Early indications are that both Microsoft and Sony are looking at price points at around $500 for the new Xbox and PlayStation. That’s not uncommon for new consoles, but it’s still a pretty good chunk of change for something that’s going to have one or two must-play games by the end of the year (at best).
If you’re on a budget and you’d like to make the best use of both your time and your money, here’s my advice: designate 2020 as a “catch-up year.” It’s a great time to go back and play the hits and hidden gems that you’ve missed. Thanks to a console generation that’s been going for almost seven years, there’s plenty of old stuff to find, and almost all of it can be had on the cheap.
Good Things Come…
Remember: console launches rarely have more than one “killer app.” That’s the game that not only shows off the new technological capabilities of the hardware but is also worth playing in its own right. For this generation, those were Forza Motorsport 5 and Killzone Shadow Fall for the Xbox and PS4, respectively. Good games, certainly, but not worth five or six hundred bucks to play on their own.
We don’t know much about the PS5 and Xbox Series X, but odds are good that their initial lineups will feature one major release from their parent publishers, plus a bunch of multiplatform titles that have blink-and-you’ll-miss-it technical improvements over the same game released on older hardware. That’s not a great value proposition.
Console deals on the Xbox One and PS4 are already good and get dramatically better if you wait for sales. If you’re hunting for a new PS4, Sony’s “Only on PlayStation” bundle is the way to go, since it includes The Last of Us Remastered, God of War, and Horizon Zero Dawn—three of the system’s most celebrated titles—for only $250.
The Xbox One hasn’t been as competitive this generation, thanks to a ton of exclusives on the PS4 and too much overlap with PC, so it’s even cheaper to get a new console. Right now the All-Digital Edition can be had for under $200. But that might not be the best way to go if you’re hunting for deals—relying on Microsoft’s digital storefront means you won’t be able to pick up used games or take advantage of many sales on discs. The Gears 5 bundle has a ton of value: five Gears of War games along with the standard Xbox One S for $226 at the time of writing. Other bundles at similar prices (but with just one game) include Jedi: Fallen Order and NBA 2K20.
Keep in mind that when the PS5 and Xbox Series X start to go on sale at retail, these bundles and others will rapidly get even cheaper.
Games, including some of the best-selling and best-reviewed games of the generation, can be had for a song. And that’s whether you’re hunting for new or used games at retail stores, or downloading from their respective digital marketplaces.
Let’s have a gander at the front page of GameStop, shall we? At the time of writing, the store is selling the PS4 version of Samurai Showdown for $20, the Uncharted trilogy for $20, God of War (the sequel-reboot) for $20, the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts 3 for $20, The Last of Us for $20, and Spider-Man for $40.
On the Xbox side, Grand Theft Auto 5 is going for $20, Control is $30, Call of Duty WWII is $20, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection is just $40 for more alien-shooting action than you can get through in a month. Don’t forget the “Game of the Year” phenomenon: blockbuster games that have been out for a year or more often get re-packed with their DLC and microtransaction add-ons for the same (or lower) price.
If you can wait until the fall or the holiday season, you’ll see a flood of Xboxes and PlayStations hit the used market, along with the blockbuster games that everyone else has already bought and (possibly) played. Hunt for a bit on your local Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace hub, and you’ll see a smorgasbord of only slightly outdated games going for pennies on the dollar. If you’re wary of buying secondhand (and you have a right to be, certainly), buy from retail shops or online sellers that offer a limited warranty. If a console can go the standard 90 days without issue, odds are you’ll be problem-free for at least a few years.
Not so Much for Switch and PC
This advice isn’t universal. The Switch is still pretty resistant to discounts, especially for first-party Nintendo games, and very much especially for first-party Nintendo games sold on its digital eShop. The console itself is still selling like hotcakes, so don’t expect many discounts outside of big sale days like Black Friday.
Likewise, PC games go on sale more or less continuously, so this year won’t be any more or less excellent than usual if you’re hunting for deals. It’s also worth pointing out that, if you already own a gaming PC, there’s not much point in investing in an Xbox One—almost every single one of its “exclusive” titles is also available on one PC storefront or another.
It’s never a bad idea to buy older games, which have proven staying power and at least some of their kinks worked out. But if you’re looking for the maximum amount of entertainment for your dollar, then this is the year to cash in your chips and relive the better part of a decade’s console games.