Velvet Assassin: Bargain Bin

  By Shamus   Aug 24, 2009   49 comments

Remember the time I picked up STALKER for $3.75? Well, here is a nice birthday present:

velvet_price.jpg

Velvet Assassin for $6.24. I picked it up at the same Target where I got STALKER. Hmmm. This is starting to look fishy.

I’m starting to wonder what is going on here. Have I stumbled on some sort of low-level scam? Similarities:

  1. In both cases it was a “new-ish” game. Everywhere else it was still selling for full price, or perhaps had $10 knocked off. Yet here I find it for some ridiculously low price, lower than even bargain-bin shovelware that’s been on the shelves for years. More importantly, I think this is well below the turn-in value offered by GameStop. (Although GameStop doesn’t take PC games in trade.)
  2. Three mark-down stickers.
  3. The game is placed in some odd location. STALKER was several aisles away, mixed in with headphones and such. Velvet Assassin was mixed in with the crappy kids titles.
  4. PC Titles.
  5. The price is screwy. It’s $3.75 instead of $3.99. $6.24 instead of $6.99. Retailers don’t usually price things this way. I was able to peel back the stickers and see the previous prices were $1X.X6 (slightly unreadable) and $34.98.

I’m wondering if an employee has some sort of scam going where they will “accidentally” mark something way, way down. Then they place it in an out-of-the-way spot where it’s unlikely to be noticed by a real gamer shopping for games. Later, an accomplice comes in and buys the game. The delay would make it hard to link the rogue markdowns to a specific employee.

Perhaps the scammer will peel off the discount stickers and return the game unopened (perhaps even to another store) for full price. (Which would likely be in store credit, but still.) Or maybe they just keep it.

Or maybe it’s all just a harmless mistake.

Or maybe Target once in a while decides to get rid of a game in a hurry, and marks it down to next to nothing. Strange.

I hadn’t really planned on getting this one. Good stealth gameplay is really fun, but bad stealth gameplay is agony. Having graduated from the Thief University of Knocking People on the Head, I have really high standards for that sort of gameplay. I don’t mind playing the “so bad it’s funny” game once in a while for the sake of a comic, but I was worried this would fall into the “so bad it’s joyless and aggravating”.

I guess we’ll find out. I have to finish up my AI series first. Then the series on The Path. Then the series on procedural stuff.

20209Feeling chatty? There are 49 comments.


  1. Hipparchus says:

    Interseting. Perhaps they are just trying to get rid of the games so they can put new ones on shelves, so they price them cheap so they go fast. Your theory is more intersting though.

  2. UtopiaV1 says:

    Nice conspiracy theory there. Guess you’ve seen Yhatzee’s review on VA? Well, what’s good enough for the goose is good for the gander… or however the saying goes.

    One stealth game that seems to have passed everyone by was Dark Messiah. Whatever happened to that, no-one but me and a few friends got round to playing it. Excellent game, very fun when doing it all creepy-creepy, plus the best first-person hand-to-hand combat I’ve ever seen, and I am counting Mount & Blade and Oblivion here…

  3. MintSkittle says:

    I think you might be right about it being a shiesty worker trying to pick up a game on the sly. It is strange though that the price doesn’t end in 95, 98, or 99.

  4. Tesh says:

    It’s easy enough to wind up with non .99 prices if you’re marking down by percentages.

  5. cfort9 says:

    Usually when you see a non $X.99 price, it means the store (generally large, sophisticated retailers) are using dynamic pricing based off of data-diving the demand for specific locations.

    In English: your store just sold that game to you for (possibly) less than 0% margin because their model told them it was costing more to keep it on the shelf than to sell it at a loss, and further told them that $6.24 is the price your particular store’s customer base would need to be tempted to buy.

    This happens all the time in other goods… you’re probably just not used to seeing it in video games.

