Putting Video Game Trade-Ins To The Test

Remember that time you walked into a big chain store with a shopping bag full of games, thinking you were going to cash out big time, only to leave with a gift card housing barely enough credit to grab even one new game? Of course you do; we've all been there.

GameStop used to be the only option in town, but now that there are more choices for the eager trader, the trade-in experience has to have progressed in some way, right? Are we better off sticking to Amazon and eBay's third-party seller marketplace to peddle our unwanted games, or have these chains finally come together to offer an experience that doesn't sacrifice payout for convenience? I decided that it was time to find out just what these big chains have to offer.

March Trade-in Values

We could talk about the overall experience offered by each chain, but what it all comes down to is how much these companies are willing to shell out for your unwanted games, right? Let's take a look at how some of the trade-in values stack up.

Note: These values were retrieved in late March, 2014.

Best Buy; Total: $71

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $30

Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $18

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $7

The Last of Us (PS3) - $16

GameStop; Total: $69

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $25

Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $20

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $6

The Last of Us (PS3) - $18

Target; Total: $22.05

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - Not found in system

Battlefield 4 (PS3) - Not found in system

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $7.56

The Last of Us (PS3) - $14.49

Walmart; Total: $74.32

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $31.50

Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $18.90

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $7.12

The Last of Us (PS3) - $16.80

Walmart.com; Total: $74.32

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $31.50

Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $18.90

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $7.12

The Last of Us (PS3) - $16.80

Amazon.com; Total: $44.28

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $15.32

Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $15.22

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $6.88

The Last of Us (PS3) - $6.86

Time Spent

While time might not exactly be money, nobody wants to waste their afternoon (or wait forever to get their money after sending games into an online trade store). So in an attempt to see who was the most efficient, I timed each of the experiences I had in trading in an equal number of games to each company.

Note: These times are based on an average over two visits (one in February, one in March) to store locations found in suburban South Austin during the weekend. The only exception to this is Walmart, which was only visited in March when the chain started accepting in-store trade-ins.

Best Buy: 0:21 to being helped, 6:12 to complete trade-in process

GameStop: 0:11 to being helped, 4:06 to complete trade-in process

Target: 0:55 to being helped, 6:44 to complete trade-in process

Walmart: 1:05 to being helped, 14:25 to complete trade-in process

Walmart.com: 2 days to receive my shipment, 1 additional day to verify trade-in/email eGift Card

Amazon.com: 8 days to receive my shipment, 1 additional day to verify trade-in/notify of receipt

Knowledge Test

The following conversations took place on two separate visits to each chain. One visit was on a Saturday morning, while the other was on a Wednesday evening in order to get a diverse set of employees. All I had to do was sell myself as knowing absolutely nothing about video games and then see how much leading I had to do to get them to give an acceptable answer. Here's what I took away from my interactions.

Best Buy

  • Employees knowledgeable about the differences between PS4 and Xbox One
  • Since trades are processed through customer service line, one employee started panicking a little when I began asking too many gaming questions and called for back-up from the games department
  • Didn't speak too highly of the Wii U

Memorable Quote from Employee: [In response to the question, "What about the Wii U?"] "Nah, that's mostly kids games."

GameStop

  • Probably the most knowledgeable, though some errors were made (like saying Forza 5 was the only Xbox One exclusive, and that Gran Turismo 6 was a PS4 exclusive)
  • Very enthusiastic responses and very willing to chat about gaming if nobody is in line
  • Very good at giving recommendations based on their personal experiences

Memorable Quote from Employee: "I like the Wii U. I really do. It's not going to have the same kind of games that Xbox One and PS4 have, but it does have Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros. coming out soon, and it also has a bunch of time honored classics like Metroid and Earthbound that you can download right to your system. That means instead of spending $500 on Earthbound, you can grab it for $10."

Target

  • Employees in Electronics Department were knowledgeable, while the ones who processed the trades in the Mobile Department ranged from having solid opinions on gaming to having no gaming knowledge whatsoever
  • Very friendly and casual when answering questions
  • One employee did a good job of referencing pre-order cards when I asked about upcoming games

Memorable Quote from Employee: "The Xbox One has too many bells and whistles for me. I don't need voice controls and all the apps—I just want to play games. I can tell more people are going PS4 because during the holidays we'd get shipments of both, and the PS4s would sell out immediately."

Walmart

  • Probably the most genuinely friendly employees I encountered
  • One employee had no idea what Titanfall was just weeks before its launch
  • Employees compensated for lack of gaming knowledge by using general customer service recommendations like "go with the brand you know" or "listen to your friends' recommendations"

Memorable Quote from Employee: "I'm not sure [about any upcoming games]. They don't tell us a whole lot in advance."


Bottom Line: Obviously, the results found in this section are far from scientific. Every company has knowledgeable and less-than-knowledgeable employees. These results were retrieved from two separate employees within the stores in the Austin, TX area, meaning that each experience will be different. Have you had a vastly different experience from the ones I had? Let us know in the comments!

Company Policy

But what about the rules and regulations? The membership programs? The bonuses? We reached out to GameStop, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart to talk a bit more about the trade-in marketplace. All four companies we spoke to stressed the importance of the video game trade-in programs they've established.

If you're planning on heading to trade in your games, you'll want to bring your photo ID with you, as each of the stores require that one be presented alongside your trades. While none of these retailers charge additional fees to process your trades, you'll want to take your unwanted N64 and Genesis games elsewhere, as none of these major chains will accept retro titles.

