Anti-Valentine reviews PC games and writes about the video game industry.
Most new video games that hit the shelves are well over a few hundred rands here in SA—on any given platform. Games for consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360 are more expensive due to a limited number of companies that are licensed to print the discs. Most of us aren’t millionaires, and more often than not, people will be lucky to afford a handful of games in a year. Video games though are a luxury; not a necessity—just like most other forms of entertainment. But it’s hard to quit something once you’ve started—particularly if you’ve been playing games for two decades or more, as I have. The weight of the financial times we're in forces to ease up a little, or even a lot.
If you’re craving video games, but don’t want to break the bank (or rob one), what do you do? Let’s look at some of the options.
1. Get Them Online via Digital Distribution
Because games can be downloaded digitally over the internet on virtually any console, they are sometimes cheaper, seeing as there’s no physical packaging. Even if the price is no different, it more often than not drops quicker than the retail version. But the thing is, you have to have an internet connection. And in addition to paying for the game, you have to pay for the data in order to download it. There are several services available for the PC, but Steam is reportedly the best, and has been around the longest. Others include Origin, Direct2Drive, GreenManGaming and uPlay. Xbox 360 has the Microsoft Xbox Live marketplace and PS3, PS2 and PSP have Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN). Nintendo products have their own service as well.
There are some other services, particularly for PC, that specialise in older games, like Good Old Games, or GOG. They stock classic games mainly from the 1990s with a few from the 2000s, too. They are quite inexpensive to purchase—usually around $5.99, with some at $9.99.
2. Cloud Gaming
If you have the internet connection, bandwidth and data to handle it, then cloud gaming is a possible solution. Services like OnLive and Gaikai operate by allowing users to use a micro-console and a TV in order to access their service, where they can play games for a fee, or try out demos for free. Other similar services let people access games via their browser, and in some cases, these games are free to play—albeit ad-supported. The service itself is often free, although some might require you to subscribe.
You'll save with cloud gaming because you don't need a big burly machine to handle games as you would with games installed on systems locally. The system specifications or requirements aren't as high. The games, your savegame data, achievements and everything else are stored on a server. And you won't have to download patches for games, as they will always be up-to-date on the server. There's less in the way of compatibility issues.
The downside is, as noted before, you need a very decent internet connection. If you're using dial-up or mobile broadband, you can probably just forget the idea.
There is some evidence however that gamers aren't adapting to cloud gaming just yet, seeing as OnLive has apparently filed for bankruptcy and has been bought by a third party company, with a lot of the OnLive staff being laid off.
3. Shop Around Online
There are several retailers that sell games, and it’s worth shopping around to see if you can get a game cheaper at one place than you would at another.
Amazon may well have free shipping, which is a major plus, but other companies like Buy.com or Overstock may sell a game for less. But you might have to pay the shipping costs, which negates any savings you might have accrued on the purchase.
4. Connect With Retailers
Visit the websites of local brick and mortar retailers and check their catalogues. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to their newsletter. This way you can be notified of special deals when they happen. Sometimes their Facebook followers are even rewarded with special discounts that other consumers wouldn't receive. Retailers may well have an online order price that is cheaper than their in-store price.
Some retailers make it public knowledge that they will match or even beat a competitor's price on an item. All you have to do is provide them with proof that the other retailer in question is selling the item—a video game in this situation—for the price claimed. This can usually be done by showing them a brochure or an ad in the newspaper. Or if carried out electronically, you could include a link to their website or product listing.
5. Look out for Sales, Especially on Holidays
There are holidays where games usually go for cheaper than normal. Easter, maybe; Thanksgiving and Black Friday—definitely. In fact, there’s even a commercial holiday that follows Black Friday called Cyber Monday, and several retailers in the US have specials on consoles and games during this period.
And of course, there’s Christmas, too.
6. Pre-Order Games
Often if you pre-order a game from a retailer, you will be given a discount—often up to 10% or more on new games. It's possible that you'll also receive some bonus goodies for pre-ordering too, that might come with the game, or are unlocked in the actual game.
7. Wait a While and Check the Bargain Bins
It might take a year or two, but eventually, the price of games comes down. It’s not uncommon to see games from yesteryear have their prices reduced dramatically—by up to 75% or more. You even get games released the same year, a few months after their initial release, that have their prices cut. PC games can often go for under R100, whereas console titles will linger between R100 and R200, most likely.
8. Buy Game or Console Bundles
Often you’ll get special bundles, where a console such as an Xbox 360 or a PS3 will be bundled with a popular game or maybe even several. It’s becoming increasingly common for download tokens to be given instead, though. So you still have to possess an internet connection and have sufficient data to download the game, which is a bit of a letdown, to be honest.