  6. Randy Johnson says:

    As a Wal-Mart Asset Protection Associate I can assure you that this is most likely the Department Manager marking these games down to return to another store, accomplice plausible, but unneccisary as its incredible easy for them to pull these off. The first job I recieved with wal-mart was busting up a ring of people doing this with cameras.

  7. Vyolynce says:

    Did it ring in at the marked price? That kind of computer access is beyond most floor associates’ grasp.

  8. will coleda says:

    http://consumerist.com/consumer/target/target-price-drop-hack-226909.php

    suggests that if the price ends in 4 cents, it’s the lowest markdown you’re going to get

    Also, you’re paranoid. =-)

  9. Nyaz says:

    I actually found a collectors edition of Alone in the Dark for PC at a swedish store called “Ã…hlens” (doesn’t exist in any other country as far as I’m aware, they sell mostly clothes and then there’s a media section) for what would be the equivalent of 10 dollars.

    I almost bought it before I realized that Alone in the Dark is pretty crappy.

  10. Mythin says:

    My wife worked at Target for a while, they do markdowns based on percentage, so the odd numbers are completely normal. In the case of video games and being in an “odd location,” that’s also normal. They consolidate their clearance stuff based on the section it’s from. They also usually have a small PC section, so would be eager to clear up shelf space for a game that isn’t selling.

  11. Matt K says:

    I actually just picked up Henry Hatsworth and the local Target for a nice makedown. The price was $20 down to $14 and it rang up at $10 (so 50% off). So nice deal there I guess. I would imagine anything around $5 is pretty good for anything but absolutely unplayable games.

  12. Rutskarn says:

    You might want to consider talking to Target management about this, somehow. There might be a reasonable explanation, or they might want to keep an eye on this.

  13. Ell Jay says:

    If it’s something shady, take solace in the fact that you’re the one getting a good deal, plus you’re interfering with the scammer’s plans. And don’t be afraid to go fishing for discount games in some increasingly weird places…

  14. OddlucK says:

    I’ve found a couple games in the electronics clearance section of my local Target. Relatedly, Star Ocean: Second Evolution for PSP, which when I found it hadn’t been out for long, was down to maybe $10, if that much. Given the size of Target’s PSP section (even smaller than the PC section) and their habit of only keeping games on the shelves that have mass/”casual” appeal (read: mostly kiddie games and Halo/MaddenXX), I figure they just want to get these games out of the store and are willing to sell them at minimal/no profit.

    –OddlucK

  15. wildweasel says:

    Hmm, you’ve got quite the theory there – I’ve seen evidence of this myself as well. My copy of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory for PC came for the price of $3.89. The catch: it came with StarForce that I can’t work around. Argh.

    I’d investigate the copy protection on that, Shamus, because maybe Target is trying to get rid of the “badly protected” games. (Though EA games are curiously immune…)

  16. John Lopez says:

    A price like 6.24 can be explained easily by anyone who worked retail: many stores use the pennies to encode data about the sale. For example, our store used to encode commission % in the last pennies: X.99 was 5%, X.98 was 6% and so on.

    We also had codes like X.50 which was “no commission” which meant the item wouldn’t be touched with a ten foot pole by the floor reps: strictly pick it up and carry it out.

    Finally, we used to use things like X.37 for “below cost”, which was radioactive to sales reps.

    Obviously a store like Target is using them for something else (or simply applying percentages directly), but I suspect there is something encoded there.

  17. Alex says:

    I picked up Stalker for $5.00 or so at a Target a couple of months after its release.

    I think I’ll head over there today and see what amazing deals they have cooked up now.

  18. Peter H. Coffin says:

    $6.24 is $24.99 at a 75% discount. Seems pretty straightforward…

  19. Ergonomic Cat says:

    No one has yet mentioned that the money was still more than the game was worth.

    Toys r us uses the last digit for categorization too. When I was there last month, anything ending in 8 was am additional X percent off.

  20. Gary says:

    While not as awesome a deal as you got, I have seen similar deals at my Target too.

    I got the 3rd Tomb Raider(xbox360) for $15, when it was still going for $60 at the gamestop across the street. Needless to say, we snatched it up.