Best Buy

  • My Best Buy Gamers Club: free program offers double reward points on the purchase of new games, accessories, and DLC towards store reward certificates, double points for trade-ins, as well as special gaming-centric offers
  • My Best Buy Gamers Club Unlocked: $120 for a two year membership that offers all benefits of the free Gamers Club membership plus 20% off all new games, 10% bonus trade-in credit, 10% off all pre-owned games, and other exclusive offers
  • Trade-in availability and values are fully accessible on BestBuy.com
  • Game system trades accepted in-stores, though systems will be valued based on condition and if it includes a power cable
  • Game trades are graded based on condition
  • Trades are placed on a brand new gift card. Values cannot be used to load pre-existing gift card

GameStop

  • PowerUp Rewards Basic: free program that gives you rewards points when you buy items at GameStop, plus special rewards
  • PowerUp Rewards Pro: $15 for a one year membership that offers all the benefits of Basic, plus 10% bonus trade-in values, 10% off all used merchandise, 10% bonus rewards points, 10% off strategy guides, enrollment bonuses, and a one year subscription to Game Informer
  • Up-to-date trade values are not readily available online, though many values can be found on community deal-based sites
  • Store can refuse trade if multiple copies of same game are being traded
  • Does not require box art or original case
  • May charge a refurbish fee for damaged games or systems
  • Accepts hardware and software trades
  • Trades are placed on PowerUp Rewards card or towards purchase of items in store within same transaction
  • Photo ID is only needed for cash, not credit

Target

  • Trades processed through Mobile Department, which operate under different hours than store
  • $5 minimum trade-value in order to process transaction
  • Gift cards can be used for anything found at Target
  • Does not accept trades of PS4/Xbox One games as of this publishing
  • Accepts trades for select PlayStation, PlayStation 2, original Xbox, GameCube, PSP, and DS titles as of this publishing
  • Does not accept hardware trades
  • Accepts games in all conditions, though values will reduce significantly if disc is cracked or scratched, and slightly if game is missing artwork or case
  • Traders will receive a new printed paper gift card

Walmart

  • Newest contender into the market
  • Focused on remaining competitive with trade values
  • Gift cards are extremely versatile as they can be used for anything at Walmart or Sam's Club
  • Hardware only accepted online
  • Will not provided any trade value for non-working items
  • Requires original packaging for trade to receive any value
  • Traders will receive a new printed paper gift card

February Trade-in Values

The trade-in values you saw earlier were from the second run of my experiment, but what about the first time through? Below, you'll find the values from February 2014, which show an inconsistent amount of fluctuation. While gamers typically assume a game's value will steadily decrease as it ages, I actually found that some of them increased during my second trip to these stores. According to the representatives of many of the stores, this is due to the values being based on supply and demand, along with staying competitive with the other retailers in this space.

Best Buy; Total: $77 (Compared to $71 in March)

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $32
Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $20
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $6
The Last of Us (PS3) - $19

GameStop; Total: $58 (Compared to $69 in March)

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $20
Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $17
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $6
The Last of Us (PS3) - $15

Target; Total: $17.64 (Compared to $22.05 in March)

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - Feb: Not found in system
Battlefield 4 (PS3) - Feb: Not found in system
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $6.79
The Last of Us (PS3) - $10.85

Walmart

NA; In-store trade-in program had not yet been initiated.

Walmart.com; Total: $36.20 (Compared to $74.32 in March)

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $19.50
Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $8.12
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - Recycle Only
The Last of Us (PS3) - $8.58

Amazon.com; Total: $57.83 (Compared to $44.28 in March)

Assassin's Creed IV (Xbox One) - $19.66
Battlefield 4 (PS3) - $15.88
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) - $11.04
The Last of Us (PS3) - $11.25

Final Impressions

Best Buy

Pros:

  • The associates knew what they were talking about for the most part
  • Trade-in values were generally higher than those being offered by any other retailer

Cons:

  • The company doesn't frequently update its system with new releases, so if you're looking to trade a game in immediately, there may be times where you'll have to wait a week or two to do so

GameStop

Pros:

  • Will get you in and out in the shortest amount of time
  • Most amount of knowledge

Cons:

  • Trade values are not as high as Best Buy or Walmart on many occasions
  • More pressure to pre-order upcoming games than other stores

Walmart

Pros:

  • Competitive trade-in values
  • Walmart gift cards, which are given for trades, can be used for anything found in a Walmart or Sam's Club, making the trade-in amounts more valuable to many

Cons:

  • Lacks in efficiency

Target

Pros:

  • Target gift cards, which are given for trades, can be used for anything found in Target stores, making the trade-in amounts more valuable for many

Cons:

  • Slower than either Best Buy or GameStop
  • Values were middle-of-the-road
  • Games available to trade were extremely inconsistent
  • Trade-ins are processed through the Mobile department, which did nothing but hinder the experience greatly (experiences include: finding out Target's Mobile department has different hours than the store itself, the Mobile employee was on break, or the games weren't in the trade-in system)

Amazon

Pros:

  • Does a good job of remaining competitive with its trade-in values

Cons:

  • Can take up to a week to receive trade-in credit in your account
  • Values are not as high as the prices that games are going for through third-party sales (selling the game on Amazon's Seller Marketplace appears to be the better option)

Of course, there's one missing element from this experiment: non-chain game stores. Whether you're talking The Exchange in Pittsburgh, 8-Bit and Up in Manhattan, or Game Over Video Games in Austin, many locally-based "mom & pop" shops offer higher values and a more customizable experience than any of the chains are able to do.

The key to getting the best overall experience is to shop around and find out which shop can meet your needs the best, while keeping your eyes open for promotions at the other stores.


Where do you choose to trade your games? Do you go with any of the industry giants or do you stick with a local favorite? Give us your recommendations and share your stories in the comments.

Brian Shea is the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of VideoGameWriters.com, a freelance writer for multiple major publications, and an awful joke teller on Twitter.