Plus Alpha: Zen and the Art of (Affordable) Gaming

Plus Alpha is a weekly column that explores life in Japan from the perspective of American expatriate and game-industry veteran Jarik Sikat. Having worked in numerous areas of the game industry since 1994, Sikat relocated to Japan in 2010. 

My journey on the road to enlightenment began on April 1, 2010 – April Fools’ Day. Exactly one month later, I’d be moving to Japan for what I hoped would be for good. Despite living out of a 300-square-foot studio apartment, I still managed to accumulate a great deal of “stuff;” my car, a ukulele, my surfboard, a G4 folding “gamer chair,” action figures, and of course my entire collection of videogames. Considering outrageous shipping costs and airline excess baggage fees, not to mention the size of my new apartment, there was no way I could possibly bring it all with me. 

Several months beforehand, I started this whole Zen Buddhist kick. For better or worse, I decided to use this moving experience as one big exercise in detachment. Thanks to craigslist, the car, ukulele, CDs, DVDs and a 42” HDTV were all purged and sold. Though I’d be taking a snowboard, my surfboard was left in the custody of a friend. So what about all those games? 

All the games I ever owned were sold.

Obscure PSOne imports like The Bombing Islands and Tondemo Crisis, my favorite PS2 games (including Fatal Frame 2 and Romance of the Three Kingdoms X), a Bandai Wonderswan handheld, a PSP, plus all of my PS2, PS3 and 360 games… sold. Well, not everything. Uncharted 2, Shaun White Snowboarding, Railfan (a train driving simulator), and a Nintendo DS lite made the trip.

Faced with the reality of a tight budget and hardly any games to play, I went on a PlayStation Store demo-download binge. My football season consisted of the Colts playing the Jets every week, and Pacquiao’s only rival was Miguel Cotto. I did purchase a few games, like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, but was banned from playing when I smashed a controller and inadvertently taught the upstairs neighbors new ways to use the f-bomb in an impromptu late-night English class.

Why not just buy games in Japan, like everyone else?

At Costco, I picked up Demon’s Souls for 3,800 yen (about US$50 at the time) and that was the reduced price for a “the Best” game, Sony Japan’s equivalent of a “Greatest Hits” title. Newer releases such as Final Fantasy XIII-2 would set me back 7,280 yen (US$100), and I don’t want to eat cup ramen every day. After I began freelancing for PlayStation: The Official Magazine, I had some extra cash, but with the yen at an all-time high, new games were still pretty much out of the question. So began the next stage of enlightenment: acceptance of the pre-owned.

I once worked for a game publisher that vilified pre-owned games, but Michael Jordan owns the Charlotte Bobcats now, and it’s an entirely different story. 

If you’re visiting Japan and searching for games, you’ll most likely head to Akihabara. At some of the larger electronics stores, like Labi in Shibuya, you’ll also find a selection of used games. In my case, closer to home there are a few game resellers, but prices can vary greatly.

Over at Get Game & Recycle, which had the widest selection of used releases ranging from 8-bit to current generation, Namco Bandai’s Tales of Xillia was 4,480 yen used (retail price: 8,379 yen). Battlefield 3 (PS3) was just 4,980 for a used copy. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3) was priced at 7,980 yen new, although even used, it’s still a little high at 6,780 (though selling a copy could fetch you 5,300 yen). Get Game & Recycle deals in buying and selling pre-owned games exclusively, but this location for some reason seems to do brisk business in used clothing, too.

The awesomely ever-present Book Off stores specialize in used media, ranging from manga and anime to game software and hardware, and of course books. Selection naturally varies by location. At one shop, Tales of Xillia was spotted for 4,980 yen. Battlefield 3 (360) was tagged at 5,950.

Tsutaya is a nationwide chain specializing in movie and music rentals; some locations actually rent manga as well. Their larger shops sell new movies, music and games among other items. The used game selection varies by store; at the Tsutaya closest to me, a pre-owned copy of Tales of Xillia was a bit steep at 6,480 yen.

To be honest, it’s really not that bad. I head out to game centers more often, and prior to this year’s Tokyo Game Show, I got six hours of hands on time with Final Fantasy XIII-2. Still, even with newer pre-owned titles approaching US$100, it’s best to wait to a few months for prices to come down. How does one cope?

