During the coronavirus pandemic and associated social distancing measures, video game sales rocketed upwards while movie theaters and other kinds of entertainment floundered. Numerous people found videogames for cheap and discovered gaming as a hobby for the first time, while others who used to be indifferent to gaming started seeing it as a way to preserve their sanity. Any remaining stigma of nerdiness vanished as video games became a fully mainstream pastime.
Gaming certainly has a number of advantages: games can be played alone, socially, or even professionally. People can compete on an even footing regardless of age and physical condition, keep their minds active while having fun, and call on a large, generally supportive community for help if they need it.
Myths like that they cause violence have been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked, and it turns out that videogames are really no more addictive than Scrabble or chess. Many of the negative stereotypes have in fact been shown to be no more than the imaginings of news media who spread scary rumors to sell newspapers. This seems to be much easier than quality reporting.
There is one major fly in the ointment, though: finding videogames for cheap is far from easy. Each new title can easily set you back $50 or more, a console about ten times that once you add in all the accessories you’d like to have, and a decent gaming PC about a thousand dollars. This is a lot of money, especially when you’re struggling to keep your head above water.
Don’t get too discouraged, though: it is indeed possible to enjoy videogames for cheap. You may have to lower your expectations a little bit. This is less of an imposition than you may think, though, especially when approached with the proper mindset: it’s the player experience that counts, after all, not the hardware or even the game it’s running. You’ll certainly enjoy having the money you save available for other uses – if you manage this carefully, you may be able to afford your dream gaming setup sooner than you think.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet, though. First, let’s talk about a few practical tips you can use to start playing videogames for cheap immediately.
Table of Contents
- 1 Stop Chasing the Newest Releases
- 2 Never, Ever Pay for Pre-Orders
- 3 Don’t Forget the Golden Oldies
- 4 Indies and Diamonds in the Rough
- 5 Beef up Your Existing Computer to Run Cheap Used Videogames
- 6 Buy Videogames Cheap on Online Marketplaces
- 7 Be Smart About Searching for Cheap Used Videogames
- 8 Rent Videogames Before Buying
- 9 Play Videogames for Cheap or Without Any Charge at All
Stop Chasing the Newest Releases
Here’s a philosophical question for you: do you think gamers in the year 2010, or 2000 for that matter, had any less fun than those playing in 2020? Objectively, of course, the gameplay experience of yesteryear wasn’t as good as what you can get today, especially in terms of graphics (not even to mention VR). Once you’re immersed in a game, though, this doesn’t really matter all that much.
Several classic games are still enjoyed and talked about years after their supposed prime. Some have been remastered with better graphics; others have been the subject of disappointing sequels. More importantly, they’re often available for a song and can be run on max settings even on older or less capable PCs. They’ve also been reviewed, analyzed, and streamed to death, so you know exactly what you’re getting. A good place to start is to browse through the winners of prestigious game awards from previous years – they haven’t become any less awesome just because they’re no longer being advertised. Many continue to have thriving online communities, though you may have to do a little work to find a multiplayer server that’s still active.
Never, Ever Pay for Pre-Orders
One reason it’s just not possible to develop modern, full-featured videogames for cheap is their sheer complexity. New titles typically comprise well over a million lines of code. The surprising thing isn’t that all of them contain bugs, but that they can run at all.
With so much emphasis being placed on schedules and meeting release deadlines, there is also never enough time to test a game comprehensively before it hits the shelves. Like it or not, this means that the individuals who buy a game as soon as it’s released, or even before, play the role of guinea pigs. Is a tiny discount or a themed T-shirt really sufficient compensation for becoming an unpaid beta tester?
Usually, the flaws in a new game aren’t dealbreakingly bad. The recent example of the much-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 should by itself be enough to put anyone out of pre-ordering an unproven game, though, or buying it as soon as it’s released. As that game as well as many others also demonstrated, release dates aren’t exactly etched in stone. Getting it first doesn’t necessarily mean getting it on time, and it may or may not actually be finished by then.
If you wait six to twelve months, on the other hand, you can get the game fully patched with all the DLC packages at your fingertips. Everything is virtually guaranteed to run much more smoothly, and you may even find it among the cheap used videogames at your local thrift store. Plenty of people get caught up in the hype surrounding a new game, assume that it will look just like the trailer even on their potato computers, and end up selling their copy after a week when they realize they don’t like it – don’t be one of them.
Don’t Forget the Golden Oldies
If you go back a little further in time, either because you’re brand new to gaming or you’re nostalgic for those you played in your youth, you may find videogames for cheap indeed. Many older games that have no further commercial value to their owners have been designated as abandonware by their publishers.
