I recently decided that I won’t be cutting video games from my budget after quitting my job.
The only reason it’s even a debate is video games take a lot of crap from people on many retire-early forums. Folks approve of reading and gardening, but video games, not so much.
I think that part of the problem that frugal people have with gaming is they think the hobby costs a lot. While it’s true that it has the potential to take over all of your discretionary income, it certainly doesn’t have to. There are tons of ways to play great games without spending much, and I’m going to share a few I’ve discovered.
1) Enjoy What You Have
- Try to get only one game at a time and play it until you’re sick of it. It’s more enjoyable to get really into a specific game and master it than to switch between games like a grasshopper.
- Be a completionist. Get all of the secret coins in Mario. Play the expert level difficulty in that shooting game you love.
- Play through a couple of old games a year. Much like watching Star Wars for the tenth time, repeat playthroughs in older top-quality games is awesome fun, usually more enjoyable than your first run. You notice details you’d never seen on the first time through. Plus, the nostalgia factor is great.
- When the urge to play a new game strikes, look through your old games for any you haven’t beaten yet. If you didn’t complete it, why not? Consider trying again instead of getting a new one.
2) Be Super Selective on Game Purchases.
- Read lots of online reviews before purchasing. Online reviews are, in and of themselves, entertaining and free to read.
- Pay particular attention to the number of hours a game lasts. Most reviews will mention how long it takes to beat a game and also have notes on replayability.
- Enjoy the research. Part of the fun of getting a game is the anticipation.
3) Play Last Year’s Games and Systems
- Or even better, last decade’s games.
- Prices drop, on average, 60% after two years. That $60 game is now $25 new.
5) Buy Used and Avoid Ebay
- Ebay sucks because of shipping — a $5 game frequently ends up being $10 after you account for delivery.
- Amazon is sometimes better. I occasionally buy enough games to get over the “free shipping” threshold (currently at $35). For this amount I expect to be able to get 5-6 games used which are fulfilled by amazon and qualify for free shipping. (Note: I do not have prime, I think this is a terrible deal and encourages you to waste a lot of money on Amazon purchases which is very anti-frugal). Yes, getting so many games at once does violate rule 1) above which suggests you only get one game at a time. But if they’re all games you know you will love, and the price is right, it may be worth it.
6) Set a Yearly Budget
- I give myself about $100/yr to spend on games which allows me to get one or two a month depending on how expensive they are. If you have to pay for your online gaming service (xbox live, I’m looking at you!) this needs to be part of your budget. I personally don’t use xbox live because I’d rather have more games, but it’s totally up to you and your gaming priorities.
- I let myself get a new console every 3 years, with a $99 price limit on it. This restricts me to older, used consoles.
7) Avoid Rare Games.
- Work around your want to play them and recognize it for what it is: A want. There are always tons of great games which are more affordable. For example, I will not be buying Dragon Warrior IV on the NES anytime soon ($100). (But I might play it on an emulator… shhhh!)
8) PC Gamers: Use Steam’s Wishlist, and browse Humble Bundles
- If you play games on a computer, chances are good you use Steam for downloads and management. If there’s a game you want, add it to your Steam Wishlist you’ll be automatically notified when that game goes on sale. Examples:
- Picked up Skyrim on Black Friday for 7.99 and that’s given me 60 hours or so.
- Borderlands II with all DLC for $7. That game gave me 80 hours, so we’re talking under ten cents an hour for the experience.
- I really want South Park: The Stick of Truth, and when I can get it for $15 or less, I’ll spring for it.
- You can also get some terrific package deals with Humble Bundle. They club a bunch of cool titles together and ask for a donation, usually 5-10 dollars for a group of five or more games.
- For retro-pc gamers, check out Good Old Games. They distribute copies of 80s and 90s games that you can run on your spiffy modern computer, all for free. They also have stuff you can pay for, but that’s avoided easily enough. I went through Ultima 4: Quest for the Avatar last summer and had a blast doing it — I never beat it when I was a kid because it was way too difficult for 10-year-old me.
9) Be a Fanboy
- Limit yourself to one system per hardware generation. Pick Sony or Microsoft. There are so many great titles on either system that you’ll have no trouble finding awesome stuff to play.
10) Look for Games in Weird Places
- Tag sales and flea markets/swap meets sometimes turn up older games at very affordable prices. Just don’t drive too far to get where you’re going or you’ll end up spending too much money travel. Keep in mind it costs an average of 61 cents a mile to drive anywhere once you’ve taken into account vehicle cost and maintenance.
11) Don’t turn into a collector
- You must resist this urge like Luke resisted the calling of the Dark Side. Collecting things for the sake of collecting things goes against every frugal/anti consumerism principle in the book.
- It’s not worth it. I should know. I went through a period with the Dreamcast where I wanted to buy everything released. I ended up with a pile of shitty games that wasn’t worth anything, and a lot less money in my bank account to save for freedom. Burning the money would have been more fun.
12) Avoid Downloadable Content.
- I usually aim for a cost of 50 cents an hour or cheaper for game entertainment. This means your average 20 hour game shouldn’t cost more than $10.
- Your average DLC is $10 and rarely gives you more than a few hours of additional gameplay, making it a terrible value, sometimes $2-3 per hour of gameplay.
- Summary: It’s Usually a Crap Deal and you should pass.
13) Check your Local Library.
- Last year, in my library’s media section, I was shocked to find XBox, PS3 and Wii games available. Score!
14) Avoid Gamefly (rentals)
- Their cheapest package is currently $15/mo for one game at a time. I feel 200/yr is too much for this hobby.
- You can’t keep any games. Part of the fun of the gaming hobby is browsing your library and selecting a title to suit your mood. Contra if you need to blow up aliens, Crazy Taxi for insane driving, Katamari Damacy when you want to go tripping without any hallucinogenics. Having a single game a month is a total bummer.
The bottom line is that you can be frugal and still play video games. I’ve been averaging about $100 /yr on games over the past six or seven, and that includes an xbox 360 console purchase. As long as you make cost-conscious decisions you can play games all year long without much of a hit to your wallet at all.
Addendum: Unfortunately, most of these rules go out the window if you are getting games for your kids. Kids typically want a particular game for one reason and one reason only: Their friends are playing it. (Think: Skylanders.) I suppose you could tell your kids you’re only getting 2 games a year for them and then just pay full price. Since it’s such a low number of games, it’ll still be affordable.
You could also suggest your kids work for their own money to buy games. That’s what I did when I was younger, anyway.