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Gaming on a college budget: Part 2

Jason Evangelho

Turn extra coin into entertainment with budget gaming websites

*This article has been enhanced and extended with permission from Samantha Bigger

In our first look at gaming on a college budget, we showed you how to leverage the internet and your own campus to get your gaming experience on the cheap. Now in Part 2, let’s examine how to achieve budgetary bliss using a PC, Wii, Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.

Let’s face it. It’s hard to get through college without some sort of computer, whether it’s a laptop or a desktop. Recently PC hardware has become ultra-affordable, and 99 percent of major game releases for PC are $10 cheaper than their console cousins.

Once a high-end, high-cost alternative for gaming, a solid PC or laptop these days is ultra-affordable, and digital distribution outlets like Valve’s “Steam” make affordable gaming a reality. Steam allows you to buy and access games from the store’s enormous library on any computer, because it’s tied to your account rather than to the machine itself.

The single most compelling thing about Steam is the frequent deals. More than mere sales, these are practically events that make the money leap (happily, no less) from your paypal account or credit card. Last year, Portal could be downloaded literally for free with no strings attached, and games are often bundled together at savings of 75 percent or more. The golden rule here is to wait for the specials. Check out the steam store mid-week and on weekends, and keep an eye out for seasonal sales. If you don’t purchase a game the week it’s released, Steam will give you plenty of opportunities to snag it on the cheap.

Xbox 360
Microsoft’s Xbox Live has a couple services that are worthy of note to budget strapped gamers.

LIVE Arcade.
Better known as XBLA to Xbox gamers, these games are only available for distribution via download from the Live Marketplace. There are some awesome games out there that frequently cost $10 and rival the quality of full disc releases. Better still, there is a free demo for every single title. These aren’t your mainstream games like “Mass Effect 2” or “Fable 3,” but there are gems in there that you should check out like “Castle Crashers,” “Splosion Man” and “Pac Man Championship Edition DX.” There are over 350 titles on Live Arcade, so there the choices are plenty. Watch for the “Deal of the Week” on your 360 dashboard for even more savings.

Microsoft’s Indie section of Xbox Live contains creative games developed and reviewed by the community. These are typically sold for as little as $1 each, and there are enough diamonds in the rough to make the hunt enjoyable. The community ratings are generally a good gauge of quality. We recommend tracking down the series of titles developed by Radiangames, especially if you’re into twin stick shooters.

The PlayStation 3 has the PlayStation store. According to the PlayStation site:

“With your PlayStation Network account, you can visit PlayStation Store for downloadable games, PS one Classics, free demos, movies, TV shows and more to enjoy on your PS3 and PSP systems.”

Much like the Xbox Live Marketplace, the PSN has a wealth of cheap, enjoyable and downloadable games unique to the Sony store. Watch for seasonal specials on these, and check out the optional PlayStation Plus subscription to get free games and exclusive betas.

For the nostalgic gamer, Nintendo offers the Virtual Console. VC is filled with all those games you loved as a kid from the NES, SNES, N64, Arcade, Commodore 64, Master System, New Geo, Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. Points cost about $1 for 100, with the starting cost for most games at about 500 points. The only extra purchase you may have to make is the classic controller, which costs about 20 bucks. However, I think it’s worth it to play old favorites like “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Super Mario Bros. 3,” or “Super Metroid.” For a full list of games, click here.

Coming up in Part 3
In our next installment, we’ll check out a couple of new kids to the affordable gaming arena – OnLive and PluRent – and recommend several more websites that exist solely to save you coins in game purchases.

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