Considering the current economic climate it's safe to say most of us are feeling a bit of a pinch. It's not unusual in times like these to start looking at the things you consider luxuries and start trimming your expenses. Your spending habits on games, WoW Gold, Aion Kinah and consoles are likely to be pretty near the top of the list for the chopping block, but it doesn't have to be, not only can you game on the cheap, you can enjoy it too.
Anyone can game on the cheap, there are literally dozens of poorly made, un-fun, free-to-play MMO's and shallow casual games available for download. Great gaming on the cheap, especially hardcore gaming, now that's a bit of a trick, but let’s see what we can do to get you started.
PC or Console? This is easily a debate that could encompass an entire article on its own, but for the sake of brevity and my sanity we'll cut things short and focus only on the financial merits of each choice.
Out of the gate this might seem like a no-brainer, considering the fact that they range between $250 and $300, you'd think consoles would be the way to. Not so fast, there are hidden costs you need to think about and be aware of when picking up a console. If you're getting a Nintendo Wii, then you're probably going to have to spend another $35-$40 on a second controller to really make the console sing, games will run you between $40 and $50 a pop, depending on how quickly you finish your games, and how often you want new ones, that could get expensive, fast.
If you're thinking about getting one of the higher end systems, like a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360 then things can get dramatically more expensive. To make the best of your experience you’ll want to get a High Definition Television, not exactly cheap. In addition, going online with your Xbox 360 to play against others will cost $50 a year as you'll need an Xbox Live Gold account. All this without factoring in paying for hard drives (to store game saves and data), WiFi adapters, and the games themselves at $60 a title.
If you already own a console, the best cheap gaming advice I can give would be to stick to the titles available for download on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and on Nintendo's WiiWare service, there's a decent variety and most are available at a good price. However, if you're willing. . .
Consider the PC. If you're reading this, chances are that you can probably play most of the PC games I'll be recommending in this article, yes, even if you just have an integrated graphics processor.
That said, if you are in fact looking to upgrade on the cheap you should be able to get Nvidia's GeForce 8800GT for less than $70 and an extra gigabyte of memory shouldn't run you more than $20.
The GeForce 8800GT may no longer be Nvidia's top of the line graphics card but it's arguably the best card they've ever made and it's still relevant, it will handle even newer games like Call of Duty: World at War, Crysis, Age of Conan and the upcoming Aion: Tower of Eternity from NCsoft with relative ease at conservative resolutions, just stick to 720p (1280x720 pixels) and you should be fine.
Enter the MMO. Instead of buying a new game every month on consoles for $60, why not just pay $15 and get access to a massive online game world? There are many MMO's out there vying for your dollar, but if you're tight for cash and looking to get the best bang for your buck, look no further than World of Warcraft.
Designed to run on just about everything, WoW is an infinitely scalable game that will offer you literally hundreds of hours of game time before you even consider buying one of the newer expansions, Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, both reasonably priced at $20 and $30 respectively.
World of Warcraft isn't just a large game though, it's one of the most popular games ever made, played by literally millions, and widely regarded as quote possibly the best MMO you can buy. Its charming game world and rich lore will have you hooked, and before you know it you'll be questing, raiding, grouping, rolling alts, scoring rare loot and raking in a fortune in WoW Gold like the best of them! The game’s also got a fantastic community with active forums and guilds for you to socialise with, don't be surprised if you find yourself making fast virtual friends.
You can also rest rest easy in the knowledge that support for WoW isn't going anywhere anytime soon, new patches, fixes, content and gameplay expansions are announced with great regularity, the game is always changing and evolving and the latest expansion, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, is set for release in 2010.
So, World of Warcraft is great, but are there any other MMO's worth a look? Of course! As stated earlier there are dozens of MMO's out there and many of them are actually very well made, and just about every one of the will come in under our $15 a month budget.
While not quite as scalable as World of Warcraft, Lord of The Rings Online, Dungeons, Dragons Online and Warhammer Online are all fairly friendly to low spec'd PCs and are well made, fun games. In addition, all of these will run perfectly well at maximum or near maximum settings on the above recommended Nvidia 8800GT video card.
For a change of pace you might want to look at Eve Online, it's not for everyone but you're a fan of games like Freelancer, Freespace and Wing Commander, and don't mind a dash of political intrigue then this might be just what the doctor ordered.
But hey, what if you don't like MMO's? What if you're not into orcs, goblins, elves and magic? I mean let's face it; MMOs aren't everyone's cup of tea, even if they are the most cost efficient solution to our financial dilemma. So what are the options?
Steam: Steam is arguably the premiere digital delivery platform for games. Brought to you by the guys from Valve (of Half Life fame), Steam is more than just a digital store front, it's a fully featured service that also organizes the games you own, backs up your save data, keeps track of a friends list for you, and helps you keep in touch with friends and rivals alike via a built in instant messaging service – did I mention it's entirely free to download and use? You'll find its ever growing catalogue of games covers a decent variety of genres and offers everything from the aforementioned World of Warcraft, to obscure independent oddities like Zeno Clash and Space Giraffe, and all at competitive prices. In addition, Steam often does weekend sales when you'll be able to find titles at up to 70% off.
There are other digital delivery platforms such as Impulse and IGN's Direct2Drive, but neither are quite as friendly and easy to use as Valve's classy service. Impulse is still a little rough around the edges, it's only about year old and its catalogue is relatively small but it does show promise. Direct2Drive in contrast offers a much larger variety of titles to choose from than Impulse, but the service is burdened by a clunky, unresponsive homepage and unwieldy client-side software.
The last digital delivery service we'll take a look at differentiates itself from the competition by offering a catalogue comprised almost entirely of PC classics of yore. Good Old Games (GoG. .com) offers a wide variety of some of the best games available from yesteryear, games like Giants Citizen Kabuto, Unreal, Fallout 1 and 2, Sacrifice, and Beneath a Steel Sky perk your interest, and you’ll love GoG. All these titles and much more are available for between $6 and $10, all have been reworked to be compatible with Windows XP and Vista, and all are entirely DRM free.
So there you have it, if you've got a PC you can game on the cheap, simply cut down on the trips to McDonalds or just go a day every week without a latte and you'll be able to easily afford any of the options listed above.
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