Video gaming has never been more popular. With around $150 billion in sales in 2019, it’s safe to say that gaming is now an essential economic driver. Sales figures like that can certainly help eager gamers justify their go-to leisure activity as normal (it is), but massive data often leaves out the very human element that exists in each sale. And while playing video games may be an excellent stress reliever, especially if you’ve exhausted your Netflix queue during this highly stressful COVID-19 pandemic, buying more games without consideration to finances could result in strained or ruined relationships.
We’re not here to say you need to stop playing video games, but…
If you’re among the nearly 2 in 5 gamers who have gone into credit card debt due to spending on video games, it may be time to reassess a few of your financial priorities. Fights over spending habits are not just the top reason most couples fight; it’s also the underlying cause of most divorces. Overspending on games can also strain your relationships with friends and family, all while hurting your credit.
Let’s put the game on pause for a minute and review six steps we believe can help you get a better handle on your video game spending and help reduce the stress on your relationships.
1. Create a gaming budget
With accountants as maybe the only exception, nobody really likes the idea of a budget. Especially with its potential negative impact on gaming, creating a budget ultimately means restricting yourself, and who really enjoys self-immolation like that?
Still, if you’re spending too much on games and ruining your relationships as a result, it’s budget time. The coronavirus and job losses have even further complicated this issue. Gamers who have been financially impacted by the large-scale economic shutdown spent more on games, an average of $424 than those who weren’t impacted.
One of the best ways to help rein in your spending and relieve some tension in your relationships with family and friends is to enlist their help and work on a budget together.
We won’t tell you how much you should budget toward games. That’s best discussed between you and the loved ones who are impacted by your video game spending habits. However, make sure your budget prioritizes a few key areas before gaming enters the budget.
Pro tip: When you do add up your game-spending budget, itemize the cost of your recurring game subscriptions, such as PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live. The automatic recurring subscriptions can really impact your budget without you even realizing it.
Additionally, don’t pen-and-paper this one. If you’re technically minded, you could use Excel, but if you’re not, there are plenty of budgeting apps—like Mint and You Need a Budget—that are free and are fairly plug-and-play.
2. Buy physical games used
Almost every new game that hits the market will go right back on sale within a few days after early players rip through the content and move on to the next game. Whether through GameStop, Facebook Marketplace, or eBay, you’ll likely find a used physical copy of any game you want at a significant discount.
As you might expect, this won’t work if you’re talking about a digital-only game. And with the market increasingly moving toward digital (Sony even announced a digital-only edition of the upcoming PS5 console), buying physical versions of any game you want to play will become increasingly difficult.
That brings us to our next—and very painful—third tip.
3. Wait until prices go down before purchasing new games
This one might hurt you to the very core of your being, as it could mean waiting more than a year to buy games after they come out. By then, you may have been inundated with spoilers. Or the multiplayer experience that you could have enjoyed on day one may be all but gone for good.
All the same, patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to reducing your game spending and restoring your tumultuous relationships.
If it helps you feel any better, PC Gamer dug into Steam data a few years back and found some solid numbers for how long you might have to wait. The online gaming mag found that AAA games tend to get 50% discounts within seven months, while 75% discounts tend to happen about one year past the initial release date.
4. Don’t buy games using a credit card
As noted earlier, your relationships aren’t just between you and other humans. Whether you like it or not, you’re also in a relationship with financial institutions. Your credit score matters in today’s society, and few debts are more detrimental to your credit score than credit card debt.
Surveys show that some 37% of gamers admitted their game spending caused problems with their loved ones and added significantly to their credit card debt.
If this speaks to your experience, drop credit card spending from your game purchasing habits altogether. Instead, consider buying games using cash, debit cards, check, cryptocurrency, or direct bank transfer options like PayPal. If you happen to get gift cards for holidays or birthdays, that’s a good medium as well.
Already stuck in debt from your video game spending? Refer back to our first point. Add debt payments to your budget, and commit to paying off your credit card debts first.
If you have debts racked up across multiple credit cards, there are a few strategies you can use. Paying off the card with the smallest balance first, then adding that card’s minimum payment to the card with the next-largest balance is a popular option. This is often called the “debt snowball method.” As you pay off debts, you keep adding to the amount you paid for each debt until the last debt is paid off.
5. Finish your backlog before purchasing new games
What gamer doesn’t have a backlog? New games hit the market almost every week. If you have a bad habit of buying games on a whim, it likely means there’s a string of broken-hearted, half-finished games left in your wake.
Give those games the attention they deserve. Finish up your backlog, and avoid buying new games until you’ve finished the ones you’re working on. If it helps, track your gaming progress using an app or service like GG.
6. Don’t pay for loot boxes
Seriously. If you’re strained for money, loot boxes shouldn’t even be on your radar for purchasing.
Most gamers consider microtransactions the worst thing to happen to the gaming industry since the turn of the century. More than 70% of gamers have purchased an average of 12 loot boxes per year. Yet half of those gamers regret purchasing loot boxes.
Microtransactions are now widely regarded as a distinctly predatory practice, with the same psychological impact as gambling. They can also ruin the overall experience of a game when they’re implemented in such a way that makes it hard to enjoy the game without them. Is it any wonder that the loot box backlash led EA to drop them from Star Wars Battlefront 2?
Save your money, and don’t go down the addictive rabbit hole of microtransactions, especially if you’re trying to avoid overspending on games.
Keep in mind that gaming can be an addiction. Spending excessively on games, whether on new games, used games or loot boxes, may indicate a deeper problem. If you’re struggling with overspending on games, you may need to seek professional counseling services that specialize in gaming addiction recovery.