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3 Tips to Manage Video Game Costs

By Kevin Sun

Spending on gaming has never been more complicated than it is today. Whether you’re a gamer yourself, fund one in the family, or are just looking to buy a gift, understanding the costs of video games will help you use your hard-earned cash effectively.

Depending on how enthusiastic you are about getting the latest technology and most jaw-dropping experiences, video games range from being an extremely cheap to an extremely expensive hobby. However, the vast variety of games available today means that there’s something for everyone. In situations such as the coronavirus pandemic, where staying inside is encouraged, video games are also recognized as a valuable source of indoor entertainment.

Here are 3 tips to help you shop like a smart gamer:

Know your gaming costs.1. Know Your Gaming Costs

In the old days, buying a video game was just like buying furniture; you’d pay one price upfront to own the game, that game would be considered complete, and you wouldn’t have to pay another cent for it. However, some games now appear cheaper at first glance but could end up costing a lot more in the long run. Here are 3 examples:

Paid Games with Downloadable Content (DLC)

Modern games are always being updated. Some updates, like the addition of new levels or other content, may require separate purchases. This means that unlocking the full potential of a game might cost double or even triple its sticker price.

Carefully look over the product details to see if your game has DLC. You can always play without buying anything extra. However, if you want the full experience, make sure you can afford its DLC costs before buying the game itself.

Free-to-Play Games with Microtransactions

In the video game world, “free-to-play” is a deceptive label. Yes, you can download and start the game without spending money, but companies still make money off you through ads and microtransactions. Microtransactions are small purchases you make inside the game to get extra content or an advantage over other players. Because each purchase tends to be so small, it can be easy to start spending impulsively on microtransactions. Remember that a little can add up to a lot very fast!

To avoid an unexpected bill, always know when you’re being asked to spend real money rather than in-game points or currency. And if you pay real money to get more in-game currency, always think from the real money perspective. It doesn’t matter if $100 gives you 10 or 10000 game bucks—it’s still $100 from your wallet.

  • Bonus Tip: Be careful with microtransactions that give random items. These are often called loot boxes, and like gambling, they can cause your spending to spiral out of control. Protect yourself by setting a spending limit. If you’re worried about forgetting or ignoring it, then link a gift card, rather than a credit card, to your account. You could even set a budget on the Google Play Store, which is a feature that Apple unfortunately doesn’t have at this time.

Subscription Gaming and Games Requiring Subscriptions

Like a gym membership or phone plan, some multiplayer games require you to pay a subscription fee to keep playing. A subscription gaming service, on the other hand, is like having Netflix for video games: you get to play any game in the service’s library for a monthly or yearly cost.

Whether you want to pay a subscription or not comes down to how frequently you game. If you’re going to play a specific multiplayer game or access a gaming library often, then a subscription can save you money that you’d otherwise spend on other activities. If you don’t play often, then a free game or one you could buy outright is the better choice.

2. Include Gaming in Your Budget

A budget is a plan for how you want to spend your money. Good budgets break down spending into specific groups so that, for example, you’re not spending money on games that you’d rather use for food.

Everyone’s discretionary expenses are different, and they typically should make up about 5-10% of an overall budget. This number includes your gaming, but also other entertainment activities such as eating out or going to the movies. If one type of expense doesn’t have enough of a share in your budget, giving it its own category will help keep your budget realistic.

Budgeting for a one-time payment to buy a game isn’t complicated, but it’s a lot easier to lose control with microtransactions. It might feel like dropping a dollar here and there isn’t worth remembering, but small costs can add up to big debt. To get around this kind of nasty surprise, track your expenses. For example, you could write down every in-game purchase you make on a piece of paper—even if it’s just a few cents—and keep a running total. Look over that paper every time you’re thinking about making another purchase to see if you’re still inside your budget.

Tips to Make Budgeting Easier

3. Don’t Get Suckered in by the Bargain Bin

Everyone loves a good sale, and for video games, a good sale on digital platforms like Steam could mean anything from 10-90% off. Yet for many eager bargain-hunters, pouncing on a bunch of sales adds up to more than shopping without any discounts—when they wouldn’t have bought those games in the first place. Even worse is buying more games than there’s time to play, which makes the abandoned purchases a complete waste of money.

Especially during sales, it’s important to keep your bottom line in mind. Make a list of what you want to buy and let your budget be your guide. Even when the price of a game changes, your budget doesn’t, so learn to play within it.

What to Do When Video Game Costs Become Too Hard to Beat

Like many hobbies, video games costs can be fit into any budget if you do it responsibly. However, if costs start mounting and you’ve got concerns about your spending and debt, get help sooner rather than later. A professional credit counsellor from an accredited, non-profit credit counselling organization can guide you through your finances without judgement or bias. They will help you find practical solutions for your challenges so that debt or a bad budget doesn’t spell game over.