If you frequent this space, you know I am pretty obsessed with classic games. To cap off a month spent largely at gaming conventions (the recent Midwest Gaming Classic and this month’s Bloomington-Normal Gaming Convention), I thought I’d share my best practices for getting good deals on classic games. If you want to be a collector, or even if you just have a handful of games from your childhood you’d like to revisit, keep this advice in mind to spare your wallet the weight of your gaming desires.
Know Your Prices
You wouldn’t go to the beach without swimsuits and towels and sunscreen, right? Then you shouldn’t go to a used game store or peruse an online auction site without knowing the value of what you’re looking for. You’ll want to use PriceCharting.com or GameValueNow.com and get an idea of what each of your desired games are worth. GameValueNow uses eBay sales to determine a game’s given going rate, whereas PriceCharting uses a combination of eBay sales and their own marketplace’s transactions. It’s not perfect — a weird one-off high or low sale could theoretically throw of the algorithm — but you should still bookmark one or both of these sites and use them frequently. I have a spreadsheet on Google docs with my to-buy list along with current prices based on my own research that I take to stores and conventions with me. It makes it easy to tell at a glance if I’m getting a good deal. Which brings me to…
For introverts who want everyone they interact with to like them (i.e. me), the concept of haggling is terrifying. You don’t want to insult the seller by making some ridiculous request, while at the same time, you don’t want to feel you’re being taken advantage of. Still, in the used game market, there is definitely wiggle room to negotiate more favorable prices, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you ignore the opportunity. Using the knowledge gained from the previous tip, go in with a price in mind. Simply ask if the seller is willing to take whatever your preferred price might be. Maybe they’ll say no. That’s fine! Maybe they’ll counter offer. If their offer is acceptable, count it as a win. But above all, don’t be afraid to walk away. If you’re not willing to pay the price on the sticker, and the seller isn’t willing to come down, you have to be ready to let it go. (Of course, sometimes sellers see your willingness to walk away as a potential lost sale and will come to an agreement with you, though you shouldn’t expect that.) Overpaying when you’re not able or willing is a bad strategy for amassing a game collection. Play it smart, and both you and the seller can end the interaction happier, wealthier people.
My wallet regrets the day I discovered how easy eBay and PayPal make the game collecting process. Suddenly, you are no longer restricted by the inventory of your local game stores. You have the game collections of thousands at your fingertips, and it couldn’t be simpler to start bringing in games from all over. Still, you’ll want to go in educated. eBay has three primary methods of selling: Buy It Now, Auctions, and Best Offer. Buy It Now is just what it sounds like — the seller has a price listed, and if you’re willing to pay the price, do so, and the item is yours. No bidding, no waiting. Best Offer is similar in that the seller is asking a price, but is willing to entertain offers for less. Putting in a lower offer will usually result in the seller counter-offering, at which point you can make your purchasing decision or continue bartering. Auctions, on the other hand, are quite a bit more complicated. To use eBay, you enter a maximum bid on the item of your choosing. If your maximum bid is higher than everyone else’s, yours becomes the highest bid and, assuming no one outbids you before the auction ends, the item is yours. Keep in mind, however, that auctions are emotional endeavors. The thrill of the chase and the desire to win often makes people suddenly willing to pay more than they might otherwise be. You might soon find the highest bid rising higher than you’re willing to pay. To save yourself trouble and temptation, I recommend using an eBay sniping tool, like Gixen. Connect Gixen to your account, and the software will wait until the last possible minute, putting in your maximum bid without giving anyone the time to counterbid higher. While this won’t guarantee you’ll win (if someone already has a higher bid in than you’re willing to pay, it will still go to them), using sniping tools takes the emotion and stakes out of the process, giving you a better shot at winning at a lower price.
Gaming conventions are like game stores on steroids. (Don’t do steroids unless prescribed by a doctor.) You can expect to find a wide variety of vendors selling not only tons of classic games, but also artists selling phenomenal custom game-based artwork, figures, and more. Attending a giant convention can be a bit overwhelming, especially for a first-timer, so keep a few things in mind. First, you don’t have to buy everything you want right away. Particularly at conventions lasting multiple days, as the time draws to a close, vendors are more likely to offer good deals. After all, they don’t want to haul all those games back home with them. If you’re searching for a particularly hot item, however, you may want to seek that out straight away. Always assume others are interested in those sorts of things, and in those cases, the early bird gets the worm. Second, get a good lay of the land before you start making your purchases. With so many vendors, there’s bound to be some variation in cost and condition. That copy of Skies of Arcadia Legends is selling for $70 without a manual over here, but it’s selling for $65 with a manual over there. Getting a good idea of what each vendor has will help you make smart buying decisions. Third, don’t forget to haggle, even before the end of the convention. If you find a game for a great price, sure, go ahead and buy it at the sticker price, but don’t be intimidated by the crowd and the noise and think haggling is off the table. Conventions are a great place to quickly fill in holes in your collection. However, that brings me to my last point.
Know When to Quit
Unless you’re independently wealthy, chances are you can’t afford to spend every spare dime on classic games. Establish a budget for yourself before you engage in any game-buying activity. This is especially important for big events like conventions, which also tend to have entrance fees and other costs (hotels, food, etc.). The rush of seeing so many games you’re desperate to own all in one place can be a bit overwhelming to be sure, so nerves of steel are required to keep yourself out of the poor house. The same goes for the everyday. Set a gaming budget and stick to it. Sure, allow yourself some flexibility to account for the occasional rare deal you can’t pass up, but play the long game. Bidding on eBay auctions, visiting game stores and conventions, it can add up fast. Having a collecting plan can head off the pain.
So, what do you think? Ready to take on the world of game collecting? Let me know on Twitter if you have any unique strategies of your own.