Goodbye GameFly

Gamefly LogoFive hundred dollars is a good chunk of cash. That's a few car payments. It's a decent TV on Black Friday. It may be enough Taco Bell to last a lifetime (shortened by all that Taco Bell). It's also what I paid on video game rentals in the last two and a half years.

"Wow," you shriek, "$500 is a lot of money to rent games!" You're right, Obvious Banshee, and that's why I'm dropping my GameFly subscription (temporarily, at least). I've got other expenses to consider, other pastimes to enjoy, and a backlog of neglected games to play, so I think I'll give my wallet a break and go without.

But whether or not I ever re-up with the service, I got my money's worth in my 30 month GameFly period. It can actually be a frugal choice for the eclectic video game enthusiast.

At about $240 a year, a GameFly subscription is comparable to four 360 or PS3 games, and it's not uncommon for me to buy four new games in a year. It is, however, uncommon that I replay those games, sell them, trade them in, or lend them to friends. I tend to grab a game at launch, play it for a few weeks, and then shelve it indefinitely. For me, ownership doesn't have any major advantages over rental.

For the same price, I can experience those four games that I would have bought and play unlimited games for the rest of the year. Sounds like a good deal to me. And judging from the rough numbers I put together, it is a good deal.

In the 30 months I had GameFly, I paid just under $540 in rental fees, wavering between the 1-game and 2-game plans. In that time, I rented a whopping ninety games. So at a rough estimate, I paid $6 per game. My gaming dollars have gone much farther with GameFly in the last few years than with GameStop or even the great Amazon. Heck, I was paying more than $6 for a 7-day rental at Blockbuster Video years ago, back when physical rental outlets still roamed the earth.

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I don't have many complaints about the GameFly service, either. I've never failed to receive a brand new game during its launch week, usually the same Wednesday that it would be available in most stores. Most console and handheld games from the PS2 era onward are readily available. I've only received one damaged game in the mail, and one other game was delayed an extra week in the postal service. In both cases, GameFly sent a replacement as soon as I let them know. Even their online store has surprisingly fair prices. You can usually keep a just-launched game for at least ten bucks less than what you would pay at Best Buy, and you get five dollars in credit towards a used game purchase every three months. I've even bought used games from GameFly's store during their sales just to trade them in to Amazon for profit (I recently bought Cars 2 and LEGO Star Wars III from GameFly for $10 and flipped them to Amazon for $30).

The service does have its downsides, though. Thanks to online passes and other used market penalties, you may occasionally miss out on content exclusive to those who buy the game new (unless you pony up the extra dough to the developer, of course). The "GameQ" priority list is easy to use but essentially pointless: GameFly will send you the game on your list that is most convenient to them, so make sure to list only games that you want right now. Finally, the turnaround time between sending a game back and getting a new one can be lengthy, depending on where you live. There is a distribution center right here in the city, so I can usually put a game in my mailbox on Monday morning and find another one on Thursday (or even Wednesday, sometimes). But when I lived out in the sticks, I sometimes waited a full week to receive my next game. And if the game you want is rare or understocked, it may get shipped from a distribution center all the way across the country. I've heard horror stories of waiting nearly two weeks for the next game, though I've never experienced such a wait myself.

Obviously, rental services aren't for everyone. If you can spend months playing a single game, you might as well buy it. If your area still has rental outlets with good selection and prices, you may be better off with noncommittal brick and mortar rather than paying a monthly fee. The service is best suited to people like me who like a little bit of everything, would rather try a new game than revisit an old one, and are always looking for something new to play. It's no chump change, committing nearly $20 per month, but you'd be surprised how far that money can go.

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