    (Also note: I know you have nothing but disgust for the Tomb Raider series. I was also in that same camp. I thought it was nothing more than an eye candy game for 15 yr old boys. Then I tried the second one on xbox360 and was quite impressed. It was FUN.)

  21. Heron says:

    I bought STALKER on Steam for $4.99 several months ago. My computer at the time couldn’t handle it, and it doesn’t work right in Windows 7, so I haven’t played it on my new computer… but from what I hear I’m not missing much.

    Steam has been very unhealthy for my wallet. I see games on sale for 75% and I have a very hard time resisting. As a result, I own the id collection (for example), but I haven’t played any of the games.

  22. Rick says:

    Target Clearance always ends in $xx.98 or $xx.48 or $xx.24. Each store is different for when prices drop (some will be full price while the Target 1 mile away has them 75% off). And they discounts usually go 30% off, 50% off, 75% off and then 85% (or 87.5%) off. They just slap another sticker on top. Your sticker appears to be marked (top right corner) as “85” or 85% off, but is actually 87.5% off which is usually what happens.

    Target Clearance has been great for allowing me to expand my video game collection for PS3 and PSP.

  23. Carra says:

    Seeing from the reviews, the game is probably not worth the $6.24.

    Setting that price might indeed just mean that they want to clear their inventory. Storing it in their magazines costs money too after all.

  24. Bobby Archer says:

    I’m currently working at a Target (in the fitting room, but the system’s essentially the same). As other people have pointed out, those stickers are clearance stickers (so Target is trying to get rid of the title). The teeny number in the upper right is the current percentage off, so you got it at 85% off, about as low as it’ll go.

    The clearance prices always end in an even number. The end number itself doesn’t seem to mean anything in particular, it’s just an easy way to see at a glance on a computer if an item is clearance.

    As for if someone’s purposefully manipulating the system to get games cheap, that’s pretty unlikely. Those clearance stickers aren’t filled out manually. The DPCI (DePartment, Class, Item) number above the price is typed into the system and it prints out the proper sticker. In theory, someone could print out a sticker for an item that had been marked down that far and put it on something else, but if the cashier scanned the barcode on the item, the correct price would come up anyway (and with that large a difference between actual price and sale price, they’d have to get a price check which would foil the whole thing).

    As for the “return it for full price” scam, that’s why Target requires the receipt (or, I believe, they can look the transaction up by the credit card used, but don’t quote me on that).

    And that’s it for “More Than You Needed to Know About Target Clearance”.

  25. droid says:

    I blame the Illuminati. If management knows about it, then it just shows how far this conspiracy goes. If you look into it further, remember to wear sunglasses and a black trench coat.

  26. Matt K says:

    @Bobby Archer, you can return items to Target w/o a receipt however they take down your Driver’s Licence info and you are limited to 2 returns per year. At least that’s what I was able to glean from a conversation ahead of me in line when I was making a return. Also I believe there was a price limit (i.e. no returns over $25 w/o a receipt).

    Also, a per what you said, I doubt it was a con since as you said, the store has the item in the system as discounted so even if you found a copy without the sticker it would ring up the discounted amount (as my Harry Hatsworth did or at leasts it rang uo less than the clearence sticker said).

    I’ve gotten some great deals on PSP title (some of which still go for significantly more than what I paid almost a year ago). I just regret not having a NDS at the time cause there were some great deals a while ago. Lately though the best I had been seeing was 35% off. But towards the holidays I hope to see the 75% sticker return.

  27. skizelo says:

    Wow. The criminal mind of Shamus Young. Seriously, it’s adorable how little it takes for you to formulate a rather-workable low-level scam.

  28. Tacoma says:

    What happens if the barcode is damaged but the price remains? Would the cashier call for a price check, or manually type in the price?

    Furthermore, if I walk into a store and they’re advertising Soylent Green for ten credits, then they try to charge me thirty credits for the same product, I think that may be illegal. Maybe depending on your state. I’m not really sure.

