Gaming on a budget

You don’t need me to tell you that times are tough. The cost of living has risen sharply in the UK, and despite some paltry support from the government, things are probably going to get worse before they get better. Many of us need to trim luxuries from our lives, and for some, their gaming budget will be first to go.

But tightening your belt doesn’t mean you have to set aside your controller altogether. Gaming might not be a cheap hobby, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive one either. Here are our top tips to keep gaming without breaking the bank.

Gaming on a budget: subscription services

Subscription services

Brand new games were expensive even before our current economic insanity. Many current generation games start at £70! But if you’re not dead set on playing the latest games as soon as they come out, subscription services let you spend a little bit of money to play a whole bunch of games.

Xbox Game Pass

If you’re reading this site, you almost certainly already know about Xbox Game Pass. For £7.99, you can get access to hundreds of games, all waiting for you to download and start playing. Every single Xbox Game Studios game, like Halo or Forza, is available on Game Pass on launch day; the same will go for highly anticipated games like Starfield. There are also plenty of third party games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, as well as indie hits like Outer Wilds.

If you’re willing to put up £10.99 per month, Game Pass Ultimate offers all of the above as well as Xbox Live Gold, which allows you to play games online and is wort £6.99 per month by itself. You also get EA Play bundled in, granting you a back catalogue of Electronic Arts games like Mass Effect, Dead Space and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Perhaps most importantly, Game Pass Ultimate grants you access to Xbox Cloud Gaming. With this option, you can stream over 100 of the games included within Game Pass to any screen connected to the internet, no console required. The game is actually being played on an Xbox sitting in a server farm somewhere, with the video feed being beamed back to your phone, laptop or smart TV. This option really comes in handy if you’re travelling

Here’s a little hack for you: you can get Game Pass Ultimate for far cheaper than the advertised price. Let’s say you buy a 12 month membership to Xbox Live Gold, like this prepaid card available from ShopTo. You then apply this to your Xbox account. Now, buying any amount of Game Pass or Game Pass Ultimate – even just a month – will convert those 12 months of Xbox Live Gold to Game Pass. You can stack up to three years worth at a time this way; if you can handle the upfront cost, this is the best way to get the most bang for your buck.

PlayStation Plus

PlayStation Plus recently got an overhaul, three different pricing tiers that give you access to varying numbers of free games. I know, I know, they’re not actually free, but saying ‘free games’ is quicker than ‘games that you’re entitled to as a paying subscriber’.

PlayStation Plus Essential (£6.99 monthly / £19.99 quarterly / £49.99 yearly) gets you two or three free games a month. These games can vary in quality, but September’s games included the acclaimed Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and October will offer Hot Wheels Unleashed, of which myself and Ollie are fans. Once you redeem these games, they remain free for you to download and play for as long as you remain subscribed. If your subscription lapses, you’ll lose your access to these games, but they’ll be waiting for you if you ever renew. Essential also lets you play multiplayer games online, as well as granting you cloud save backups and exclusive discounts in the PlayStation store.

PS Plus Extra (£10.99 monthly / £31.99 quarterly / £83.99 yearly) give you all of the above as well as access to the Game Catalogue, a Game Pass style library of around 400 PS4 and PS5 games. Big ticket PlayStation exclusives won’t be hitting the Game Catalogue on day one as with Game Pass; don’t expect to see games like God of War Ragnarök or Spider-Man 2 on there for a while. But there are still some gems here, like Ghost of Tsushima and Death Stranding. Indie gems like The Messenger and third party hits like Deathloop contribute to making Extra the best value tier of the three, in my opinion.

Lastly, PS Plus Premium (£13.49 monthly / £39.99 quarterly / £99.99 yearly) gives you all of the benefits of Extra and Essential while giving you access to an additional library of classic games. You can stream a large range PS3 games like Sly Cooper and Batman: Arkham Origins. You can also download certain PS1, PS2, and PSP games, which have been updated with trophies and other modern features. Premium also offers trials for big games like Horizon Forbidden West and Cyberpunk 2077. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Premium is really worth it. The selection of PS1 and PS2 classics is limited, the PS3 streaming doesn’t work as well as Xbox Cloud Gaming, and I’m old enough to remember when game demos were free, damn it!

