10 Ways to Game on a Low (or Zero) Budget

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An empty leather wallet with a few coins in front of it.
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If you believe what you see on social media, you may think of multi-thousand-dollar, bright RGB gaming-room setups as the only “real” gaming. Save your money, and use these tips to enjoy gaming for its own sake, without the frill.

1. Don’t Buy Games When They Launch

We’ve discussed why you shouldn’t buy video games at launch before, but it boils down to paying the highest price for the worst version of a game for no good reason other than FOMO. Unless you absolutely must play a game at launch (e.g., because it’s multiplayer), you’re spending more money than you have to on games.

2. Buy Used Physical Games

A GameStop outlet on a city street corner.
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Physical video game sales still make up a significant chunk of the gaming market and one major advantage they have over digital games is that they can be resold. Plenty of those folks who buy their games full price at launch trade them in a few days or weeks later, which means you can snap up recent titles for big discounts. The older the games are, the cheaper they get, and you can get amazing used physical games for single-digit prices.

3. Wishlist Games for Sales

Digital gaming has given rise to digital sales. Popularized by deep discounts in infamous Steam Sales, it’s not unheard of for games to receive 90% discounts during certain times of the year. The best strategy to get good sale prices is to wishlist all the games you want, and then check your wishlist (and your wishlist only) for discounts when the time comes. This is also a great way to limit impulse buying, where you buy deeply discounted games only to never actually play them because you didn’t actually want them in the first place.

RELATED: Save the Date: Here’s Every Steam Sale for 2022

4. Game on Non-Gaming Devices

You don’t need to buy specialist gaming hardware to enjoy video games. The smartphone or tablet you may already have likely has enough performance to play surprisingly complex games. If you own a higher-end device, you can even play games like GRID Autosport or Civilization VI, and other impressive console ports. The same goes for an Android TV or Apple TV device. Both Android and iOS support wireless game controllers too, so you may already have a pseudo-console hooked up to your TV without knowing it.

The same goes for PC gaming. Any PC can be a gaming PC, as long as you choose games that fit the power you have at hand. Modern mid-range integrated GPUs are more than capable of playing AAA titles from a decade ago and entry-level computers such as the base model M1 MacBook Air pack more punch than a PlayStation 4. Sites like Good Old Games (GoG) give you access to thousands of games that can run on absolutely any modern system, so you’ll never lack anything to play.

5. Play A Few Generations in the Past

There’s a sweet spot in gaming generations where prices for consoles and games are low, before they start going up again as retro collectors start paying attention to them. At the start of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series era, the PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 4, are examples of this.

These relatively modern consoles still have plenty of great games on them, and if you look around carefully you could pick up great deals from gamers eager to get into the latest generation of systems. If you pretend it’s still the 2000s, you’re going to have a great time without breaking the bank.

6. Get a Console or PC for (Almost) Free

Sometimes you may see give-away listings on sites like Craigslist or the local paper where people just want to get rid of old gaming gear. The same goes for computer components that aren’t worth selling because they are simply too far past obsolescence.

This is a goldmine for thrifty gaming since you can turn this hardware into a viable retro gaming solution, or trade-up with other people in the gaming community who might see more value in that discarded hardware.

RELATED: Consider a Retro PC Build for a Fun Nostalgic Project

7. Use Subscription Services

Gaming hardware, such as consoles, is often the smallest part of the cost equation. The real expense is in the software that you buy, i.e. games! Using services like Apple Arcade, Game Pass, PlayStation Plus Premium, and the numerous other options that are out there can make gaming super-affordable.

Since these subscriptions represent a fixed cost, they are easy to budget for, and you’re guaranteed to have something to play every month. Of course, the downside is that you don’t get to choose what’s available on the service. However, unless you’re extremely picky, there’s bound to be something you’ll like. Plus, since you’re paying a flat fee, there’s no risk in trying something new.

8. Use Cloud Streaming Services

Games streamed over the cloud remove the cost of gaming hardware from the barrier to entry into the hobby. Not only that, if you combine it with a game subscription service (e.g. Game Pass and xCloud) you boil the cost of gaming down to whatever your monthly subscription fee is.

Of course, you need adequate internet connectivity and a smartphone, smart TV, streaming box, or web browser on a computer to access these services. Since many people already have these for non-gaming purposes, we don’t consider that part of the cost.

9. Get Free Games

Did you know that plenty of digital gaming storefronts simply give away games for free? The Epic Game Store has given away hundreds of games and if you install their client on your computer, you’ll be alerted every time new ones are available to claim.

The same goes for GoG, which has a selection of classic games that are free to anyone who opens an account, and they’ll make certain games free to claim forever over limited periods of time. Just sign up for the email newsletter so you know when it happens.

If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you also get a selection of free games every month through Prime Gaming that are yours to keep forever. You’ll also get a heap of premium content for free-to-play (F2P) games.

10. Play Open Source Games

There are many completely free open-source video games you can download right now and enjoy, without paying a cent for them. Great examples include 0 A.D, Red Eclipse, FreeOrion, and FreeCiv. You can also try modern open-source ports of classic games, though these may not be entirely free.

RELATED: The Best Modern, Open Source Ports of Classic Games





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