If you look around you might find bundles of games without the console, if you already have one. This, in my experience, is much more likely with PC games. EA and Ubisoft release bundles of about five games or so—half of them are actually good, and the rest are usually rubbish.
9. Buy From Bundle Stores
You can get games really cheap by buying bundles. Humble Bundle has a tier system where you can buy a few games for only $1! From there if you manage to BTA (or beat the average) you can pick up more games. It is advisable to BTA early on before the price rises, and then future games that are unlocked in that tier will become available to you as well. To get the top tier means paying a lot more—usually a fixed price. But overall you can get a lot for $20—several AAA titles, which would have cost you far more otherwise.
You can also try Groupees, Indiegala, Flyingbundle and BundleStars.
Some companies release some of the titles in their back catalogue for free. It might take a few years or more than a decade for this to happen. Several big developer/publishing companies such as EA and Bethesda have done this sort of thing with the Command & Conquer and Elder Scrolls games.
Some companies release games for free, but they might be ad-supported.
Otherwise, you can have a look at games that were released as freeware, with no strings attached, from the beginning. They’re not all bad—in fact some are pretty damn good; better than paid-for products in some cases, perhaps.
First off, free-to-play isn't the same as freeware. Free-to-play games are slowly becoming more and more popular. Some big names are planning on releasing more games using this business model, such as EA, who recently stated that all products developed or published by them, like the Command & Conquer and Red Alert titles, will be free to play in the future. Some big-name games are already free to play, such as Team Fortress 2.
Most free-to-play titles that exist currently are online-only multiplayer titles. Free-to-play isn't an entirely new concept, seeing as it borrows from the shareware business model introduced decades ago. The idea is you can play the game for free, but you are encouraged or enticed to buy extra content using real money, which otherwise might not be available to you or will take longer to earn using in-game currency and strategy.
You can check out places on the web like ModDB (Mod Database), which lists almost every mod out there on the web, old and new. You can get mods and TCs (total conversions) for games you already own, or you might even find some standalone games. These are few and far between because they require that much more work than just a regular mod, and few probably see completion. But they are out there seeing as there are very popular game engines available as open-source, such as Source, Unreal Engine III, and the recently released source code for id Tech 4.
But mods are an investment. You have to be willing to wait a few years before the final version is out. The development schedule with commercial games are usually shorter with more staff on hand, and the incentive of getting paid for their work. Modders will more than likely have day jobs and not a lot of free time to dedicate to activities such as modding or gaming. But at least mods, TCs, and standalone projects will, 99 percent of the time, cost you nothing.
13. Temporarily Free
Temporarily free means that some developers or publishers will have a game at no cost for a limited time. Valve often do this with their digital distribution platform and Steam has free weekends, which typically last from Thursday until Sunday. These are often accompanied by a price drop on the game in question. Sometimes they might even give a game away like Portal or Left 4 Dead 2, where if you claim them and add them to your library, you get to keep them.
GOG.com also gives out free games occasionally, for 48 hours, where if you claim your copy you get to keep it forever. You need to subscribe to several well-known gaming blogs and some newsletters, and probably a few subreddits too, to be alerted to these limited-time offers. Joystiq is one of the better ones, in my opinion.
14. Cut out Coupons
At Christmas, you’ll often see brochures, catalogues or magazines, with cutout coupons that you can present to the sales clerk when making your purchase. Some of these coupons can take off 50% of the price of a game.
15. Use Loyalty Points or Store Credit
You might be able to buy games by using loyalty points, or maybe you belong to some reward program, like eBucks. You make a purchase, and receive eBucks. These add up over time, until you can spend them and buy items. You will at least get a discount. The store has to support this particular program, though. If it isn't a participating store, then eBucks will be of little use.
Do you have a grandparent? Lucky you! Then you might be able to get them to buy the game and swing a pensioner's discount. This can be as much as 10% off.
Green Man Gaming has a reward program where you can earn store credit for writing reviews, buying games and referring people. Their Playfire beta rewards program will offer store credit just for playing games and unlocking achievements. You can use store credit to get a discount on a game, or even get a free game or two!
GamersGate has a digital currency called Blue coin, and you can earn these by purchasing games, writing reviews, and rating games, as well as writing walkthroughs and lending a hand to people in the GameTutor section.
16. Buy Video Game Magazines
These magazines may have a cover disc which could have some games that are freeware or mods. This would save you having to download them yourself. You might even be able to make suggestions for what you would like to see appear on the disc in the future. NAG or PC Format have cover discs locally. PC Gamer would be a good choice abroad.