Nintendo Switch Online

Much like Xbox and PlayStation, playing online multiplayer games on Switch requires a Nintendo Switch Online subscription (£3.49 monthly / £6.99 quarterly / £17.99 yearly). As well as online multiplayer and cloud save backups, NSO also lets you access a variety of classic NES and SNES games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Donkey Kong and Super Metroid.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more, paying £34.99 per year will grant you all of the above as well as the NSO Expansion Pack. The Expansion Pack comes with N64 and Sega Mega Drive games like Mario Kart 64 and Sonic the Hedgehog. You’ll also get access to DLC for Mario Kart 8 and Animal Crossing: New Horizons for as long as you’re subscribed.

Of course, a library of retro classics has a more niche appeal than Sony or Microsoft’s offerings. But you shouldn’t underestimate power of games like Super Mario World or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo also refuses to make many of these games available on Switch in any other format than their subscription; if you’re looking for an old-school fix, Nintendo Switch Online is your best bet.

Gaming on a budget: price trackers

Price trackers

Subscription services are great but they won’t cover every single game you want to play. Besides, sometimes it’s just nice to actually own something rather than renting access to it. Console stores hold sales all the time, but sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of whether a game you’re interested in is on discount.

PSPrices allows you to track the digital storefronts of all major console manufacturers, as well as the Apple App Store and the Epic Games storefront. If you add a game to your watch list, you’ll get an email letting you know when it goes on sale and for how much. You can also view the history of a game’s pricing, giving you a sense of how often it goes on sale and whether the current price is its lowest. If you’re primarily a PC gamer, SteamDB offers many of the same features but focused on the Steam store.

If you prefer physical media, there are still ways to get deal alerts. CamelCamelCamel allows you to set price alerts for any Amazon product, so you’ll get an email when a game drops below your desired price. Like PS Prices, you can view the pricing history of a game, allowing you to anticipate when it might go on sale next.

Don’t want to line Jeff Bezos’ pockets? I sympathise. Other websites like Idealo let you compare prices on physical games across a wide variety of online stores to help you get the best deal.

Gaming on a budget: Reward schemes

Reward schemes

You have to spend money to make money. Taking this famous idiom too literally is a great way to rack up crippling credit card debt but when it comes to video games, there’s some truth to it. Each of the major console manufacturers offers some version of a reward programme,

Microsoft Rewards

Spending money on the Xbox storefront will earn you Microsoft Rewards points, which can be exchanged for not only Xbox store credit but also for credit with a wide variety of retailers and services like Amazon, Uber and

Microsoft Rewards points aren’t just limited to store purchases, though. You can earn points for doing a few Bing searches each day, or by playing certain Game Pass games at the right time. The Microsoft Rewards subreddit has guides to maximising the points you earn; setting aside just five or ten minutes a day can earn you around 15,000 a month, which translates to nearly £15 of Xbox store credit.

My Nintendo

Nintendo also operates its own reward scheme called My Nintendo. Reward points come in two varieties. The first is Platinum points, which can be exchanged for phone wallpapers or 3DS themes or whatever. Honestly, I never touch my Platinum points, and I’m only aware of what they can be spent on because I googled it literally just now.

Gold points are much more attractive, as you can spend these on games from the eShop. Generally you can expect to earn 5% of whatever you spend back as Gold points, although preordering certain games will double this figure.

PlayStation Stars

PlayStation doesn’t have a reward scheme up and running just yet, at least not in Europe. However, the new PlayStation Stars loyalty programme will launch in the region on 13 October. While Sony’s marketing for the scheme has focused largely on ‘digital collectibles’, there will be some way to earn store credit from your purchases. We’ll have to wait to see how lucrative (or not) this might be, but hey, every little helps, right?