Most of these videogames are definitely showing their age and will cause the typical tech-savvy teenager to roll their eyes. Many of them are still huge fun, though, while others are the direct ancestors to games that are still enormously popular today. In some cases, they can be more than a little tricky to run on a modern computer; many require an emulator like DOSBox to work at all.
There is one thing to be aware of: just because a piece of software is no longer sold or supported doesn’t mean it’s abandonware. Some companies continue to hold on to their copyrights long after they’re profitable and downloading such a game is still technically piracy. It’s kind of a legal gray area, though, and enforcement is spotty at best. Even ethical abandonware websites will often host such games until and unless they receive a complaint from the copyright owner.
No matter how much they enjoy new releases, many gamers return to well-worn titles like these time and time again. Some of the videogames available in this way (though we don’t make any claims about their copyright status) include:
Indies and Diamonds in the Rough
No list of the greatest videogames of 2020 would be complete without a mention of Fall Guys and Among Us. Neither came from a AAA studio, neither had a huge budget, and neither is likely to cause your graphics card to melt.
What they did each have going for them is a unique, interesting, and engaging concept and the possibility of meaningful gameplay with friends. What’s more, despite their huge popularity, they remain cheap and offer amazing value for money – you can afford a selection of three or four indie games for the price of a single top-shelf game.
In addition, since independent studios typically place less emphasis on the commercial aspects of videogame development, buggy software isn’t rushed into production, programmers are much more responsive to suggestions from the player community, and often use these games to tell unique, captivating stories. This can more than make up for their lack of cinematic graphics. Who really needs to play yet another first-person shooter or this year’s version of FIFA in 4K resolution when other titles allow you to engage your own imagination? A couple of indie videogames that may end up changing your expectations of gaming are:
- The Binding of Isaac
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- Untitled Goose Game
- A Short Hike
Beef up Your Existing Computer to Run Cheap Used Videogames
Owning a middling-to-good computer is pretty much a necessity in the modern world, especially if you use it for work. You probably think that this workhorse will never give you the pleasure of setting a videogame’s performance to maximum, but you may be surprised at just how much of a thoroughbred it can become.
Before you start looking (and gasping) at the price of a new gaming PC or console, take a couple of minutes to figure out what you can do with what you have. Getting the very newest, graphics-intensive videogames to run properly will generally require a computer less than a year old, and a pretty expensive one at that. Even so, upgrading your current hardware may place a number of games you’ve always wanted to play within your reach – and doesn’t have to cost the earth. You may already have an intuitive idea of where your PC can be improved; if not, testing software may shed some light on the matter. The main components you’ll be looking at for easy, cheap upgrades are:
- RAM: This is your computer’s short-term memory and one of the few improvements you can feasibly attempt on a laptop. Videogames tend to eat up a lot of RAM, which you’ll certainly notice especially if you have programs like an internet browser running in the background. No special skill is needed to install extra RAM.
Cost: Around $30 for 8 GB
- SSD Hard Drive: When your computer is about to run out of RAM or a portion of this memory hasn’t been accessed in a while, the operating system typically shunts some of its contents to the hard drive. Traditional mechanical HDDs are very slow in comparison, though: installing a solid-state device instead of or in addition to your current drive will speed things up a lot, especially when booting up or loading a game.
Cost: Around $100 for 1 TB
- Graphics Card: Most desktop users rely on a graphics processing unit (GPU) soldered to the motherboard itself. This keeps the price of a new computer down and is perfectly fine for ordinary tasks like watching videos. Videogames, however, require a huge amount of specialized math to be done to display correctly – if visual quality is important to you, a more powerful graphics card will be worth its weight in gold.
Cost: Varies greatly, from under $100 to over $1,000
Buy Videogames Cheap on Online Marketplaces
A serious gaming PC carries a much higher price tag than a comparable console. It may be worth it in the long run, however: as an open technological ecosystem, PCs give you a much wider variety of videogames to choose from. Even games that start out as PlayStation or Xbox exclusives are ported to PC eventually, assuming that they’re any good.
This directly leads to the other advantage of PC gaming: the more vigorous competition among videogame publishers for your cash. With consoles, you’re more or less locked in to the Microsoft and PlayStation stores, along with retailers who rarely sell physical videogames for cheap. PC users have a much wider range to choose from, in particular online marketplaces where you can buy videogames at very low prices.
The undisputed leader in this sphere is Steam, a kind of one-stop-shop that offers a huge array of both premium and indie games. Linux, Mac and Windows are all supported and, more importantly, they’re constantly running promotions on specific games. Seeing a popular game at 50% to 75% off is not uncommon, as are games you can download and play for free. It’s definitely worth taking a look around every week or so to see if there are any videogames you’d like to add to your collection on sale.
