After I became a father my priorities changed dramatically. I couldn’t waste an entire Saturday playing a game, or stay up late yelling at people online, but worst was that I couldn’t justify spending hundreds of dollars every month just to play the games I wanted to play. Then when my second child arrived money was even tighter, and I had less time than ever. I learned that if I wanted to game I had to do it smarter, cheaper, and with more constraints.
The hardest lesson for me was gaming cheap. I decided to write up this guide to help anyone else who might be facing a tighter budget but doesn’t want to give up gaming.
(Note: This guide is aimed at people who want to play new or recent games, I understand that if you wait several years you can get many games for practically nothing but I don’t want to wait that long.)
Console VS PC
One of the first lessons you should learn is that consoles are your enemy when it comes to budgeting. Consoles are typically sold cheaper than they cost to manufacture, this cost is offset later by sales of games where the system gets a cut of every game sold. This means that if you are starting out with no gaming systems at all then the cheapest way to get started will be to buy a console rather than build a full gaming PC. If you were to go out and build your own gaming PC right now (which is the cheapest way) the minimum you would need to spend to have a solid gaming system is around $500 to $600 dollars. You could go cheaper, but then you risk needing to upgrade sooner and spending more money.
So when you compare the cost of building your own system, or buying a console, the clear winner is the consoles. But just like buying a cell phone, the upfront price is nothing compared to the long term cost. Let’s say that you buy a Xbox today, you could go to Amazon and buy a new system for $299 (there is the 4GB model, but considering that you would need to get more space on it somehow I don’t consider this a viable option for any gaming console) you still need to buy games, and then you have to spend money on Xbox live. The cost of an average game on any console is $60 for a new game, and then it drops as time goes on. There are people who buy used games, but with more and more games needing online activation codes that need to be purchased separately for used games the market is getting worse and worse.
PC games are sold for the same (or close to it) price typically, but the prices drop dramatically for games that are only a few weeks old. Tomb Raider is a great example of this. On the page I linked is the Xbox, PS3, and PC version. While the Consoles are still selling for $45, the PC version is selling for $35. The market is always fluctuating, but the trend is that PC games are usually the cheaper way to go.
I am sure that there are plenty of people that game on a budget using Consoles, but I don’t see how you can do it and play games within a reasonable amount of time. So to me PC is the best way to go.
With the average price of the bigger games reaching $60 new, buying a new game can be a huge investment for some people. Consider if you had paid full price for the latest Aliens game only to find out that your money was wasted on a terrible game that now had little to no resale value. That’s why sometimes indie games are a much better investment. Typical indie games can range from a couple of dollars, to as high as $30. Most of the games I play fall right around $10 to $15 and I couldn’t be happier. For the price of one big studio game, I can usually buy 4 to 6 indie games. Even if I don’t love all of them, I still consider that a better value, and the chances are that I will really enjoy all of them, and get just as much game time from them as any bigger game.
The games are usually better too. They may not have the production value and big budget graphics, but what you get is exactly what the developer was trying to make, not what some marketing person said would sell well. I played Faster Than Light for upwards of twenty hours last fall, and loved every second of it, around the same time I bought Diablo 3. I played Diablo for over twenty hours as well, but I had a few issues with the game and ultimately it fell short of my expectations. When you consider that I payed $60 for Diablo and only $15 for FTL, I consider FTL to be a much better value.
Free to Play
The console market has just started dipping its toes into the “Free to Play” market, but the PC is already swimming around in the deep end of the pool. Games like League of Legends, and Team Fortress 2 have sucked up hundreds of hours of my time, and both are available to anyone for absolutely free. Word around the internet is that the next generation of consoles may try to get more free to play games, but they still don’t treat it like a viable option for making money. Even MMO’s have started to move towards the Free to play model, and they are notorious time wasters.
If you are looking to play games but need to spend less money, the best answer right now is to game on a PC. Websites like Humble Bundle let you pay what you want for a load of games, and with Steam sales dropping the price of games to outrageous lows you couldn’t be better off. When you throw in the amazing free to play games that are out, and the ease of finding a computer to use, it’s no contest. Oh and don’t forget that if you want to play console games you are going to need to start saving for the next generation now.
If you have anything I missed, or think I got wrong, leave me a comment below!