Buy or Rent? Video Games, Revisited

2009-05-25 12:29 - Opinion

Back around Christmas time, I got myself a PlayStation 3, as I've mentioned now and again. I also wondered, around that time, do video game rentals make sense? Economically, at least.

I had very little to make the decision on, but $15/mo for one game at a time didn't seem like a good deal. I've got enough time and experience, plus hard data, now behind me that I think I can start to answer that question for real. Let's start with the data here, and I'll explain it below:

GameSpentFeesMadeFinal Cost
Metal Gear Solid 4--------
Grand Theft Auto 4--$2.99$21.50--
Gran Turismo 5$22.50$6.69$27.50$1.69
Mirror's Edge$27.00$6.23$21.49$11.74
Oblivion$19.50$6.60$25.49$0.61
Call of Duty 4$33.00$7.02$28.49$11.53
Prince of Persia$34.03------
Condemned 2$12.99------
Fallout 3$34.98------
4 Average:$25.50$6.63$25.74$6.39
Full Average:$26.29$5.90$24.89$7.29

First, the grey/incomlete rows: I got Metal Gear Solid 4 and Grand Theft Auto 4 along with the (used) console I bought. I don't have any fair "bought" price for them, and didn't sell MGS4 yet. So they're not quite included. I did play the first six games in the table, in about that order. Conveniently, over almost exactly six months, which makes the math much easier. This is real "calendar time" — it represents the time I took to play them, with the rest of my life in the middle. Finally, I didn't yet sell (because they're still unplayed!) the bottom three games in the table. But I have real "bought" prices, so I could factor those in. You'll see below.

The "Spent" column is the total I spent to acquire that game. For these four, the bid + shipping price, off of eBay. The "Fees" column is the overhead I spent to sell them, both eBay and PayPal fees, and also the amount I actually spent on shipping and packaging. Finally the "Made" column is how much I made from selling the item, the total bid + shipping price from eBay again. (Side rant: What a racket eBay + forced PayPal is! Without shipping on either side, that's still a 15% overhead for a very cheap service on their end.)

For the four that I bought, played, then sold (the bottom row labeled "4 Average"), I can do comletely thorough calculations. So I see that for these four games, on average, I spent a total of $6.39 to buy, play, and later sell them. Almost exactly the eBay/shipping overhead. If I include all the partial data in each column (the bottom row labeled "Full Average"), the averages come to $7.29. (You'll note that the values for GTA4 are lower -- that went for combined shipping, so I didn't charge nor spend any, both are thus lower by about $3.) This line is probably not as accurate, as I have higher buy-prices than the others on these extra lines, without (probably?) higher sell-prices to balance them out.

What's the result? It costs a bit under $7 to buy and then resell a PS3 game. Taking the average of one month spent playing, that comes out to half as much as the average rental service. So renting is a bad idea unless you're extremely lazy (there is some extra effort involved in both finding the games for purchase, and selling them again).

There's a wrinkle, however. Some of those games I really played over the course of about a calendar month. Oblivion, nearly two. Call of Duty 4 I played over one weekend: started on Friday night, finished by Sunday night. I also started Prince of Persia about when I started this (listing the items for sale), and finished that in about a week. If I could perfectly predict which games I am both interested in, and will finish quickly, they would be good rental candidates. If I played 3 or 4 games in one month for $15, that would be a very economical situation indeed. But can I make such predictions? It's hard to say. So I'll have to stick with the relaxed pace of ownership. No worrying about how much it costs me to hang on to the game for another week or two or three.

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