I remember the gaming of my youth with fond memories. living in a small village devoid of much entertainment bar a scattering of pubs, of which I was far too young to sample, and encumbered by pocket money that I had little to use on. Those days are a far cry from the student life many of us now encounter; our overdrafts are lavished on alcohol and wasted on relatively paltry matters such as ‘recommend reading’ or ‘food’. All this means that rather little of our budget is allowed for our personal hobbies, and when those personal hobbies include an industry where a single game can cost as much as £50 it becomes all the more difficult.

So how do you enjoy video games when you can barely afford to power the console you’re playing them on? Here I present a guide for the economically challenged of us, a guide to gaming on a student budget…

Fall in love with indie gaming

Indie games, developed by teams consisting of only a handful of people, has seen a rise in recent years. Ever since Jonathan Blow championed his metaphorical entry into problems of regret and time based puzzles entitled Braid, indie games have shown that they can be just as, or even more, satisfying an experience than the games generated routinely by multi-million pound funded teams and, often, sell for a margin of the latter’s price. Whilst the likes of Dear Esther and Flower would have us convinced the indie gaming is the realm of artistic endeavours and introspective self-consideration, that simply isn’t the case, and if you needed convincing otherwise, take a look at hits such as World of Goo, Super Meat Boy, Fez, and the world famous Minecraft for a taste of Indie gaming at its best.

Subscribe to Lovefilm

Most of us are already aware of Lovefilm however, a less advertised part of their deal is that you can rent games as well as films. Their most basic option for gaming allows two games to be rented at a time; for just over £11 it certainly beats the hefty price tags borne by most high street retailers. The only downside is that, for the collector within all of us who revels in shelves brimming with their favourite games, sending the game back can be, at best, a deeply traumatic experience.

Sample some seasonal sales

Most websites offer some kind of deals on games now and then, but Steam tops them all. Regularly offering as much as 75% off the price of recent games, most prolifically during its legendary summer and winter sales, steam can either be your wallets new best friend or its constant bane; remember that no matter how cheap a game is, you have to honestly ask yourself the question ‘am I going to play this for more than 15 minutes?’.

Embrace ‘free-to-play’

Many modern developers are now embracing ‘free-to-play gaming’. Games that are entirely free but rely upon micro-transactions (small payments) that allow the player to access additional content, ranging from the purely cosmetic to new characters or weapons. Thankfully, most micro-transaction rewards can be earned in game meaning that you can enjoy the full gameplay experience at no extra cost.

There’s a free-to-play alternative for almost any game genre imaginable; for the first person shooter enthusiast, take a look at Tribes: Ascend or Team Fortress 2, for the strategist inside you, why not take a look at League of Legends or the upcoming DotA 2. If, on the other hand, you’re craving a decent MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game for the less familiar of us) but don’t want to be handing out subscription fees every month, you’ll be pleased to hear that many, previously subscription based, titles such as The Lord of The Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online are now completely free to play.

Gaming on a budget can be difficult, but it is possible. Once you’ve found a few gems buried in sales and indie game catalogues, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.

Tom Mackay

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