    Moot point for me. I play only free games. I was really careful about buying games, always reading good reviewers and checking out gameplay video. I haven’t played a game in the last decade that was worth a tenth what I paid for it, unless it was free.

  29. Jim says:

    Ever since you posted about getting STALKER for so cheap I’ve kept an eye open at the three Targets nearby. In that time I’ve picked up 5 or 6 games on clearance that were priced between 4 and 10 dollars.

    I believe I’ve gotten at least one from every store and they’ve all had multiple clearance stickers on them. And on consecutive trips I’ve even watched titles go from clearance priced in the mid-30s, to the low-20s and then sub-10.

    The only one I’ve gotten that seemed potentially dodgy was Far Cry 2. It was the only copy in the bin and it wasn’t even 2 months after release. But the self-serve price check, as well as the register up front displayed the same discounted price so it seemed legit.

  30. porschecm2 says:

    I frequently buy PC games at Target for rock bottom prices, often only months after the original release of the game. I don’t know why Target does this, but it seems to be a nation-wide policy, as I’ve encountered it in Targets in multiple states. It may have to do with sales of the game during the first few months or something, because some games go to clearance very quickly, and others never do. The majority of my recent game collection though is garnered from the Target clearance bin.

  31. Andrew says:

    I work at a Target, in the electronics department, and that was the correct markdown. To get those prices to print on those smaller stickers the markdown price has to be sent down from corporate. I don’t have a good reason for the markdowns except that when titles don’t move as fast as hoped I have seen markdowns within two weeks of a games release. Weird Huh!

  32. Rick says:

    The odd prices are a record-keeping device (I used to work at CompUSA corporate hq). Depending on the store, $x.98 is a discontinued product, etc. Also, stores have certain return agreements with distributors, and I imagine Target doesn’t have the pull that GameStop does, so it’s better to get $6 than nothing.

    Good find! I’m going to check it out at my local Target.

  33. Rick says:

    DUDE! Please share the code that gives a comment writer a 15 minute countdown. That freaking ROCKS!

  34. StingRay says:

    Target pretty clearly wants to keep their video game selection up to date (or at least constantly cycling). My local Targets have some ridiculous sales from time to time, but they don’t run into the issue of having ridiculously old games on the shelf. The Walmart I work at still has sports games from ’03 and ’04 (some for $50 or more, no less), as well as Gameboy Color games that were old back at the turn of the millennium.

  35. Bob says:

    @UtopiaV1

    Dark Messiah – Now that was a good game. Really enjoyed the single player. Pity the multiplayer was crap (Mind you at the time I got it I did not have a particularly good internet connection and so could not run it through steam even though all i wanted to access was the lan play)

    For those that don’t know you could install the single player version of DM without steam but you had to install steam to get the multiplayer bit. What they should have done was only insisted on steam for the internet multiplayer part and allowed the lan multiplayer to run without it (Its a pity Empire: total war did not adopt this approach too)

  36. Bob says:

    @Shamus – I read somehwhere that Velvet Assassin is a steam drm infected game and that it does not tell you this up font on the box. Is this true with your copy?

  37. UtopiaV1 says:

    @Bob

    Ooo, drm on a steam game? The conspiracy thickens!!! I’ve always hated steam, the way it forces itself on every time you want to play a game and then slows whatever it is right down, bloody cpu hog. My friends love it because they can buy games cheap without ever leaving the house, which is good (because they’re lazy), but here’s a question…

    What happens if the steam servers go down, permanently? All those games you bought on steam, with no physical disk or receipt to go with them, what happens to them? You have the game stored on your pc, but with no way to ever play them again… now that’s evil!

  38. David says:

    I had something similar happen at a bookstore last month. The book was Bones of the Dragon by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (the authors of the original Dragonlance books). It was really new (just published this spring), yet for some reason, it was located on a bargain table with older books and priced at $5.