Magazines may also bundle brochures and coupons too, which you can then redeem at the appropriate store.
17. Play the Game at Your Friend's House
You know why you're friends with that guy you don't normally hang out with. You're at his house to play all the cool games he has, probably. This is okay. Who knows, they might even let you have a game as a gift or sell it to you at a reduced price.
18. Get Them Second-Hand
GameStop in the US is well known for having second-hand or “pre-played” titles that you pick up for cheaper than usual. In fact, GS has come under fire on numerous occasions, being accused of undercutting the competition by having new games priced lower than they should be. Nevertheless, it might be worth checking to see if a retailer stocks second-hand games, or else try visiting a second-hand store or pawnshop to see if they sell games.
BT Games also offers pre-played titles.
19. Trade-in Bonuses and Discounts
Some stores, like Cash Crusaders, even give you cashback if you bring a game back after playing it—usually about 50% or 60% of what you paid originally.
BT Games also accepts trade-ins too. So you can bring in some games that you’ve played (ones that you didn’t even buy from one of their stores) and get a discount on a new game.
Green Man Gaming has an initiative where you can buy games and after you've played them, you can trade them in. Those games will be deactivated on your account and resold to someone else. You will receive a trade-in bonus in the form of either cash or store credit, which you can then use to put towards buying another game.
20. Rent Games
I remember back in the old days we would head into town and go straight to the video store. There you could rent consoles and video games. We’d head back to a friend's house we were at for the weekend, play the games, and try our best to finish it in time before heading back to the store to get it all back in time. Otherwise, you pay a penalty fee for being overdue—much like at a library. You can always give them more money and ask to rent the game for longer, which they’ll usually give you. As long as they get money, they’re satisfied.
GameFly lets you rent console games and bring them back whenever you want with no late fees. And if you decide you'd like to keep a game, you can get it at a discounted rate. They offer a free one-month trial with this program. After that, you'll have to agree to a contract if you want to continue renting games from them.
21. Enter Competitions
It’s a long shot, and it might never happen, but you’ll see on gaming blogs and magazines host competitions from time to time to attract readers and increase community participation. You might have to write a winning letter, or text or email a phrase to stand a chance of winning. The only thing is that you have to be sure that you’re dealing with a legitimate company. Be cautious of what other private information they want you to send in. If it looks like a scam, it probably is.
22. Make Them Yourself
Well, you can. it's a lot harder than you might think. I know, seeing as I've personally tried out several level editors or game creation tools. There are several that you don't even have to pay for. Some game creation kits like AGS (Adventure Game Studio) aims to let users create point and click or text-driven graphic adventures much like those made by Sierra and LucasArts years ago, respectively.
There are also several others if you look around, and not to mention there are SDKs (source development kits) for existing games.
23. Go to LANs and Expos
What, you think that everyone who rocks up at a LAN (local area network) event has games? Some do, but they are probably provided by sponsors—usually retailers or companies that have something to do with gaming. All you have to really do is bring your rig. LANs often take place at expos, like Rage. E3 doesn't have a LAN as such, but people can attend and try out demos of games for free. The only charge is the price of admission, and if you're young enough, you may even get in gratis.
- Please note that I do not take any responsibility for problems with your person, PC, consoles, software, or anything else that may result from the above information. If you choose to act out any of these methods, you do so at your own risk.
- I will also not accept responsibility for any legal prosecutions that may result from any activity on your end which may be deemed illegal. This article is mainly just a guide to being able to legally obtain and play your favourite games at cheaper prices or possibly for free, and I’ve merely covered the various ways that people often legally obtain them online or by other methods.
- This article in no way promotes or endorses abandonware, piracy, or copyright infringement and therefore such topics have been left out of this article. When in doubt, avoid any action that may lead to serious consequences or legal repercussions.
© 2012 Anti-Valentine
Ivan Sokolski on February 10, 2017:
This all good advice but I don't agree about pre-ordering. I think it's a terrible waste of money. You pay the full price of the game before there is even any information about how good or bad the game is. It's a lot similar to "Early Access" on Steam; it's a gamble really.
Dom from None of your business. on January 15, 2017:
Interesting post. Almost every game in my collection is second hand. Think the only exception is GTA V which I pre ordered and booked a week off for.
Also have a lot of emulated games from my childhood though I know that's a grey area that most people are cautious about.
Yong Kuan Leong from Singapore on June 10, 2016:
I call, and pride myself on being the cheapskate gamer. I only buy older games, usually after a year or two. Another advantage of that, most FAQs would have been written, and you don't have to worry about getting stumped!