Tips for Gaming on a Budget

Table of Contents


If there's one thing that both gamers and non-gamers criticize about video games, it's how much games and systems cost. Parents are especially wary of this, as they know that the $60 game their children want at the moment won't entertain them forever. Impulse buying is also a strong temptation for gamers, and while this can lead to a lot of fun, it also leads to a lot of spending and a strained budget.

Fortunately, there are ways to get these expensive titles at a more reasonable price. I'm not referring to illegal or questionable methods of getting games, but rather to keeping your perspectives straight and using a little care when making your purchases. Nothing on this page is really a secret, but it might not be obvious to someone that hasn't spent a lot of time around computers or game stores. After all, you can't be expected to get a deal unless you know one is or will be available.

Important things to keep in mind

It's easy to be enticed by all of the wonderful things that stores have to sell, but you need to have some restraint and be realistic about things. Part of this is to avoid spending more than you can afford, but part of this is because you can easily be duped into thinking you need more when you have enough.

The Golden Ratio
This is a term I created to refer to a simple rule of thumb: For every dollar you spend on a game, you should get two hours of gameplay out of it. This "golden ratio" basically means that if you bought a game for $5 and spent 14 hours playing through it, then you received a good deal on the game. On the other hand, if you beat a $15 game in 4 hours, you paid too much. A $60 game needs to have at least 120 hours of fun gameplay to justify that price tag, and it's often an easy bet that it won't last that long. Note there are exceptions: I have at least one $50 game in my library that I've spent over 230 hours happily playing, so sometimes that price tag does work out.

Most games will run on average systems
A common misconception is that you need a very expensive and powerful computer to play computer games. This was probably true in the early days of home computing when parts were expensive and harder to come by, but these days, most computers should have the power to run the majority of games out there. Basically, if your system has 4 GB of RAM and a dual-core processor, you're probably good to go. The main show stopper will be if a game requires specialized graphics features, and they usually list these in their system requirements.

Games that require lots of power are usually not worth it
Games are usually made to get the most out of what's typically available when they are released. This means that the newer a game is, the more power it'll be expecting the system to have. However, some games require a LOT of power, even more than a typical computer could muster. These often have serious quality issues: one of the most common reasons a program uses a large amount of resources is "bloat" (ie, poor programming). Most of the games that require lots of computer power fall by the wayside and are quickly forgotten by gamers.

Quality graphics does not equate to a quality game
This is a nasty trap that you need to be aware of and avoid. A lot of games make a big deal about how nice they look, and gamers drool over the visuals presented in trailers and screenshots. However, games aren't meant to be watched. They are meant to be played. Despite what advertisements tell you, graphics come after gameplay in terms of importance.

Don't attempt to keep up with the Joneses
People worry about how other people view them. This is pretty natural and part of what makes peer pressure such an effective tool for persuading someone into doing something they don't want to do. One of the biggest flaws with this sort of thinking is that advertising uses this to trick us by telling us what other people are supposedly thinking. We're told that everybody has a better computer, or that they have this game or that game. This leads to people spending money on things in a futile attempt to be happy. Don't let yourself fall into this pattern; make your own choices, and you'll often be happier as a result.

Don't compromise without reason
If there is a specific game you want to play, then focus on getting it rather than a cheaper alternative you stumble across. Substitutions aren't always a good idea. If the game is too expensive right now, then just be prepared to wait for a better deal to come along. Most online stores have seasonal sales that drastically reduce the prices for popular games, so you might not be waiting more than a month or two.

Tips for getting deals on games

Spending $60 on one visit to a game retailer isn't really that strange or worrisome. On the other hand, if that money was entirely spent on a single game, you were almost certainly ripped off. Sixty bucks should get you between five and ten enjoyable games, not just one. It's easy to stretch a dollar like that with just the tips below.

Know your system's capabilities
As stated above, most games should run fine on a system with 4 GB of RAM and a good dual-core processor. Your main issue will be your graphics card. If you have an integrated graphics card or a stock card, then you probably won't be able to play games that require advanced shading. Always check a game's system requirements before purchasing: if the recommended stats are higher than your system's or it states that it needs a non-standard graphics card features (eg, "shader model 3"), then save your money for now.

Always shop around
You can buy games from a lot of different places. To ensure you get the best deals, look around. This is really easy to do at your computer: just open the different stores you like in different tabs or windows and search for the same game in all of them. Some place may want a lot of money for a game, while others may have it on sale or discounted.

Watch for sales
Online stores are about as addicted to sales as gamers are to their hobby. Somebody always has a sale going. Steam and the Humble Bundle are ridiculously fond of having big, themed sales, and you can often find huge sales are around the start of new seasons (eg, the "Spring sales") or major holidays like Halloween and Christmas. In other words, the game you want has a good chance of going on sale sooner or later.

