The 5-Step Guide to Gaming on a Budget

Paying real money for better guns in Dead Space 3? Buried under mountains of high-priced DLC? And all these new systems around the corner tempting us to go weeks without groceries? No thanks, I have better plans. When the almighty dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to, it’s time to get creative when considering how we spend it. Inspired by a tightfisted college budget, I have created the following five-step guide to getting the most out of our potentially expensive hobby without breaking the bank.

TERA Free-To-Play

Soon to be free, like everything else.

Free-to-Play Is Your Friend

What used to be a signpost indicating either an MMORPG on its deathbed or a particularly terrible one you wouldn’t want to play in the first place has now expanded to the point of becoming a natural norm. New MMOs fail to last long when demanding monthly subscription fees. The Secret World, TERA, and Star Wars: The Old Republic went less than a year after their initial releases before adopting a free-to-play model. Hell, even World of Warcraft itself now incorporates an entirely free option up to level 20. There are more avenues available than that grindy gametype, too. Recent shooters like Blacklight Retribution and Planetside 2 continue the free-to-play revolution within the FPS framework. Oh, and a little something by the name of League of Legends — also known as the most played PC game in the world — can be experienced and enjoyed without spending a cent. No PC? No problem! This structure has invaded the console space as well. DC Universe Online and the ongoing Dust 514 open beta bring free-to-play to the PlayStation 3. Additionally, the October debut of Happy Wars became the Xbox 360’s first foray into this thriving age. Take advantage of what’s out there and you just might find that no-cost fun is essentially endless.

Beta Tests Are Everywhere

A landscape once reserved for the patient and bold willing to put up with the absolutely broken, beta test events have become little less than elaborate demos hiding behind a disclaimer that doesn’t allow anyone to complain as the game’s development is still in progress. As so many releases include online components — SimCity, for instance — nearly every title needs to stress test those servers to avoid a brutal backlash from a widespread launch day crash. Like free-to-play, beta tests have begun to branch out into the console market (see my mention of Dust 514 above).  Highly anticipated titles like The Elder Scrolls Online and God of War: Ascension are currently searching for able-bodied souls excited to partially experience these upcoming releases free of charge in exchange for some feedback, be it automatic in the background or direct via a follow-up survey or forum reporting. Further, Crysis 3 enters its multiplayer open beta phase on all platforms this Tuesday. Again, the new possibilities never end as more are added or exchanged as the months go by. Sign up, prowl for opportunities, and stop spending money. Speaking of which…

SimCity Beta

EA actually wants me to play its games for free? If you insist…

Never Buy New

EA will probably put a bounty on my head for this one, but I must profess this good (though sadly seldom-followed) word. If you can survive without being a part of first-hand conversations pertaining to the latest arrivals on GameStop’s shelves (you can, trust me), there is no reason to buy new games. That doesn’t mean opt for used, either. Rather, I want you to wait. Games lose value at a ridiculous rate these days and it’s difficult to find a title going for more than half of its original asking price after only a year beyond the initial launch. For example, Uncharted 3 was released within the first week of November two years back to outpouring acclaim, yet I managed to acquire a new copy for $15 over the last holiday season. Instead of shelling out $59.99 because you’re a slave to instant gratification, live vicariously through others for a while to get your fix. Read reviews, watch videos, and soak up as much other material as you need for your cash to stay safe. In the meantime, eye those older objects of interest and pick up two or three titles from 2011 for the price of one recent release. Alternatively, you could save even more money if you…

Bust Out The Backlog

Bring her out, piece by piece. It’s daunting, but you have to do it. Stop glancing at that stack on the daily with an immediate “I’ll get to it someday” mindset. Make today your someday. As an organizational suggestion, do what I do: Document every single game you own across all platforms into a text document or spreadsheet and update it regularly. Identify those you haven’t finished (or begun) with eye-catching formatting. Consult this list when you get that itch to buy something new as a result of boredom and you’ll never again forget about those hidden hours of forgotten fun.

PsychonautsOver seven years old and still fantastic

Embrace PC

You knew the Superior PC Race Card would be pulled eventually. Here it is, but with an easy-entry twist. Think that college laptop is too puny to play PC games? Pah! Your false claims have no power here! Sure, your system might cry in the face of CryEngine 3, but the beauty of the PC is truly apparent when you realize it knows no generational separations. I promise there is some game, some great experience from the past that you’ve never touched yet runs on your machine. Miss Psychonauts? How about Beyond Good and Evil? Less intense indie titles like Limbo or Bastion, perhaps? Grab ’em on the cheap! That is the reason, after all, for placing the PC as a budgeting tip. Digital storefronts (heavily influenced/pressured by Steam) feature unbelievable sales never seen in the brick-and-mortar stores you’re used to, and you don’t even have to put on pants to pick them up! To compare, GameStop has new copies of Spec Ops: The Line on sale for $29.99. That’s cute; Amazon’s selling it for under eight bucks. Sleeping Dogs for 50 dollars? No, let’s go with Sleeping Dogs on Steam for ten. And it isn’t even Super Sale Season! If my statistics don’t sell you, well then you are lost. For all the others, behold the benefits of burgeoning bank accounts. The pleasure was all mine. Happy gaming (and saving!).

Written by: Luke Frazier

Gaming industry addict. Twitter fiend. Unabashed lover of Kingdom Hearts. Other favorites include The Legend of Zelda, Portal, Bioshock, Journey, and peanut butter & banana sandwiches. Also, oatmeal. Let's be friends. @LukeAFrazier – Steam/PSN: GodAlliz