If you’re unhappy with a game, or your computer isn’t capable of running it properly, you can get a no-questions-asked refund within two weeks as long as you’ve logged less than two hours of play time. This is fortunate, as some of the content hosted on Steam does seem like developers trying to make a quick buck at the expense of gamers.
GOG (Good Old Games) is another great place to find videogames for cheap. In contrast to Steam, where your purchases are inextricably linked to your account, GOG uses a “buy and own” model. You can find both the latest releases and classic videogames here; at the moment, you can get all of the following titles for under ten bucks:
- Divinity: Original Sin 1 or 2
- Dragon Age: Origins
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
- Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Metro Exodus
Be Smart About Searching for Cheap Used Videogames
Buying pre-owned games at retailers is usually a sucker’s game. Sure, they’re tested to ensure that they work, but you often save no more than five to ten dollars compared to a new, physical copy on DVD. You can find much better deals by taking the time to scroll through Amazon or, especially, classified ad websites like Craigslist and Swappa.
Bypassing Gamestop and similar stores often allows you to pick up an entire library of games for practically nothing. Sometimes, these are sold along with a second-hand console somebody no longer has a use for. Finding real bargains can take some work, and you should take care to compare prices from other sources. If you keep your eyes open, though, you can often find some truly exceptional videogames for cheap in this way.
Rent Videogames Before Buying
We mentioned Steam’s generous return policy a few moments ago. This is one of that platform’s best features: unless you spend a great deal of time reading reviews and watching Twitch streams, there’s always a chance of buying a game that turns out to be different from what you were expecting, or one you realize is fun at first but will quickly become repetitive and no fun to play.
Another option open to you is to rent a game from companies like GameFly, iFlipd, or Amazon Prime. Redbox, unfortunately, no longer offers this service, meaning that you’ll have to wait a few days for the game to be shipped to you. Don’t forget about your local library, though: you can often check out games for free and even rent consoles for a nominal fee.
Due to copyright concerns, this option is generally available only for console games. PC releases, on the other hand, are sometimes accompanied by limited demo versions, though these take about as long to download as the full game. Either option is great for both finicky gamers who don’t want to waste time and money on videogames that don’t really intrigue them and those who enjoy a little bit of variety.
Play Videogames for Cheap or Without Any Charge at All
Cloud gaming, where the most of the actual software runs on a remote server instead of your own device, still has to get to wherever it’s going. Google Stadia, Shadow by Blade, and PlayStation Now all work – sort of, and as long as you have a robust internet connection – but most people still very much prefer having a little more control over their gaming experience, including by taking full advantage of the pricey hardware they already own.
Free-to-play online games, on the other hand, are well established, constantly updated, and often comparable to premium releases. Some are supported by ads, others (rather sneakily) encourage you to spend real-world money for digital artifacts you can use in the game. Several pay-to-own titles are guilty of the same thing, of course, but if your intention is to play videogames for cheap, you should probably resist this temptation as much as possible.
Some of these games can be intimidating to a newcomer: getting used to the interface and mechanics alone can be a chore, while you may find yourself pitted against far more skilled and experienced opponents with highly developed in-game characters. Never fear, though: everybody has to start somewhere, and sticking with it for a few hours may get you immersed in some truly rich worlds populated with the digital avatars of real people from around the world. Some of the more popular free-to-play titles are:
A quick Google search will also show you numerous games you can play inside your browser, most of which only require you to register with an email address.
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From the gentle, wholesome escapism of Animal Crossing to the no-holds-barred carnage of Doom Eternal, gaming offers something for everyone. Compared to some other forms of recreation – going to the movies, eating out, attending sporting events – it can also be a very economical hobby.
Of course, it can still cost a bundle if you go overboard with it. Apart from the tips listed above, you should also do the things that are almost second nature to smart shoppers: keep an eye out for coupons, subscribe to a few gaming magazines and follow their Facebook pages to get access to special offers, lend and borrow games among your friends, and don’t spend money on a new game before you’ve completed at least some of those you already have. Above all, determine an upper limit to your videogame spending in your personal budget and don’t allow fancy advertising to push you into exceeding this.
A game that’s great today is not going to be any less enjoyable in six months’ time, after all. Buy videogames cheap, enjoy each to the fullest, and remember that fun and relaxation depend mostly on the player’s attitude and the company he or she keeps, in-game or in their living room. Glitzy graphics and slick marketing come a distant second; simply recognizing this will already help you enjoy videogames more cheaply.
If you share this attitude, you can probably name half a dozen cheap, underrated video games off the top of your head. Drop a few suggestions, along with where to get them, in the comments: we could all do with a little more fun in our lives.