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11.03.2011

Gaming on a Budget–Time Travel Gaming

I find one of the key benefits of PC gaming is how quickly AAA titles drop in price once something new is released.  To a certain degree the same is true of computer hardware.  PC gaming can be incredibly expensive if you are obsessed with having the latest cutting edge graphics card and multicore CPU.  If you’re willing to give up a few of the bells and whistles, you can be a PC gamer on a shoestring budget.

PC’s are out of date as soon as you buy them.  Cutting edge commands a hefty price tag.  When I build my PC’s I try to build using the thing that was last year’s mainstream to top-end part.  For example, my current gaming PC is built on a socket 775 Core 2 Quad CPU.  It was originally built on a Core 2 Duo.  Since the 2nd generation of i7’s are out now, I was able to scoop up a chip that was  $500 for around $75 used.  I can still play the latest titles and I didn’t have to drop a grand on new CPU’s, motherboards, GPU’s.  When I pick out a video card, I check Tom’s Hardware’s monthly video card round up and shoot for something around $150.  I upgrade maybe once every year or year and a half.  I can’t run the latest titles will all the settings on high, but I can usually run high detail with a few things turned down.  (Running on a smaller monitor will also let you get more performance from a medium grade video card)

Game publishers on PC have to support a broad amount of hardware.  They write games to be backwards compatible with crappy office computers and out of date video cards, and they have to support future video cards that aren’t even on the market yet.  This means if you buy a top tier game, and you’re running last year’s high end CPU/GPU, chances are you’re going to be able to get good performance. 

Now think about games like Crysis.  When it came out, it has video modes that wouldn’t even run on current graphics hardware.  They were planning ahead.  Now it’s been out for years, and you can run it on most laptop integrated graphics.  This is the key.  Your computer, built on last year’s top-end hardware (which you scooped up at bargain price), is way more powerful than the computers that were out 1 or 2 years ago.  So it’s time to go shopping for great games from a few years back.  They’re still going to look good, and your “medium” video card should be able to run them with all the settings cranked up. 

So, the core idea here is that game developers are cranking out more games than you will ever be able to play through.  Even if you buy some of the great releases when they’re new, chances are you missed out on a ton of good games too.  Since PC games drop in value really fast, you can now scoop up all the games you missed on the cheap. 

I tend to run out and grab a few hot titles each year when they launch, but I live for games that are on sale on Steam or Amazon.  Bioshock was a huge favorite of mine, and I got it for $10 on a weekend steam sale months after it was released. 

Try to keep a list of games, things friends recommend, ones you wish you could buy, but they’re too expensive.  Keep this list. Go back to it from time to time and check prices.  Steam has a wishlist feature for this.  Watch Steam daily sales.  Join a site like Goozex or GameTZ and trade for the games you want.  Just remember to be looking for games that are 6 months to a year old to find the best deals.  I try to watch store shelves and endcaps for deals on games for $5-10.  I scoop those games up and keep a backlog on my bookshelf, when I get bored, I pull one of those games out.  Generally I’m just trying to live a year out of sync with the rest of the gaming world.  (bonus, all the patches are released by then)

Here is a handy link to games on Steam that are under $10 and have a Metascore of 90 or more.  http://store.steampowered.com/search/?price=0%2C10&metascore=90&snr=1_7_7_230_152

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