How to play video games the frugal way

Video games hold a really special place in my heart. I have played games since my dad came home with a mega drive with the original Sonic the Hedgehog when I was around 5 years old. I sucked at that game, and rarely got past the first level, but my god if the bright colours, 16 bit green hill zone theme tune and positive feedback loop of collecting those golden rings didn’t hit my dopamine receptors hard. And I haven’t ever really broken the habit for any lasting period of time since.

God I loved this blue tosser

But my interest in video games goes deeper than that. It has provided me with vital escapism, shaped how I feel about complex issues and most of all, it has always been there for me when I needed it. I believe it is massively important that we all have hobbies that are there for us when we are at a loss or need an escape, and video games are mine.

Video games aren’t known for being a cheap hobby, what with the cost of equipment, games and increasingly subscriptions. So, how have I kept costs down with this relatively expensive hobby? These are my top tips and learnings to save money when playing video games.

Use the devices you already have

I figured I would start with the one I fail at most often. The pull to buy new devices to play your favourite games is real, and an incredibly expensive addiction. Try your best to use the devices you already own. Don’t forget that your phone or tablet is also a powerful gaming device.

Buy used hardware

If you absolutely must have a console or other device to play the game you love, consider buying it second hand. The number of people who buy a console or device and play what they wanted it to for and then just leave it to gather dust is staggering. As such, you can normally find tons on Facebook marketplace, Ebay or whatever platform is popular where you live.

Avoid PC gaming if you can

Video games are already a fairly expensive habit, but in my experience PC gaming is even more expensive. Decent hardware tends to cost a lot more, and requires regular upgrades to work the newest games. Whilst some argue it gives the best experience, it may, but it certainly isn’t frugal.

Try out some free-to-play games BUT watch out for microtransactions

Free-to-play games used to be a relatively dirty word until some recent additions to the space. However, there are now a number of quality titles out there that have switched to or launched as free-to-play. The model itself is obviously designed to get you spending money on in game currency, items or loot boxes, but if you have the willpower these represent a cheap way to game.

Over the years some of my favourites have included DC Universe Online, Warframe, Fortnite and most recently Apex Legends.

Apex Legends’ fresh take on the battle royale genre has been a real breath of fresh air, and can be enjoyed for zero outlay

The other thing to watch out for is the free games that sometimes come with your subscription to an online service such as Playstation Plus or Xbox Live Gold.

Play demos

A lot of online stores offer demos for games. This is one you should be careful with. If you are the kinda person who gets addicted easily this can be worse for your wallet. But if you have decent willpower, it will help you decide what games are or aren’t worth playing and therefore paying for.

Allow the games you haven’t played to stack up

This one is a little more contrived. The consumer society we live in gets us hyped about games (and other things) just before they come out, so that we are whipped into enough of a frenzy that we pay £40 on the day the game comes out.

Instead, I suggest you let the games you haven’t played (sometimes referred to as the “pile of shame”) stack up. There is so much good gaming out there that this really shouldn’t be an issue, just keep playing The Witcher 3 (or whatever your poison) rather than putting it down when you finish the main story.

This is all so that you can….

Buy older games

Games lose their value from the moment they are released REALLY FAST. With your building pile of games you haven’t played, some of them will get cut down to a much more affordable price. I recently picked up The Witcher 3 (2015) for £6 on the Playstation store (Playstation’s online store), Middle Earth: Shadow of War (2017) for £8 from Amazon and Cities: Skylines (2015) for £6 on the steam store.

The other thing here is that these days games are often patched during their first year or so, and waiting often leads to an improved experience with the game as a result of these patches.

Shop around for every game

What you should notice about my previous example is that I never buy my games from the same place. When I decide on something I am going to part with my money to play, I shop around until I find the cheapest offer.

I check that versions aren’t cheaper on a different platform that I might own (e.g. Xbox vs PS4). I also tend to check Amazon, physical shops and any online stores associated with that platform such as the PS Store for Playstation or Steam for Mac/PC. It’s also worth watching out for sales in online stores, which tend to run frequently. A number of tools exist that let you check what the lowest recorded price for a game is on your store of choice, such as this site which checks Steam titles, which allows you to wait for a better deal.

When you have settled on a price, check on TopCashback for any cashback offers you might be able to tag on.

Replay old favourites

This should be obvious too. I see way too many people buying new versions of their old favourites or HD remasters, which tend to be high price and low effort on the part of the developer.

Instead, dust off that Playstation 1, plug it in, and play Final Fantasy 7 for the gazillionth time exactly as it was intended.

Regularly leave those subscription services

If you are the type who subscribes to Xbox Live Gold or Playstation Plus so that you can play with your friends, it might seem logical to pay upfront for a year to reduce the price.

I suggest the total opposite, especially if you only get to play with your friends once in a while. Leave the service every time you aren’t using it. This first of all saves money on those times when it is just sat there idol.

The other nice thing that happens, as with all of these subscription models, is they tend to offer you free trials, reduced rates and other add on offers to come back. I once got 3 months of Netflix with a 3 month subscription to PS Plus.

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