Okay, we’ve all done it at least once; bought a game that you thought we be the next big thing, only to find out that instead of providing you with endless hours of entertainment and kill streaks, it was a giant turd.  At this point, you’ve opened it, installed it and played it a little; it’s too late to return it to the store, so what can you do to cleanse yourself of the stink from a bad game?

Most retails stores will not even consider giving you your money back on an open piece of software, no matter how much you scream and yell.  Although I have seen it work in the past, but it can also get you banned from the store and it’s not worth taking the risk.  At best all you will get is store credit that you can then select another game and hope it isn’t a bomb as well.  Some retailers will tell you too bad, you bought it, it’s yours and you are stuck with a game you don’t want.  In most cases store credit is better than nothing, so consider your options carefully.

A lot of online retailers like EA and Steam, who offer downloadable purchases have very limited return options, but you have to act fast.  In most cases all you’re going to get is credit to purchase something else unless you have a more convincing excuse than “I don’t like it”.  Back in the day, before video games really took off as a huge money making industry, you could effectively go buy a game, take it home, make a copy and return it to the store and do the same thing again and again.  Now that retailers have gotten wise to this little scam, they put very strict return policies on software and video games.  I for one spent many late nights at work making copies of user manuals that at that time contained the copy protection of choice.  Copy protection has gotten a lot more elaborate as savvy users have found ways around each and every attempt to keep software pirates at bay.  The battle continues and sometimes honest consumers are caught in the crossfire.

But now you are stuck with a game that you don’t like and never intend to play again, what can you do?  There are a few options that offer some relief from your poor decision, but seldom will you ever recover all of the original purchase price.  Returning the game to the store for in-store credit is usually the easiest option available.  Some stores likes Gamestop offer to buy used games for store credit.  I have always found this a bit deceiving because they offer you peanuts for the game, then put it back on the shelve at almost full price so the next unlucky schmuck is the one who really gets screwed.  This practice generally works better for console titles that you aren’t going to play any more.  You can take several games in and get a few bucks to put toward the new version of Madden NFL.  I know some people who are very skilled at this practice and it works for them, it works for the store and everyone is happy.  But I have found that the mark up for “used” games generally isn’t worth it when for a few dollars more you can have a nice new unopened copy.

Another thing to watch out for is their “guaranteed to play” policy, read the fine print or else you can be stuck with a game that simply doesn’t work because of a damaged disk or some other issue that isn’t covered by their guarantee.  I have been burned by this before when a tiny, almost impossible to see crack in the disk made it unplayable in my Xbox 360.  The store would not take it back and I was stuck with a very nice looking coaster.  If you’re lucky, you have a good rapport with the people who work in whatever game store you frequent and they know you as the type not to want to rip them off.  But going up against some pimple faced douche you’re not going to have much of a chance of convincing them you’re sincere.

So there are some things you can do to make better choices when it come to buying a new game.  First and foremost, do your homework.  Make sure you either read up on the game in question or ask around, chances are someone else has played it and either says it rocks or it blows.  Don’t be too quick to jump on the bandwagon, that is usually the mistake I make; blindly following the crowd.  Don’t be too quick to buy a game you know nothing about.  For those of you who aren’t as dedicated and won’t wait in line at midnight to be one of the first to purchase the game on release day, you can always wait to see what your friends say after staying up all night playing.  One indispensable resource I like to use is XPlay on G4.  They offer great reviews for newly released and upcoming games and I must say that Morgan Webb is pretty easy on the eyes as well.  There are also various magazines that you can pick up to get the skinny on what’s new in the gaming world.  I like to stick to the free stuff, word of mouth is invaluable.

