Cyber Monday Gaming Deals Demystified

Cyber Monday Sales

To paraphrase Stan Lee, with great Cyber Monday online and retail game deals comes great responsibility not to rubber stamp them. That said, the pressure's on, especially after a report from the National Retail Federation suggested US consumers spent significantly less at the outset of the holiday season this weekend than over the same period last year.

If you're not already shopped out, here's a glance at what the majors are up to in their effort to tease your wallets (and hearts, and minds) open for the season's second-most-important 24-hour shopping cycle.

(Be sure to check out Ian Paul's general Cyber Monday tech guide for a few more game-related deals.)

Wal-Mart

Calling their online specials "unbelievable," Wal-Mart lists a Nintendo Wii Value Bundle, which 'includes console, Wii Sports, extra controllers, your choice of games & more' for 'just $249'. The Wii by itself sells for $199 with one remote and Wii Sports (which I've long since stopped thinking of as a bundle game, since you can't buy it standalone). Click "shop now" from the specials page, however, and you'll see the usual disclaimers about the final price depending on options and base price being subject to availability. I can't speak to availability (the site claims "in stock" at the moment) but concerning the bundle itself, you'll have to choose a pink third-party Wii remote and either a fairly old or obscure Wii game to keep the price locked at $249. Opt for the alternatives like "Wii Play with BONUS Remote Wii" or component cables for a high-definition TV and you'll add significant dollars to the final tally. As usual, Wal-Mart hides the price total at the bottom, so you can't see what's a cost-bumper without making a selection, then scrolling to the bottom to see if anything changed and by how much.

Value: B-
Transparency: C-

Target

Employing fewer superlatives and a more elegant web approach, Target's chosen to focus on handheld bundles, offering various color versions of Nintendo's DSi with usability accessories for $187 a pop. You'll have to buy your own games, of course, but if you're the sort that likes to load up on extras, the bundle adds a silver guard case, car charger, and ear bud headphones to the base system, which usually sells for $169.99. It's hard to say whose case, charger, and ear buds they've included, but assuming they're all entry-level, you'd be looking at average standalone prices of $20 for the DSi car charger, $10 for ear buds, and about $15 for the guard case, or $45 total. In all, that adds up to $28 markdown here--even better than Target's claimed $17.99 in savings. All that's missing? Item breakouts, to let us double-check the OEMs to make sure the selected charger, case, and ear buds pass muster.

Value: B+
Transparency: B

GameStop

The largest storefront games retailer in the (known) universe is running a series of across-the-board discounts today, so you'll want to poke around their official Cyber Monday site to see if anything catches your eye. Grab a free $25 gift card if you buy Band Hero, DJ Hero, Tony Hawk Ride, or pre-order The Bourne Conspiracy. Take $15-$30 discounts on select console, handheld, and PC games. Get $20 off LittleBigPlanet "Game of the Year Edition" for PS3. Enjoy 50% off downloadable PC games (mostly oldies, but nonetheless first-class). And probably the best deal of all: "Today only, save $20 on the Xbox 360 or PS3 version of Tekken 6." Nothing fancy, then, just straightforward dealmaking across a broad range of software.

Value: B+
Transparency: B+

Amazon

Amazon's Cyber Monday deals are understandably all over the place, so you'll have to dig and sort of hope something comes up that trips your trigger, but it's all laid out sans smoke and mirrors (and minimal overblown rhetoric). Amazon's running something called "lightning deals" that launch every couple hours or so, then tick along on a timer until either the total of a given product on offer are claimed, or the clock runs out. At the time I was typing this, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was selling for as much as 50% off (both Xbox 360 and PS3 versions), while upcoming "mystery" deals included "Join John, Paul, George and Ringo are back in this Xbox 360 hit," and "Join Snake on his final mission." The rest of the deals are hit and miss, depending on your tastes--no jaw-dropping hardware deals to report, though the site laudably allows you to organize deals in platform-based categories.

Value: B
Transparency: A

Toys "R" Us

Opting for general rather than standout discounts, Toys "R" Us's Cyber Monday specials include 50% off any Wii game when you buy New Super Mario Bros. Wii for $49.99, $30 savings on Band Hero and DJ Hero Turntable video game bundles, and free shipping on games like Halo 3: ODST for Xbox 360 or Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story for Nintendo DS. There's nothing really mind-bending here, unless you're explicitly after one of those three deals, or looking to consolidate a shopping plan that includes other non-gaming toy-related items.

Value: C+
Transparency: B+

Impulse

If it's Windows-based games you're after, Impulse is arguably the most consumer-friendly digital storefront in existence. It couples an elegant interface to forward-looking policies that include zero digital-rights management, no activation limits, and--unlike other services like Valve's Steam--no need to log into and run a cumbersome shell-interface to access your games. Impulse's Cyber Monday deals include discounts of over 50% on 32 titles, including Warlords Battlecry III (from $14.99 to $9.99), Elven Legacy (from $29.99 to $14.99), and Nemesis of the Roman Empire (from $14.99 to $9.99). If you haven't given Impulse a try--even if none of the deals appeals to you--you might want to give them a look anyway, if only because the policies mentioned above offer an unsung (if quantifiably subjective) "total cost of ownership" value.

Value: B+
Transparency: A+

GamersGate

GamersGate isn't universally DRM-free, but they're second best when it comes to consumer-friendliness, allowing you to download games as standalone packages, then run them independently without launching a special client. Their Cyber Monday deals include discounts on older games like Battlefield 2 Complete Collection (from $29.95 to $23.95) and Civilization IV Complete Edition (from $39.95 to $23.97) as well as recent majors like Dragon Age Origins (from $49.95 to $39.95) and Hearts of Iron 3 (from $29.95 to $11.98).

Value: A
Transparency: A+

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