Tuesday, January 11, 2011

GameFly - Is It Worth It?

For those unfamiliar with GameFly, the quick-and-dirty way to describe it is Netflix For Video Games. You pay a monthly fee to rent games through the mail - $15.99 to have one game out at any given time, and I believe it's around $22 to have two out at once.

Unfortunately, a lot of times it feels like GameFly isn't enough like Netflix. GameFly's games aren't as readily available as Netflix's DVDs. Each game has an Availability rating and games that are too new, too old, or too popular tend to have lower ratings. You can wait weeks for games to come. For something with a rating of Low or Very Low there's no telling how long you'll wait.

When I bitched about this to a friend he suggested I keep few games in my queue. Upon first signing up for GameFly my instinct had been to use it just like Netflix. I went through the list of games and clicked "Rent" for any XBox or XBox 360 game that looked even remotely interesting and, like I do with Netflix, set up the list in order of my preference. The problem is if GameFly needs to send you a game, they don't wait until the games you want the most become available. If the first 9 games in your queue aren't available, and the 10th one is, they send you #10. My friend advised me to put nothing but the precise games I wanted in my queue, to even go so far as keeping only one game at a time in my queue, because that way GameFly would be forced to send me one specific game.

And he was right, but the downside to manipulating your queue like that is the wait to get any game at all. For example, when I badly wanted to try Final Fantasy XIII, I took my friend's advice and cleared my queue of everything but Final Fantasy XIII. I got the game, but it took two weeks for GameFly to send it. That's half a month. That's $8 flushed down the toilet.

But at the same time, I saved myself $60, because at the end of that 2 week wait, I learned that I really, really hated Final Fantasy XIII. If I hadn't rented Final Fantasy, I would've bought it. I can't say that about most games. I've only paid full price for a new XBox 360 game once (Batman: Arkham Asylum, and it was worth ever penny). Even for games I'm eager to play I will usually wait until the price at least shrinks to $20 or $30, but I love the Final Fantasy franchise and was ready to hand over the cash if I couldn't try it on GameFly.

I also question whether it's so bad if GameFly sends me stuff further down the queue. Sure, more often than not when I get the bottom-of-queue games they're not very good, but occasionally I do find gems. In fact, in my list of the top 10 XBox games I played in my first year with the XBox, I mentioned Red Faction: Guerrilla. I'd heard nothing about it and put it in my queue in a very what-the-hell urge. It was maybe 2 or 3 spots away from the bottom of my queue when GameFly sent it.

So, I'm going to decide this year whether or not GameFly is worth it. I'm going to fill up my GameFly queue and order it in list of my preference, just as I would with Netflix. I'm going to keep track of exactly when I mail games out, when I receive new ones, and how far down the queue the games are when GameFly sends them to me. I'm also going to keep track of what games I buy and what games I would have bought if I hadn't been able to rent them from GameFly. And since this is a blog mainly for reviews, I'll review the games as I get them.

The feature will be called Year of the GameFly.

To be clear, I'm not critiquing GameFly's service (at least not yet). First of all, it isn't entirely fair to compare it to Netflix. It's my understanding that GameFly is one of at least a few other video game rent-through-the-mail services, and the others don't have their games available any quicker. Second of all, whatever my eventual decision is about GameFly, saying whether or not GameFly is worth it for me is not the same as saying it's worth it for everyone. For example, I'm not a hardcore gamer. The kind of gamer who brags about how quickly he/she beats games is probably going to get more out of GameFly than I am, simply because he/she is going to tear through the titles more quickly.

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