I’m a huge gamer. Most people like to watch movies or TV, and I do occasionally watch an hour or two, until I get bored, but the vast majority of my free time is used playing games. “But Eccentric Rich Uncle, isn’t gaming expensive?” You may ask… Nope, you probably spend much more on coffee in a week than I do on gaming in a month.
Here are the ways that I keep my guilty pleasure on a not-so guilty price tag.
1) Play for free.
There are several very big mainstream free-to-play games. League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Team Fortress 2, etc. Depending on the type of game you like to play, there’s something for free out there for you.
There are also several websites that give free game giveaways. GoG, indiegala, and several others do this. Often the games are not great or, sometimes, they’re great, but older, sometimes much order. Still, can be a great way to pick up a game that you might not have tried otherwise, or one you missed!
Origin, EA’s game platform, also gives games away. Although, of course, you will have to download and install Origin… Since EA does have some good games, you might want to anyway. Since you’re taking advantage of the free games, I don’t think you have to feel bad about having anything to do with the only company to be voted worst company of the year for two consecutive years.
2) Never buy virtual items.
So, most of those free-to-play games out there, how do they keep the lights on? Well, instead of selling the game or charging a membership, many of these games run on micro-transactions. You want to have an awesome mount, a bad-ass skin? My biggest advice for the frugal gamer? Just don’t buy it… If you really want it and the game allows it, grind until you can afford it with in-game currency. For the most part, these things don’t really make the game experience any better.
3) Humble Bundle!
Humble Bundles are where I spend the vast majority of my gaming budget. I have picked up games like DmC: Devil May Cry (2013), Crusader Kings II (with several expansion packs), Terraria, The Stanley Parable, and many more. Of course, most of the games are a few years old, so you’re not quite keeping up with the cutting edge, it’s not quite a 5 year lag though.
Source: XKCD, a very excellent webcomic
Humble Bundle has a pretty unique way of bundling too. There are usually several tiers you can pay to get different numbers of games. Usually there’s a $1 level where you get a few games, a beat-the-average price in which even more games are available, and then occasionally a higher level which will have a newer game or something else like merchandise. The bundle usually lasts a week, after that time, you can’t get it, so you need to keep an eye on it. Now, I have not bought every bundle, not by a long-shot. But with the rate at which I play games, I am easily gaining more games than I can play with the free time I have (Maybe after I retire, I’ll catch up). Furthermore, I’ve found that acting quickly gives a better price because the beat-the-average price generally increases over time. Did I mention that they give a portion (which you can choose) of each purchase to charity?
4) Be Patient.
Wait for sales! I have a basic rule where I don’t buy a game that’s over $10. I very, very, very rarely ever break that rule, but I find that I don’t really need to. Games I want to play eventually hit about that rate and I have a backlog of games to keep me busy until then. Being patient is probably the biggest driver of cost-savings in any endeavor, it applies here just the same.
5) Wait for the “Game of the Year” / Definitive / Legendary / Complete Edition
Modern games have tons of DLC. This gives the feeling that the game experience is not complete unless you buy them. This is an obvious avoidable trap. Just wait and you’ll get the full experience and still have a full wallet. These editions are often almost as cheap as the standard version too when they go on sale. I recall just a few years ago I picked up Skyrim with all its DLC for around $7.50 on Steam. You simply cannot beat that kind of value.
6) Switch to PC.
Thanks to the fact that you don’t need to buy any physical media, games on PC can be much cheaper. You can’t go and buy a bundle of great old Xbox games or something like that. Your best chance to get games for a good price is Craigslist, Goodwill, or Ebay. Gamestop is an option for used games and hardware, but good luck picking up a really good game for less than $10-$15. This just simply cannot beat the prices you can get for those same games when buying them online through a site like Steam.
Bonus tip! Friends and family who know you’re a gamer may give you Gamestop gift cards. You can use these gift cards to buy steam gift cards in the store and capitalize on your gaming budget.
7) Sell it when you’re done.
This is something I actually haven’t really done well when it comes to the games I used to play on consoles, but it’s definitely a great way to keep your gaming budget alive. When you’re done playing a game, why not sell it and put that money into buying a new game? For most games this route is cheaper than just renting the game anyway. For instance, if today I went and bought Fallout 4 for Xbox One from Gamestop, I could get it for $57 pre-owned. If I played it for a couple hundred hours and decided I was done a few months later, I could very likely sell it on Craigslist for around $40-$50. Maybe making it worth it, but there’s major downsides since I can’t go back and play the game anymore…
Another thing you can sell is in-game items for real-world cash. Some games explicitly allow this like Diablo III did for awhile. I wouldn’t advise making playing your job, but if you’ve already earned something that you have no intention to use in the future, why not sell it?
One final thing that I always sell is Steam trading cards. Many games on steam give you these trading cards you can collect to craft badges and show off your gaming cred. The only problem is that you can never get enough cards to actually craft it just from playing, you’ll need to trade or buy the few cards you need to finish the set. Now, if you don’t care about all that, you can just sell them on the market. The prices vary a lot, but I’ve found that on average, I get about $.08 cents per card and about 2 cards per game on average, meaning that I can get back some small portion of what I paid for the game in cards. Well, something is better than nothing.
So, that’s my strategy for keeping my gaming affordable. One other item I didn’t include in my list is the fact that I do surveys on e-rewards. It’s invitation only, so I can’t recommend it as a general tip, but if you do get an invitation to join, it can be worth it. I get a $25 gift card for Gamestop every 3 months which I usually convert to Steam Wallet immediately to actually buy my games.
So, how much do I actually spend?
Since keeping good records of my spending on video games, going back to August of 2013, I have spent $70.46 on Humble Bundles, $13.89 on Steam not counting gift card money, and $.93 at Gamestop. I’ve also used gift cards from my surveys totaling approximately $250. This gives a grand total of $335.28 since August of 2013 (It’s December of 2015 as of writing this).
Or, around $12 per month, $3 out of pocket, $9 from gift cards.
All-in-all, I’ve made that $335 go a long way. While doing my research for this article, I found this website which gathers a ton of statistics on steam accounts. Kind of fun to look at if you know you play a lot on Steam.
I also am fortunate enough to have been provided a laptop from my work which is fairly powerful and I have the freedom to take it home and play games on it. Before this though, I had a decent desktop I built for $500 back in 2009. I kept that desktop until 2013 when I sold it for $75 on Craigslist. It wasn’t an amazing computer, but it was plenty good enough to play any game I wanted to. So, for a total cost of $425 over a 4 year span, the total cost of the computer was around $9 per month. Using this information, I can determine my realistic frugal gaming budget:
Realistic Frugal Gaming Budget: $25 per month, $300 per year.
Sure, you won’t have the latest generation console. You might miss out on a few exclusive titles. You might not get the latest joke about who used to be an adventurer before a certain projectile struck them in a certain joint on a certain limb. But if you’re broke or if you’re just cheap, gaming can be an incredibly affordable hobby.