Next you can download and play a demo of the game if it’s available.  Many companies will release a demo or beta version ahead of time to either wet the appetites of potential customers or to work out any bugs in the software.  These can give you the best experience of what the game will be like before you buy it.  If you don’t like the demo, chances are you’re not going to like the game and won’t waste your money.  Companies won’t do this for all new releases and it’s becoming less and less frequent that demos are released.  For beta testers, you either have to be one of a chosen few or buy another title in order to get access to a beta test.  Sometimes it just comes down to being lucky.  One thing to be careful of is that most games have a single player and a multi player or online mode.  Most of the hardcore gamers are in it for the multi player experience.  A demo will offer either or and sometimes you can have a great single player game with a really crappy multi player mode or vice-versa.

Sometimes you can preview a game in the store before it’s released, but you might find yourself having to wait in line behind some six year old kid with sharing issues or a group of teenage thugs who are there for the day.  But you might get lucky and get to play, either way just by watching others play you could gain some insight.  Don’t count on this being available because some stores suck and the consoles are broken the majority of the time.  If you’re one of the lucky few who can attend E3 or San Diego Comic Con, you can play or watch demos of the most highly anticipated games months before they are released.  But if you can’t afford to jet cross country every July, then you’re left to more conventional means.

Then there is the tried and true method I like to call “try before you buy”.  This can be accomplished a number of different ways, some more ethical than others.  If your local movie rental store also rents video games, go and rent that sucker first.  This is usually only an option for console games, so you PC gamers are stuck with fewer options.  I rented Batman: Arkham Asylum about a dozen times before I decided to buy it.  It was a really good alternative to purchasing the game then either not liking it or not having time to play it.  I am not fifteen years old with summers off to do nothing but park myself in front of my Xbox for days on end.  I have a job, a family and all that other crap that can severely hamper my gaming time.  If your spouse monitors or even knows about the money you spend on games, then it makes it even more crucial that you make good choices when buying games.

There are services such as Gamefly that work a lot like Netflix.  You put the game on your want list and they send it to you.  You get to play as much as you want, then either return it or you can buy it at a discounted price, some will even then send you the original box and manuals.  The downsides to this method is new titles aren’t always immediately available and if you don’t act quickly you could have to wait days or sometimes weeks until a copy is available.  Another being as with Netflix, you have to pay a monthly fee to belong to the service.  If you play enough games, then it’s more than worth it, but if you’re only a casual player, the recurring cost may not be worth it to you.  Weigh your options then decide which way better fits your lifestyle and wallet.

Now comes the methods that skirt the thin gray line of ethics.  Some gamers choose to download an illegal or pirated copy from the Internet either by bittorrent or some other file sharing means.  This carries some risk that you may deem not worth the risk.  Companies are going to greater and greater lengths to prevent online piracy of software.  That being said, the excuse of “I planned on buying it after I tried it for a while” usually doesn’t wash with them.  They love to make examples of people by slapping them with outrageous fines and sometimes even jail time.  Although users in the United States are seldom brought to any kind of legal punishment, governments of other countries are cracking down rather heavily on file sharing sites and the people who run them.  You’re taking a risk of getting slapped with a huge fine if you get caught, so don’t say you weren’t warned, software piracy is illegal in the United States.  Another huge risk is the possibility of being infected with a virus by trying to install the game.  You’ve given permission for the software to be installed so often times your anti-virus pays it no mind if it’s infected with viruses, trojans or malware.  It’s risky any way you go, so you need to be extremely careful if you’re going to thumb your nose at Johnny Law.  The FBI certainly won’t come crashing through your windows and haul you off to prison.  They will politely knock on the door, present you with a search order, then take your computer or console off to be examined.  Now is when you hire a lawyer and pray.

But if you’re just stuck with the thing and you simply can’t get rid of it, your last option could be Ebay.  Keeping in mind that one man’s turd is another man’s jewel, put an ad on Ebay and let fortune decide the outcome.  Who knows, you might get lucky and two people will get into a bidding war and pay double what you originally paid, however that is unlikely, but it might get it off your hands while recouping some of your money.  Hopefully this has given you some insight to avoid making costly mistakes when it comes to buying video games.  Most of us just suck it up and deal with the knowledge we bought a crappy game.  It sits on the shelve collecting dust and every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my poor decision.  So until next I blog, play hard, play fair and have fun.