No matter where you live, gaming costs, and it costs a lot.

Where I live, in Poland, the average salary is approximately 2500 zlotys a month, which works out to about $902. Let’s reflect this payment against a popular product on the market, an Xbox 360. The console itself costs roughly 829 zlotys, but you’ll need an additional 220 for a game to play on it. The massive cost of gaming throughout the Polish market has driven people to pirate their entertainment; when you are poor you have to make hard decisions, but for many people, whether or not to pay for such an expensive luxury when they don’t have to isn’t that difficult a choice.

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My dad made that decision for me. We had an Atari 800XE, but it was very difficult to use. Making the cassette recorder work and copying the games was a chore, not to mention inputting commands in BASIC every single time you wanted to play Keystone Kapers or Fred. And so, a fake Nintendo Entertainment System appeared in my household: The Pegasus. The Pegasus gave me one of the first, and most important, lessons on cheap gaming: If it’s a fake, it’s probably cheap as well.

Buying cartridges from Russians at various flea markets was a good idea, though. I’ve never played more Contra versions and hacks in my life. Cartridges with 9999 in 1 Contra games blew my mind and I went through many, many fake NES controllers. Even if they were knock-offs, I still found plenty of fun in those flea markets, but if you live in an area with shops that accept used games, you might have better luck at those. On the other hand, going to shops might not always be a good idea if you’re short on cash. Even second hand shops in Poland recognize that gaming is a luxury and consoles and computers are priced like they’re made of pure gold.

Piracy is easily the cheapest and easiest option when it comes to acquiring games, but comes with a few downsides, including being caught by the police or spending more time trying to get the game to run than actually playing it. Of course, game publishers would prefer that such a person stop pirating games, but why would he if his choices are spend a month’s salary on a game or get it for the cost of an internet connection? In an area like Poland, it’s understandable why people turn to piracy as their source for gaming, but there are alternatives.

Free MMOs deliver a great amount of content without the required subscription fees but often contain shops in which real currency can be used to kit your character out with extra features. Free MMOs often recycle gameplay elements from other popular titles but instead include more extensive ranking and leveling features to keep users hooked. If you lack money and don’t want to pay that subscription for World of Warcraft, you can always convert to the many free clones out there. If you’re not an MMOG person, you can find plenty of mods for games you already own on MODDB.com, or perhaps some good indie games.

On the other hand, you can follow some of the reasonable buying patterns for games that I use to minimize expenditure for gaming. First of all, to buy reasonably you need to do some research on how much content the game that you plan to buy provides. The more you play a game, the cheaper it effectively becomes; MMOs, first-person shooters, and real time strategy games offer a lot of hours for their cost. Also consider if you absolutely must have a game when it first comes out in order for it to stay enjoyable. Roleplaying games are a great example of games you should look to buy much later. In the current business model, a high-profile RPG will be released at $60, only to be followed soon after by DLC. You probably tell yourself then, “Well, I really like this game and I’d love to experience more adventures in this universe” and so you spend your precious money again … and again. Before an avalanche of micro transactions slowly but effectively drains your debit account, allow me to assure you, you don’t need that skin for your favorite champion in League of Legends and you do not need to pay for the new expansion for Bad Company 2 to play Bad Company 2. Such temptations are one of the reasons why no one I know owns a credit card; not having one is the best way to ensure you won’t buy all that unnecessary stuff.

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With RPGs such as Dragon Age: Origins, it’s worth your time to simply wait for the “Ultimate” or “Extended” edition to pay for the game and the expansions at the same time. It takes a bit of patience but that is how capitalism works – if you cannot afford the premium price, you will have to offer your time in exchange. Discipline is what you will need to truly succeed.

It takes only a few months of waiting to acquire a game with up to 50% discount – or even more if you’re lucky. You also might want to review your options for importing games. Given the situation with taxes and shipping, especially across the European Union, you can often import games for much less than you can buy them at your local retailer. I know for sure it’s cheaper to import from the United Kingdom when you live in the Netherlands. Try it!

If you pursue all of these methods and still can’t find titles you can afford, then develop your networking skills so that you can borrow games from friends.

Do not get discouraged with your life as a cash-strapped gamer! Sometimes, it’s a life on the edge of crime. Sometimes you will dwell in the darkest corners of gaming shops scrounging for bargains. It’s a life that teaches you some basic business skills, which you will enjoy whatever you are going to do in your professional line of work. At the end of the day, you will get the game you want, so game on.

[byline]Bart Wojenka would like to work in the gaming industry someday, but for now, is busy riding his polar bear in Poland.[/byline]

The Broke Gamer

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