Appearances can be deceiving.
This is especially true on the internet, of course; there are plenty of decent-seeming people lurking in the network shadows who just as soon as you turn your back would prey upon your hard drive's contents in search of whatever it is - passwords, credit card numbers, videos you promised would go no further than you and your significant other, whatever - that would bring them a few bucks.
And yet here I am, conducting a magazine interview via instant messenger with a fellow whom I contacted via a forum private message because I don't have his real name, phone number or email address. Apparently, he's in Tokyo. We're chatting about a particular corner of cyberspace traversed by all manner of obscure screen names, where people post cryptic messages like "TRU 12/20 YMMV" and engage in various black-market transactions hidden from prying eyes, where appearances are deceiving in a very different way. Credit card theft? Stealing personal information? Software piracy? Nope. These guys form a gamer network that spans across the United States, working together in the name of - what else? - cheap games. Welcome to CheapAssGamer.com.
"Cheap Ass Gamer was inspired by [general bargain site] bensbargains.net," David Abrams tells me. "One of my friends used to keep emailing me deals that he found there and I got hooked." David, known as "CheapyD" to his fellow Cheap Ass Gamer ilk ("CAGs"), started Cheap Ass Gamer in May 2003 as a side project to his normal nine-to-five job. "The problem was, there wasn't enough videogame deals to satisfy me. And when there were videogame deals, they just got lumped in with everything else," he continues, "I found myself searching the online retailers for videogame deals and then decided to try and make my own website." Two and a half years later, David has moved to Tokyo with Mrs. CheapyD and made videogame bargain hunting his full time job.
But, if Cheap Ass Gamer's deal news page is the Bat-Signal for Cheap Ass Gamers, it is the forums that constitute its metaphorical Batcave. While CheapyD still finds his share of deals, and retailers will occasionally come to Cheap Ass Gamer to give him the inside scoop, the majority of deal news comes from the Cheap Ass Gamer bulletin boards, where a community of like-minded individuals congregate to form a network of cheap ass informants capable of locating videogame deals that even CheapyD himself couldn't find.
Deal information ranges from a simple heads-up on a local videogame store sale to a detailed list of clearance games leaked from anonymous retailer employees at national chains like Toys 'R' Us, Circuit City and Sam Goody. Their sources are impeccable. It's not an uncommon occurrence for CAGs to be sighted skulking the gaming aisles of their local Best Buy with a list of cheap ass games in hand or an obscene stack of games at the checkout aisle, of course. But neither is it uncommon for them to know exactly what games are on clearance for $9.99 before the employees themselves do.
Their methods are just as ruthless as their information is reliable, too; every trick in the book is used to make sure that they don't pay a penny more than they have to. A recent Target holiday catalog erroneously published the price of the Nintendo DS as a mere $99, $30 cheaper than the normal retail price. However, while the average Joe stomped angrily to the store manager's office to wave a printout of the mistaken advertisement in his or her face to varying degrees of success, savvy CAGs were found at Circuit City and Best Buy with the same Target ad in hand, requesting a price-match, and, in most cases, getting it.
While the average Internet-savvy gamer may have showed up at the December Toys 'R' Us clearance sale to pick up Resident Evil 4 for $10, CAGs were there two days before the sale to pick up all the items that were to be marked for clearance, and returned during normal sale days to get the price difference refunded, allowing them to snag the titles they wanted at the prices they wanted without having to deal with the sale-day rush.