Look for bundle deals
A "bundle" is a collection of related goods that is sold for a discounted price. When it comes to video games, bundles are usually arraigned by game series or publisher. Buying a bundle gives you every game included, and at a much lower price than it would be if you bought everything separately. If you can, get bundles when they're on sale to really save some money!

Beware impulse shopping
Online stores make it far, far too easy to buy too much at once. Impulse spending can result in some really bad purchases, such as going to buy a $5 game and checking out with $30 of random items you'd never planned on getting. Again, stick to the list and be cautious about overdoing it.

Buying games that just came out can be a bad idea
Many publishers have started getting lax about quality in favor of getting their product out to customers faster. The result of this is that brand new computer games are frequently plagued with zero-day bugs or service issues. You're also more likely to be paying a larger than usual sum for the privileged of enduring this dissatisfying experience. Have patience and wait for a few weeks before jumping in. Some sequels have also introduced very detrimental changes to the way the game is played, so it may also benefit you to wait for reviews to start coming out before making your purchase.

Use wishlists and prioritize your purchases
Most online stores offer a wishlist feature. This allows you to track and plan purchases in advance. Some stores will also notify you if something on your wishlist is on sale, and many places let you rank the items your wishlist so you can note for yourself which titles you're more interested in playing. All in all, a wishlist lets you keep from spending money on other things and ensure that you're getting what you really want.

Tips for getting deals on computers

It's a sad fact of life that sooner or later we need to get a new computer. Technology improves fairly quickly and steadily, and your computer will eventually be obsolete. Alternatively, parts of your computer will slowly reach the natural end of their lifespan and die, requiring replacements that might not be available anymore. But, this is made harder by the fact that most users really don't do very much on their machines and so the average computer available in stores is underpowered and overpriced. Here's a few things to keep in mind to get the best deals when you go shopping for that new computer.

Do you actually need a new machine?
Computers get slow, clunky and temperamental over time. A lot of users assume this is due to viruses or just isn't fixable, and thus go get a new machine when problems arise. While some problems really aren't fixable, a lot of times the problems computers develop come from what is basically a build up of "digital dust" in the computer's operating system and file system. One way to deal with this is to delete everything and reinstall the operating system, but there are also less drastic ways to speed things up, such as clearing your temporary files. Obviously, this won't help if the machine is having hardware failures or is too weak to run modern software.

Expect the machine to last about five years
On average, you'll need to replace your computer every few years to keep up with hardware trends. Additionally, operating systems become obsolete and this gives malicious people an opportunity to break into your machine and do who knows what. So, plan to replace the computer in a few years. What's top of the line today will be mediocre or bottom of the barrel in time, so be a little cautious about going for the really expensive models.

Building the computer yourself can save money
Computers are assembled together from various parts. When you purchase a computer from a store, they've done the hard work and already put the machine together for you. However, you can often get better parts (and thus a better computer) for a lower overall price if you buy the parts yourself and assemble the unit on your own. This option isn't for everybody, but it's one to keep in mind.

Desktops are better for gaming than laptops, tablets, or all-in-ones
Desktop computers take up more space than the other three styles, but they have various advantages that are worth it. One of the bigger advantages is that you can replace parts in a desktop with little trouble, while the parts used for other systems are usually custom made and not user serviceable. Another advantage is cooling: on the whole, a desktop will be able to ventilate itself much more effectively since there's room in the case to allow the air to circulate.

Avoid integrated graphic cards if possible
Integrated graphic cards are the graphic cards built in to laptops and all-in-ones. These are usually very poor quality and are not really suited to playing games that require a lot of graphics processing. Better cards can run over $200, but the power they provide is worth the money.

Deals and store employees may not be your friend
Unlike games, when computers go on sale it's usually not a very good thing. Frequently it's a push to clear inventory of something that didn't sell or to make way for newer, better systems. Likewise, store employees are often pushed to promote some systems for the benefit of the store, not the customer.

This is more important that you'd expect. You can't really trust used computers to be quality machines, and sometimes they are sold after malicious software has been installed on them. There is such a thing as too good to be true. You've seen how much computers cost when they are new: if the machine really runs fine, why is it being sold for much less than usual? Always buy new computers and parts; at the very least you'll have the protection of a warranty if something breaks!

You'll want a Windows machine
As much as people love to complain about Windows, it's really the operating system of choice for playing games. The majority of computer games are designed with Windows in mind, and other systems are a secondary (or even tertiary) goal. If the machine runs Windows well, you can always set it up to dual boot your favorite Linux distro later on.