Have realistic expectations. This is the number one piece of trading advice I can give in dealing with not only Gamestop, but any trade-in venue. Don’t be an idiot and walk into a trading/resale environment expecting to get full retail value for what you’re bringing in and don’t expect to turn a profit whatever you do. If you ever watch Pawn Stars, this happens all the time- someone brings something in, gets it appraised, and when they’re asked by Rick or the Old Man what they want for it they give back the full retail or “at auction” price. Which, of course, causes the pawnbrokers to kind of nod and grimace because it’s clear that they’re dealing with a moron at that point that does not understand how retail operates- buy low, sell high. With this in mind, don’t expect to get $30 trade-in for a copy of Madden ’09 and don’t think for a minute that you’re going to get your $59.99 back for a game you bought last week. Gamestop and other traders are in it to make money, and they’re going to give you a price based on a number of factors including quantity on hand, relative demand, and the current retail price of a game. It’s a corporate formula, and it’s not at the discretion of the employee. A good rule of thumb I’ve found is to expect to get no more than 30-40% of the used value of what you’re bringing in. Check their Web site for what their prices look like before you go.
2) Trade in bulk. Don’t take in one or two games at a time, because you want to be able to mitigate the lower value stuff in aggregate with the things you get more for. This is especially important when Gamestop is doing their tiered trades, where you get extra credit for bringing in certain numbers of games. Earlier this week I took in seven games and got an extra 40% credit. Since I had $100 base value, that was an additional $40 of trade. So that copy of Resistance: Fall of Man that normally nets $3 in trade actually contributed to that extra $40. I usually keep a couple of cheap games around that I’ve found at thrift stores, clearance endcaps at Target, or whatever to help me get into those upper trading tiers- a $2 game can wind up giving you an extra $10, easily. Trading new games in these tiered deals is great too- back when I flipped Just Cause 2, I wound up trading it in for $55 after bonuses in a big trade. Just $5 less than I paid for it. Can’t beat that on Glyde, Goozex, Half.com, or whatever.
3) Get their stupid Power Up Rewards card. It’s $15 a year, but if you trade a lot there it more than makes up for the cost because you get an extra 10% on every trade. That’s ten bucks on every hundred, and it’s on top of any other percentage bonus they’re offering. So when they do a rare 50% trade bonus, you wind up getting 60%, which is pretty much the maximum you’ll get out of these guys. They also have a rewards program tied to the card now so you accumulate points which can be redeemed for store coupons. I just turned in a $50 coupon this week to pick up Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon for free and had ten bucks left so I rebought Deadly Premonition, which was also at a 10% discount ($2) since it was used and that’s another benefit of the card.
4) Watch for deals. They’re doing a thing right now where you can get a 40% bonus (50 if you have the card, remember) on preordering the big E3 games. They’ll frequently run deals where you can trade two games off of a list to get a new title for $10 or less, bit I’ve found that this kind of sucks because you’re looking at a flat $25 value versus tiered trades with bonuses which will generally net you a better take. They’ll also do big bonuses from time to time on console trade-ins, particularly around the time a new one is coming out. I traded in a DS Lite (that I got in a board game trade) and got $75 toward my 3DS- not bad at all, considering the most I could have Ebayed it for at the time would have been about that much, not accounting for listing and Paypal fees. When I traded my Wii in, they had an advertised $25 bonus on it so it wound up selling for $90. Signed, sealed, delivered with no shipping or finding a buyer online. I’ll take it.
5) Realize that games are a fluid commodity. This is a tougher one because it’s ideological and it doesn’t have anything to do with Gamestop or any other retailer. It has to do with you. The point here is to understand that any game you trade in can be bought or traded for again- and by the time you’re ready to do that, at likely a lower price. Games are not collectibles, except in very isolated circumstances. They make many thousands and even millions of these things, and with the internet it’s possible to get just about anything you want within three days shipping time. Realizing this makes it a lot easier to keep your “games economy” flowing when you’re not holding on to a game for posterity’s sake or whatever. There’s always something new coming out too, so it’s not like you’ll suddenly be at a loss for something to play. Remember, a game sitting on your shelf is worth zero dollars- less than whatever Gamestop will offer you in trade. It won’t be long before you can download anything you want anyway. You wouldn’t keep 8-Tracks lying around would you?
6) Understand that you are accepting a lower value in exchange for convenience and immediacy. You will not get the same trade-in value for a game as you would get selling it on Half.com, but you’re also not tasked with finding a buyer, paying fees, packaging, and going to the post office- all while your money sits in escrow with them. Gamestop doesn’t have Paypal or listing fees, either. I’d just as soon accept $32 for my copy of Little Big Planet 2 as I would to sell it on Half.com for $38 and deal with the process and time involved.
7) For god’s sake, don’t sell to them. Their cash prices for games are abysmal. You’re looking at 15-20% of the used value, and at that point online marketplaces are the better option. Go in strictly to get store credit or you’re going to lose out big time. It’s how they operate, and inevitably they get thousands of people in every year that just kind of shrug and take the dollars, complaining later to the Internet that they got ripped off. Don’t be that guy. Be smarter than him.
The bottom line is that trading at Gamestop is only a ripoff if you go in there with unrealistic expectations and don’t know how to work their system to maximize trade values. They have a system that includes certain customer incentives and bonuses, and understanding how to best take advantage of them means that you’ll walk out with quite a bit more value and much less disappointment than someone that just walks in off the street with two old games expecting that they’ll trade up two-for-one for something that just came out. It’s a hustle, but if you know how to run “thangs” you can come out on top.
Oh, and my copy of Resident Evil: The Mercenaries? $30 total trade value on it. So much for “not accepting trades” on that one due to the single save file.