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Want to save time and money? Stop buying games at launch

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“I have a confession to make,” a co-worker said in hushed tones yesterday. “I have never played a Diablo game.”

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 editions of Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition have just been released for $60. For that price you get the full version of Diablo 3, a bunch of social features, the Reaper of Souls expansion, and visuals that are much improved from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version. I’m happy to report that it’s the best version of the game so far, as I spend my evenings wrecking shit with my Demon Hunter.

It goes further than that, though. The original PC version was a bit of a mess. It needed to be online to work, the real-money auction house was a controversial choice, and the loot was overwhelming.

Every aspect of these flaws has been addressed in the console version, along with the ability to directly control your character and play almost as an action game. If you haven’t played Diablo 3 before you’re getting a version with all the major issues ironed out, with a better balance to the loot drops, better visuals than the past console releases, and the expansion content.

Why would anyone feel bad about waiting to play the best version of the game? The people who should feel bad are the ones who jumped in too early and "suffered" through the early days of the game before these issues were ironed out. You don’t have to confess about missing Diablo until now, you get to brag that you simply waited for the best version, with the most content, before jumping in. You were the smart one.

Wait, and then wait some more

Early adopters pay the most for a game and get the least finished version of the release. It’s often worth it for them to play it along with the huge rush of other fans who want to be there first, but you don’t have to join them, even if many are perfectly happy to sign up for the journey of a game’s patches and updates and price drops rather than the pure destination of just playing the damned thing.

If you’re happy with the world of day-one releases, God bless you.

But I’ve turned into a sleeper in my old age, and the rewards have been great. I waited a few weeks to pick up Infamous: Second Son and ended up paying $30 and having the photo mode available from my first play through. I can cap the game at 30 fps if I’d like, or set the time of day once I beat the game to play with the video options. I had more content, more options, and a better experience for half the cost.

Every game will be cheaper and better in six months

Nothing about this is new. Prices fall, and these days they fall rapidly. Patches are rolled out, often starting on the first day of release. Content from expansions and for-pay add-ons are included in the inescapable Game of the Year editions, or when the game is ported to the latest consoles with better graphics.

Whatever game is being released right now, one of the few sure things in the gaming industry is that it will be cheaper and better in six months.

This is why I don’t really care about the exclusivity deal Square Enix made with Tomb Raider. The game will likely do well, and when it finally comes to the PlayStation 4 you’ll likely get a bit more content, with all the patches and updates and new features rolled into the initial release for less money.

Let the console you may not like beta test the game for you, who cares? It’s not like we’re hurting for things to play, and the later you pick up a game the less you’ll pay and the more you’ll get.

Hell, now is a great time to get in on The Last of Us. You get the updated game with better graphics on the PS4, the DLC, all for the $60 cost of the original game.

I could bore you with examples all day long, but the fact remains that buying at launch is a shitty deal.

Don't believe the hype

That’s why the publishers are turning up the heat when it comes to getting you to pre-ordering, or trying to sell you on the idea that you’ll only get that super-special purple shirt that you can’t get anywhere else if you put down money right away. They’re aware that buying new at launch is kind of a bum deal, so they have to create a false sense of urgency and exclusivity.

Don’t worry, you’ll be able to buy that shirt for a few bucks later, or it will just be given to you. That exclusive you’re worried about? Unless the platform holder buys the IP or the studio, it’s coming to whatever console you own (as long as you don’t own a Wii U). The sense of urgency, the need for something to feel exclusive? It’s just marketing. You’ll get whatever you want using patience. It's super effective.

I’ve heard from players who feel guilty for this approach, because developers and publishers rely on presale numbers and a big fat opening week to justify the game’s budget and to try to retain as much of its staff as possible during the seemingly inevitable post-launch layoffs. But that’s a sign of a broken model, not a reason to abandon the act of purchasing a game when you rationally are given the most value for the fewest dollars.

The sense of urgency is just marketing

Companies are more willing to re-release games with more content, to update games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and to sling updates, new features, and DLC our way post-launch. The competition is fierce, games go on sale quickly and new content is added all the time.

I’m not saying stop buying all games the first day of release, there are games of which I’m such a fan that my wallet will be out long before launch, but I’m also saying that’s the worst way to get the most value for your money.

You’re always better off buying later rather than now, and the industry has never done a better job of rewarding those who wait. Look up release dates of your favorite series and add a month to each one. The amount of money you’ll save, and the technical headaches you’ll avoid, will make your gaming dollar go further and your time used more efficiently.

This may not make the publishers happy, but this is the system they’ve created. It’s their job to maximize value, and it’s our job to do the same thing. The best way to make sure that happens is simple: Wait.