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Feature: How to buy a videogame
by Chris Hawke

Yesterday, I did something very rare. I bought a video game.

I know what you're thinking. How can someone who writes articles about video games buy them so very rarely? Two main reasons, that are linked strongly: I'm incredibly miserly with my hard-earned money, and I rent games instead of buying. Economically, it's a life-saver; that tidal-wave of pre-summer blockbusters can all be played for around £10 a month. But, there's something missing. It's quite soulless. Take an RPG as an example - if I rent it and create my own character, with my own choices, and my own style of play, it still never really feels like my character, as it's not my game. It's sorta like stealing a baby and calling it your own. Not that I've done that. No sir.

The game in question was Tropico 3. It wasn't the first game I'd bought; Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on PS3 marked my spending debut of 2010, before I traded that in after realising that I literally had no fun playing it online. And fun is the reason for playing games. This highlights the reason I hate spending; it can hurt. There's £40 of hard-earned cash, that I had to sweat, lie, cheat and steal babies to earn; suddenly and cruelly snatched from my proletarian grasp by a reflective disc of false promises. Sure, you can trade-in after realising your mistake, and get some recompense, but that's still precious savings down the drain that could have been spent on a better game. Or feeding those stolen babies. Y'know, for those who do that.

Tropico 3, as it turns out, was a good choice. I'd scouted the game out when it was first released, but came to the decision that around £25 was too dear for something so niche. Luckily, it was on sale for less than a fiver on Steam, so I regained interest. And that moment of pressing the 'Purchase' button - palms sweaty, heartbeat pounding in my ears, a slight feeling of sickness in my stomach, stolen babies crying - that terrified me. Yes, it's only five pounds, but it's still a fiver that could have been spent helping the poor, or something far more selfish like buying one of those giant cookies. The game would take up space on my hard drive, there would be the guilt of having a piece of digital entertainment at the forefront of technology and never playing it, the developers would think that their game was good, and make another stupid sequel; single-handedly, with the online transaction of five hundred pence, I would kill an African, break my computer, cause the downfall of technology and ruin the video game industry forever.

I'm a pessimist, by the way.

So, I feel it my duty to help those more unfortunate than me. Those who throw money at anything with a gun on the cover, or that smell of 'new game'; who think that movie tie-ins will actually be any good, before finding themselves without any cash three months into the year. Here is a list, straight from the stingiest man in Britain, on how to buy a video game.

That doesn't mean just glancing at the score. '8/10' might be a quick indication of the quality of the end product, but gaming isn't the same for everyone - by reading the reviews word-for-word, you can see which parts of the game work brilliantly and which parts fall flat on their face. The latest shoot-'em-up might have slews of 9/10 reviews, but the co-op might be universally slammed for being buggy, broken and blatantly last-minute. If you're purchasing the game mainly for it's co-op and look at the scores only, you're in for a shock when you sit down to play with a friend.

DLC can be both a blessing and a curse. Hi-5 to Rockstar for dishing out free, expansive cooperative DLC only a month after release, which is good for everyone apart from accountants; but most DLC will require anything from £5-£15. This is where, if possible, you have to look at the quality of that content - if you love the game and expansions are cheap, then get it, but beware of the mounting costs: is it worth spending all that to add to one game, while missing out on the opportunity to buy another? The expensive must-haves are the worst: DLC that costs a minor fortune and is needed to continue getting the most out of the game. It means that, suddenly, the publishers have you backed into a corner. Avoid these post-release problems by checking the upcoming packs before buying.

The economy is a strange and complex thing. Whilst bright-eyed graduates might spend years researching why we can't fix the recession by just making more money - because, it seems, there are laws we've made to stop ourselves doing just that - the public's basic understanding of economics is that things, eventually, fall in price. Often, with the bigger games, these prices fall incredibly slowly - 2009's Uncharted 2 is still around £30 - but with the smaller and less popular games, you might be able to snap up the title for half the price only a month or two after release. If you're not one of those people who simply must get the game day one for some inexplicable reason, then hold your horses and wait for the sales.

Impulse buys are pure danger. True fact: The PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace account for 87% of all robberies in the world today. It'll start off as a quick search for a theme or demo: innocent, with purpose, seemingly safe. Then you see a downloadable title with a funny name, or a chicken on the front, or a title with a pun in it or something rubbish like that. But... you just can't tear yourself away. It looks bad, everyone says it's unplayable... but it's just so cheap! Stay away from thoughtless purchases - they'll drain your wallet without you realising, and when you do, it'll be too late: you'll have an angry wife/partner/cat glaring at you, wondering why you've not paid the rent. Trust me - not a good position to be in. And yes, I don't quite know what the lamb in the picture above is thinking, either.

Some people are opposed to multiplayer. They're the same people who want to Queen to take a larger role in Parliament, and don't think there was 'that much wrong' with Austria-Hungary. Multiplayer is, at worst, a needless addition you're still happy to have or, at best, something that'll suck you in for months and refuses to let you go. Like a Venus fly-trap of entertainment. When looking to buy a video game, check out how long the single-player campaign is, and whether it has any appealing multiplayer - if it's short, with no multiplayer, it's probably best to rent, if anything.

Make a little list in your head of those games you want. Then, cut it down to the games you really want, before slicing it again to the games you simply must have. You should work around that. Will your gaming budget stretch that far? Adjust your list accordingly - if you've made mountains of profit from strimming hedges, then you can afford the games you take some minor interest in, and leave room for any announced throughout the year. If you're stretched for cash, then stick rigidly to that set of games.

Hopefully, those simple points might mean that you make it to Christmas without breaking the bank. Then again, it depends how many games are revealed at E3 2010, which we're covering, live from LA. You've gotta love a shameless plug.


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- Chris Hawke

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