If you happened to check last week’s Gaming Weekend you may have noted there was a $60 a Month tidbit included there. This week I’ve pulled the $60 a Month update out of the weekend wrap-up in order to clarify and adjust some of the rules as well as discuss the first budget gaming conundrum (likely of many) to pop up as this holiday’s buying season ramps up.
In the original $60 a Month post I determined that everything that was gaming related would fall under the banner of the experiment. That included tournament entry fees, hardware purchases, subscriptions to gaming-related services and so on. My initial rationale was that this experiment was rooted in a very real-world fact that I do have a regular job and I have to buy all my own games and stuff so I have a line item on my monthly budget worksheet called “games” under which all these items fall.
But I realized this week after I did some calculations that to a certain extent the experiment is more about being a frugal gamer and less about how I’m handling my personal finances. I doubt anyone has much interest in knowing whether or not I met my budget for groceries this month or if I bought too many boxes of Ho-Hos, which is why I don’t have a grocery shopping blog. I think to that extent hearing me talk each month about saving up for a PSP is dull and really of no particular value to people who aren’t me. What I have in common with other gamers is the desire to play new games and the fact that when I’m responsible for procuring those games on my own, I can’t possibly afford everything I want all the time. So there is this need to try and find good deals, make wise decisions and approach problems (such as this holiday season’s flood of potentially great titles) creatively.
Essentially what I mean is that I’m starting to think that $60 a Month should only focus on the games and not on things that are gaming-related but of a binary nature when viewed from a financial decision perspective. I’m talking about things like the purchase of new gaming hardware or subscribing to XBox Live: Either you choose to spend money on these things or you don’t, but one person’s yes or no decision on those matters is probably inconsequential to another’s. I doubt anyone will buy a PS3 just because I saved all my gaming money for ten months and in the meantime my entire column would consist of “I really wish I could have afforded X this month, but I’m still saving for a PlayStation. Bummer.” Not exactly thrilling journalism.
The alternative to this is to increase the funds, something like “$120 a Month.” I hesitate to do that, however, because that seems like a pretty generous amount of money for one person to spend on games in a month and it really limits the accessibility of the column since I can imagine even someone with a fairly low-paying job managing to scrounge $60 every four weeks together but anything approaching or over $100 starts to sound like gas money or potential savings.
I realize that, fundamentally, changing the rules to apply to less items is the same as raising the allowed amount, but that’s why I think it’s important to do this now rather than after I’ve been doing the experiment for a few months because it feels less like I’m failing and then adjusting to make it easier on myself and more like I’m working to improve the appeal of the series and the experiment. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
So with that said, the new criteria for items which qualify to be counted against the $60 a Month banner are items which are games in and of themselves, game components required to play a given game or services whose purpose is in some way to provide additional games. So taking from the original list, here’s the new breakdown:
…Video game software, rentals, role-playing books,
tournament entry fees, hardware, recurring service fees that enable gaming (eg XBox Live or World of Warcraft subscriptions), game peripherals (like dice, battery packs, miniatures, modelling supplies, extra controllers, etc) and boxed sets…
Re-writing it to better fit what I’m saying:
Video game software, rentals, role-playing books, game components (like miniatures, booster packs, downloadable content, etc) and boxed sets.
Under this definition my subscription to XBox Live is no longer a concern, nor is my savings for a PSP. My subscription to GameZnFlix is still part of the experiment as are any Magic: The Gathering sealed deck tournaments where I get to keep the cards. One tricky bit was Goozex where I can’t quite decide if the associated fees apply. In the end I decided that the $1 per trade fee does count, as do any points I actively purchase instead of trading for, but postage for sending out games won’t count since I wouldn’t count the gas I used to drive over to GameStop if I were to trade a game in there.
Also, in the interest of simplicity I’m eliminating the artificial limitations on the amount that can be spent from trade-ins or gift cards. I figure, if you can play games that you receive as gifts and trade them in and everything else, they ought to count. Also there is no longer a limitation on the amount of money that can be earned via recycling or selling off personal property. Sometimes you have to do some housecleaning in order to afford the things you want presently, and that the kind of choice I want this feature to explore. The whole ruleset can be simplified into the definition above and the description of the score keeping method which is a comparison between the number of games acquired per month to the number of games played; the number of games played is further broken down by a ratio of new games that weren’t available to me at the start of the month to games played that I already possessed when the month began. It is denoted like this:
Where N is new games acquired, nG is new games played and pG is previous games played.
Hopefully this clears up some of the weirdness of the original plan and makes for a more compelling column.
With the new system in place, it’s time to take stock of the situation. No longer needing to worry about anything except the cost for the actual games, I return the postage fees to my pool and am back up to $60 for August: I still haven’t purchased any games. I also went to the recycling place and got twenty dollars and change for two bags so I’ll just round it off and say my pool stands at $80.
I do have to pay for GameZnFlix this month so that’s $12.75 which leaves me with $67.25. That’s plenty for one new XBox title or a couple of DS games or a role-playing book or a handful or older or used games.
Some months, numbers rule all: It’s all about getting as many games as you can acquire so you can hit up flea markets, used sections and discount sites looking for as many great values as possible. Other months are about getting the latest and greatest titles. Sadly it looks like this fall is shaping up to be the latter.
You may recall that I had previously chosen to pass on Bioshock in favor of saving up for Halo 3. But then the game started getting stupidly incredible reviews: The UK Official XBox Magazine gave it an astounding perfect 10 and on this week’s 1Up Yours podcast, Garnett Lee stated that this game was similar to but better than the original Half-Life.
It may help to understand that Half-Life is very nearly my favorite video game of all time. Hearing someone I more or less trust to be accurate when describing a game say that a new game is better than your favorite game is almost like having a gauntlet thrown down. It demands attention. So I started thinking, maybe I was too quick to pick Halo over Bioshock.
Naturally, the trauma of all this is that if I buy Bioshock this month, and then buy Halo 3 next month, and then buy The Orange Box in October, and then buy Mass Effect in November, I’ll have used more than my total budget for games on a grand total of four games in as many months. That’s not terribly efficient when the context of the experiment is to see how far the dollar can stretch. But there is some logic behind at least going with Bioshock this month.
For one thing, it’s a single-player only game. Unlike with Gears of War which has a well-liked multiplayer experience, once I finish the game there are probably not a lot of compelling reasons to hang onto the game. This makes is prime Goozex fodder since the demand for the game from people like I was prepared to be only a week ago will be quite high. And I assume with all the demand the value of the game will be pretty substantial as well. I could, potentially, leverage this one $60 purchase into several other titles in the next couple of months if not sooner. The other factor is that I doubt Halo 3 will have that same potential because while the demand will remain high, the multiplayer is something I’m (for once) looking forward to so I doubt I’ll have much interest in trading it in for some time.
I don’t know yet if that means I’m switching and now choosing Bioshock over Halo 3. It’s possible that I may hold off on Halo for a little while until some of these other titles clear out and I’m in need of something compelling to play. I may pick it up as well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. But regardless of how I handle Halo, I think I’ve decided that Bioshock is going to take up the bulk of my August budget. I just hope the hype is justified, and that’s a real risk budget gamers take by banking on a day-one title. But it will be an experimental risk for me in two weeks when the game ships. I’ll let you know how it works out.
With the addition of Robotech: Battlecry and Trace Memory plus the games I played this weekend, the current score is 5/5:16.