ExtremeTech picks: the best gaming gift cards

So you want to give a gift card to a gamer. How do you know which gift card is the best one to get for your giftee? Whether you’re considering a present well in advance or standing in Best Buy scratching your head, ExtremeTech is here to cut through the confusion. We’ll start with general-purpose gift cards that can be used across platforms, and then discuss options for specific platforms and games.

Chances are very good that your lucky giftee’s favorite game is part of a gaming ecosystem that accepts VISA or MasterCard in exchange for game time, DLC, characters, skins or other such content. If you don’t know what game or platform they particularly love, or if all you have is that they’re a “gamer,” you can always grab an Amazon or Best Buy gift card — and they come in physical and digital forms.

Now, here are some more specific options.

Halo 5

Halo 5 on the Xbox One

Console gaming

There’s nothing quite like the feel of a controller in your hands, and whether you’re a PlayStation purist or the type who has one of every console since the Atari 2600, the appeal just never seems to fade. So get your giftee something that will definitely work. Xbox, PlayStation Store, or Nintendo eShop gift cards are the official options for their respective systems, supported by their customer service departments. Especially useful for kids, when you don’t necessarily want them having access to a credit card number to make in-game purchases.

Mobile gaming

For those who love to game on their phone or tablet, you can pick up a Google Play gift card if your giftee is an Android user, or an Apple iTunes gift card for those who have iOS devices. These gift cards cover the purchase of apps as well as in-app purchases.

Steam

If your giftee plays a lot of Half-Life, Don’t Starve, Terraria, or Skyrim, they might love it if you threw some bucks in their Steam wallet. Steam is the dominant digital platform through which PC gamers can buy and play games and their DLC, as well as the point-of-access for all Valve-developed software. In the Steam marketplace, you can make purchases that draw from your Steam wallet, or you can also just pay for things using your VISA or MasterCard at the point of purchase. To reload someone else’s Steam wallet, you can give them a physical Steam gift card. Or, if you’re friends with them on Steam, you can top up their wallet from within the client by entering their username.

Blizzard

Blizzard games are handled by the Blizzard store, from which you can pay for monthly access to Hearthstone, Overwatch, Starcraft, World of Warcraft and others, along with their skins, DLC, pets, mounts and whatnot. It used to be Battle.net, but Blizzard recently rebranded and dropped that label. Even so, some secondary retailers like Amazon are still calling the gift cards Battle.net gift cards.

WoW is unique in that you can redeem time spent in gameplay toward more gameplay, even though you have to pay for a subscription to play. How? Gold earned by a player in-game can be redeemed for tokens. The exact price of tokens varies depending on how many are currently available and how robust trading as been in the recent past. Blizzard hasn’t formally divulged the formula they use for adjusting token price. Those tokens can in turn be redeemed in the Blizzard store for a certain number of days of WoW gameplay.

League of Legends

League is free to play. You can level up the whole way, unlock every champion, and even play in the ranked division, all for $ 0. But if you want to make your pixels extra pretty, players can pay with real dollars for Riot points (RP) to buy skins for their champions.

Splash art for the Project: Ashe skin, one of the very pretty sets of pixels you can buy in League of Legends with RP. Image: Riot

You can get League of Legends gift cards at Amazon, and redeem cards and codes in the store, accessible through the client. Right now you get between 5 and 10% bonus RP for buying or gifting RP directly from Riot within the client, so that method is still the best value as of spring 2017; this is the only time I found a meaningful difference in redemption value between buying a code directly and buying a card from a retailer.

League also accepts a range of gift cards from other retailers, although at discounted value, through their participation in a program called Openbucks. This means you can redeem gift cards from Subway, CVS and the Dollar General for RP in League. While it may seem strange to mention Gaia Online in the same sentence as League and Star Trek Online, they’ve all participated in this network of fungible gift cards.

Minecraft

There are a few different ways to play Minecraft — locally, in a world you do or don’t share with other humans, or on a multiplayer server called a Realm. To play Minecraft, you need to buy the game; there are conveniently denominated “one Minecraft” gift cards for the $ 26.95 price. But you can also use those “one Minecraft” gift cards toward the monthly cost of the Realms you share with your friends.

Runescape

Who can forget Runescape? Gift cards for Jagex, the studio that published Runescape, can be had anywhere these other cards are sold.

What games did we miss? Let us know in the comments.

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