Common Cents: Gaming on an Adult Budget

As you grow older, two things become more and more valuable with each passing year: time and money.  Gone are the days where you can spend all day sitting on the couch playing video games, heedless of anything but sleep, food and the call of nature.  Gone are the days when all of your money was entirely at your discretion on how to spend it.  As we move past our late teens and early twenties, wonderful things like car payments, rent, diapers, medical expenses, and jobs start to consume both our time and money.  Being an active gamer is quite often prohibitively expensive in both time and money these days.  While I can’t give you any suggestions on how to handle your ‘time’, I can give you suggestions on economical ways to still enjoy gaming while keeping your family finances (and relationships) intact.

There are a number of options for economical gaming.   You might not play big-name Triple-A titles on the day -or even month- of their release, but sometimes that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Impulsiveness is an allowance of youth, but a detriment in maturity.  Waiting a few weeks and seeing how a game fares on the market can save you a bundle since most games cost at least $50 to purchase new.  Besides, sometimes the more rewarding experience comes from that small indie developer who’s still trying to get started; they’re trying harder, so as a gamer you’ll get better ‘bang’ for less ‘buck’.

Subscription Services
One option for gaming is subscription services.  You can enjoy playing games that are relatively recent without the exorbitant upfront cost of buying the game new.  Instead you rent the game, much like you rent movies.  Since games -like movies- usually have a finite amount of replay value, your savings are more profound.

Two examples of this type of service are GameFly and OnLive.  GameFly is the gaming corollary to Netflix or Blockbuster Online.  You visit their website and select a game and they mail it to you.  This is an especially good option if your gaming system does not have an high-speed internet connection or if you have a console gaming system.  The downsides of course are the delay between ‘renting’ and receipt of the game, the limited duration you can play the game and having to queue behind others for newly released or popular games.

OnLive is a similar rental service, but you rent games entirely via the Cloud.  You visit the OnLive website and then download the game directly to your system.  OnLive provides service to a number of platforms, like PC, tablets and Smartphones, but it doesn’t directly integrate with consoles.  Instead OnLive sells a branded gaming system, the MicroConsole, that you connect to your TV and download games directly to, taking the place of a XBox 360 or PlayStation 3.  The downside of OnLive would be the necessity for a high-speed connection and it’s exclusion of console gaming systems.

Digital Distribution Services
Also utilizing a web delivery format -similar to OnLive- would be digital distribution services like Origin and Steam.  While the focus of these services is the retail sale of video games without the requirement of a traditional brick-and-mortar outlet, the services do have more economical offerings in the form of independent titles and ‘mini-gaming’.  Most notably, Steam provides discounted games and some truly unique titles that are also very inexpensive.  This past summer, Steam did a full-court press promoting its services with a vast selection of games, most costing less than $15.oo USD.

In the console gaming market, you have XBox Live and the PlayStation Network.  While I’m unfamiliar with what PSN might provide, I can speak from experience that XBL has an impressive array of excellent independent titles that provide a superb experience for $5.00 to $15.00, some of which have garnered widespread industry acclaim, like Outland or Limbo.

Mobile Gaming
An emergent new platform for gaming that has been gaining popularity and validity during the past few years is mobile gaming. While this category would normally include handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS, both the consoles and their games are quite expensive, so I’m not including them as an option here. Instead, I’m referring exclusively to mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Among all other options -save one- mobile gaming has both the immediate accessibility and affordability to convert a new generation of adults and youthful seniors into gamers.

Mobile gaming provides exceptional titles at incredibly reasonable prices. The Apple App Store and Android Market have literally hundreds of titles from 99 cents to $1.99 and the games they offer can rival even the best big-name developers out there. Who hasn’t heard of Angry Birds by now? Infinity Blade is a very enjoyable and high quality adventure gaming experience with simple controls, yet highly challenging gameplay. Both of these cost less than the price of a Venti Mocha Double-Shot Latte.   The sheer portability and ease of access makes mobile gaming the newest and best option for adult gaming; you can do it on a lunch break, on the subway, waiting in the car for your children after school, or during any tiny fragment of quiet time you can find.

Browser Gaming
Perhaps the only more influential and innovative type of gaming that is really grabbing the mature gaming market is so-called ‘browser gaming’ or ‘social gaming’. This is a type of gaming that can trace it roots firmly back to Facebook and most notably includes games like Farmville. Now there are literally hundred of games like this available on Facebook and as add-ons for the Firefox and Chrome browsers. They range from resource management games like Farmville to strategy games to even first-person shooters. Every one of these games is entirely free to play, easy to learn, and provide an exciting means to interact with your friends and family, even if they’re thousands of miles away. While the quality of the games might not be on par with some of the other options and definitely not comparable to mainstream gaming in general, it’s still an excellent alternative.

Free2Play
Somewhat similar to the aforementioned browser gaming would be Free2Play (F2P). Like browser gaming, these games are all free to play, making them immediately available to those on a limited budget. However, some of these games are highly polished, developed by big names in the industry. Most notably are the MMOs Champions Online, DC Universe Online, and (as I recently posted) The Old Republic. In this category, you can also see some of the exceptional games being produced in Korea and China. Oddly enough, almost every game in this category calls into the Massive Multi-player Online category. It’s been said that F2P is the future of MMOs and given the vast selection of games like these, that is a strong argument.

The only drawback is that many of the games thrive on micro-transactions. These are perks that are purchased in-game using real money outside of the game. This is similar in many ways to preorder bonuses for new releases or to DLC content. MapleLeaf was one of the first to introduce the option in a game, but it was truly popularized in World of Warcraft when they began selling online pets and mounts. Unfortunately, some of these games limit the content you can experience or provide game-changing advantages to those who are willing to pay. While this is not a game-killer in and of itself, it does mean that if you are looking to play for free, then you will might be missing a significant amount of content which could certainly diminish your experiences or enjoyment of the game.

These are but a few of the alternatives for the frugal gamer.  There are many more.  I’ve outlined these primarily because they are relatively inexpensive (or completely free) and are usually easy to access and find time for.  When trying to determine what best suits you, you’ll just have to determine what your budget and schedule will allow.  I suppose the only parting guidance I would give the reader is that I always consider my gaming as a privilege and a luxury.  My primary responsibilities in life are always to my wife, to my home and to my job.  No matter how little money you might have to pay for a game, the one cost you do not want to incur is harm to your family, your relationships or your career.

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