Zen and detachment, grasshopper. Zen and detachment.

Jarik Sikat has worked in the videogame industry in areas ranging from localization and product development to public relations and marketing. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has appeared in PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine and Newtype USA.


  • darthelmet117 - November 29, 2011 4:43 p.m.

    This serries of articles are really intresting, kinda can't wait to learn more about japan next week.
  • CancerMan - November 29, 2011 4:46 p.m.

    In that case, I'm glad I live in the US. Game prices are sky high everywhere else.
  • D0CCON - November 29, 2011 5:45 p.m.

    Yeah, $60 stops sounding bad all of a sudden.
  • wingsdjy - November 30, 2011 9:23 a.m.

    I wonder how salaries compare between the US and Japan. If they're higher in Japan, I could see the cost of goods being higher as well.
  • AxiamWolfe - November 30, 2011 5:14 p.m.

    Not everywhere. In Singapore, game prices are the same as the US, except in our dollars. So we only pay about 80% of the US price here. And that's for new games.
  • mad2man - November 29, 2011 5:43 p.m.

    Are those prices before or after tax?
  • Yaro - November 29, 2011 8:02 p.m.

    Well, it's pretty much the same in Eastern Europe (Czech Republic). New games on consoles are usually around 1600 CZK (80 bucks) and the more obscure shops got it for 1300 CZK (67 bucks), one of the reasons I never bought Shadows of the STILL costs 80 bucks everywhere in industry is so backwards in the eastern bloc... I hate you so much when you complain about 40 dollar and 60 dollar price tags you americans..... =)
  • CancerMan - November 29, 2011 8:46 p.m.

    Hehe, SotD is currently $36 over here and I'm still waiting for it to go lower.
  • Siion - November 29, 2011 8:46 p.m.

    Interesting article, thanks.
  • lancevance821 - November 30, 2011 3:45 a.m.

    I want that tales game on my ps3 Now. Please come to north america soon.
  • pr0tostar - November 30, 2011 9 a.m.

    "did purchase a few games, like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, but was banned from playing when I smashed a controller and inadvertently taught the upstairs neighbors new ways to use the f-bomb in an impromptu late-night English class." ...congratulations on becoming my new favorite GR columnist, Jarik. I remember reading a chapter very similar to this article in a book about foreigner life in Japan. Despite being the epicenter of the electronic entertainment industry, home console games are regarded as far more of a luxury there. Like you said, this brings more attention to game centers (and pachi-parlors!) Look at the U.S, arcades here are just a sweet memory of the 20th century now...(I still make the super-occasional 30mi trip to Arcade Infinity in CA, just to play Bemani games lol.) But from an economical perspective, it's working out for Japan the way microtransactions are boosting the online gaming scene. All the while the youth are being encouraged to spend in moderation and do more things with their life than hole up in their rooms and disrespect one another online. But on the other hand, that's Japan. For a foreign gamer committing to life there, it's a sacrifice! As a fellow Buddhist, I admire your perception on material detachment to fulfill your life. When I first read over that I was like "DUDE! I should do that!" But right now I have to many obligations to simply reshape my material life into a new path. Looking forward to your next +α! またね!
  • Craza - December 1, 2011 3:40 p.m.

    My fiance lives in Australia and he tells me how much he spends for games and hardware there. I thought $50 for a PC game was a lot, then he told me he would spend $100-120. On sale, it's about the same price I would pay for something not on sale. He pays tons more for video cards and any other PC parts. And when I was looking to buy a new laptop, he would find the same exact one at a shop in Aus for almost twice as much. He always wants to buy me games off of Steam, but since he has to pay so much, I tell him not to since I could buy them for half the amount (Not that I could afford them anyway, haha). But anyways, it's why we both love Steam so much. 90% of the time, when something is on sale, it's the same price for both of us. There have been some occasions where a really popular game is still twice as much to buy there as it is here, but for the most part, they're roughly the same. It's the same with anime. In Japan and Aus, it's ridiculously expensive, whereas here, it's actually pretty damn cheap. Even though we gripe about how much it might cost, we pay waaaay less than a lot of countries.

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