  39. Sander says:

    @UtopiaV1:

    I wouldn’t call that evil, as Valve has shown no signs of ever planning to discontinue support. And it’s quite possible that if they were going to close the system ever, they’d at least offer some way to download the games for the last time, without being forced to connect to Steam in the future.
    But yes, it’s simply a risk of using a service like this. If you don’t like it, there’s really very little reason to use it.
    Valve’s games may require Steam, but there are ways around that as well.

    Then again, disks get scratched and degrade over time(yes, CDs do that over time). Such a shame when I tried to play Baldur’s Gate and Fallout 2 a while back, only to find out that the discs had degraded beyond use.

  40. LintMan says:

    Could those cheap games possibly be customer returns? Marked down because they are returns, and then put back on the wrong shelves by a lazy employee?

  41. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Also, Steam has a play offline mode.

    And it’s not like they’re hiding it.

    Plus, there are comment threads on that particular issue ad nauseum, even on this very site with much more info.

  42. Tom says:

    Am I the only one to be utterly appalled by the apparently common practice of cramming more than just the sale value of an item into the price like it’s some kind of bastardised complex number? That’s insane! Why do they do it? Is nobody competent enough to write a program to print separate codes or emblems on the label?

  43. UtopiaV1 says:

    @Sander, a badly treated disc is still supposed to last 50 years, minimum, with a well kept one going on for 200-300 years. I doubt we’ll still be using discs by then, much less playing the games on them. Any discs that are currently unplayable simply reflect poorly on the owner. Do not mean to offend, it’s just the facts are against you.

    And yes, Valve will never EVER show signs of closing up steam etc, because that will cause panic and downward sales, so when (more likely if) Valve goes under, it will be sudden. No forewarning to save your games elsewhere, no offers of refunds for lost property, they will simply vanish with your money, and you’ll be left to learn from your mistakes. People make games to make money (yes, even our beloved Valve), when push comes to shove, and when money is going to be lost and negative publicity gained, they will forfeit their shares, take the cash and run. Thus ends Business School 101.

    Btw, out of curiosity, what are these Steam work-arounds you speak of? I would very much like to get hold of one, seeing as though I am too paranoid to trust anyone!!!

    EDIT: Oh yea, offline mode, forgot about that… Ignore me, all hail Valve and their CPU-hogging hack-ware!!! (For the record I really do love half-life and counter strike etc, it’s just my PC isn’t great and steam does my head in…)

  44. Bobby Archer says:

    @LintMan: The sticker for a rewrap or a return is different, that sticker denotes a clearance item. Target’s trying to get it off the shelves to make room for other stuff, so it’s getting heavily marked down.

    Btw, on a whim, I checked the DPCI out at work, apparently my store has Velvet Assassin marked down 75%. Of course, we’re a busy store in Chicago, so a difference in markdown isn’t surprising.

  45. MadTinkerer says:

    I just grabbed the Patapon 2 “empty box” for PSP for just $9.98! Target must like giving discounts.

  46. Bryan says:

    Target’s clearance games never end in 99. If it was a shady employee putting those stickers on, the game wouldn’t ring up at $6.24, it’d ring up at its normal price still. Unless you had to get someone to override the price, nothing shady was happening.

  47. THOR says:

    Granted it’s not Target, but this FAIL BLOG post (http://failblog.org/2009/09/27/pricing-fail-2/) reminded me of your finds.

  48. StoutYeoman says:

    It looks like you bought these games at Target. I used to work at Target long ago, and this is how they put items on clearance. Usually, they have a team of 2 or 3 middle aged ladies who go around the store changing the prices on things. All the time. When an item does not sell over a period of time, it is flagged as clearance. It is marked down 25%. If it STILL doesn’t sell, it goes to 50% and if it STILL doesn’t sell, down to 75%. If it doesn’t sell after that it gets shipped off to a charity. The weird pricing points are par for the course, it has something to do with identifying clearance items at a glance.
    Target is not really connected to the video game market, so it’s not unreasonable that you would find unlikely prices there.

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