Family Gaming For Less! – Part 1

Family Gaming For Less

We’re sharing tips for saving money as a gaming family in our newest guide! We will help you choose a gaming console, where and how to buy games, and we’ll even talk about accessories. 

We’ll be paying special attention to saving money when playing on multiple systems in the same house.

That’s because finding enjoyable couch co-op games is challenging. Finding couch co-op games suitable for the entire family is an epic quest! Many games now support multiplayer exclusively online with only one player per system. Families are increasingly purchasing one console per family member. It isn’t uncommon to have a house with several Xboxes anymore.

Video game system prices have dropped in recent years but multiple gaming consoles is still an expensive proposition! Picking the right gaming platform can save thousands over the lifetime of that system.

The Game Stores

The first, and probably most important decision, is where you will by your games. There are several online platforms or “digital stores” selling games online. The games they sell don’t have discs or cartridges. They exist only as files on your computer or console. The online stores use Digital Rights Management (DRM) to control how you can use their downloaded games.

These are small details that might not seem important, but you need to know and understand them in order to stretch your budget.

Windows – Steam

Steam is an online store that sells digital games for PC, Mac, and Linux. Steam provides a guide to enable Family Sharing. This feature enables sharing your game library with up to five family members. Only one person at a time can use the library however.

Logging in to Steam kicks other users out after a few minutes. Multiplayer requires purchasing a copy of each game for each player.

Steam games are often on sale. Many games are 20% off at launch, which is appealing on its own.. There are also several Steam sales throughout the year (a Summer sale in May and a Winter Sale in January for example).

You can also buy digital games for use on the Steam platform on other sites. Websites like Humble Store and GreenManGaming sell “game keys” composed of strings of number and letters. You can use these keys to add the game to your Steam library.

The competitive marketplace keeps prices low, but purchasing 4 copies, even at 20% off, is not the most cost effective option.

Windows – GOG

An alternative to Steam is GOG. This is a service that offers DRM-free PC games. GOG games are downloaded as ZIP files or using an optional client named GOG Galaxy. The client downloads, installs, and updates games. It is possible to purchase games from GOG once and copy them to multiple computers since they are DRM free. This isn’t a perfect solution because some games require GOG Galaxy for multiplayer. If that is the case, then each player must have their own copy of the game.

Games using the Steam multiplayer system can only be sold through the Steam store. GOG has made it easy for game developers to use the GOG multiplayer system instead. Usually playing the GOG version of a game means playing with only other GOG customers. That’s fine – maybe even preferable – for family gaming. It will, however, cause frustration if you try to play with friends who own the Steam version of a game. You won’t be able to see those Steam friends!

Editor’s note: GOG used to be called Good Old Games because they focused on keeping older games playable on modern PC operating systems. They recently changed their name to GOG and I had no idea until Adrian corrected me. Just goes to show… I don’t know EVERYTHING. 😉

Nintendo eShop

The Switch is an appealing platform. The same games can be played on the TV at home or on the go. And Switch has a great library of family friendly couch co-op games. But multiple Switch consoles is a budget buster for many families. Nintendo’s DRM restricts digital games to a single console, even when online. Playing together requires that each family member own a copy of the game.

PlayStation Store and Xbox Store

Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One consoles have similar DRM policies. They allow an account to play a purchased digital game on the “primary” or “home” console. Each account picks a single, specific console as home. This can be the same console for multiple accounts. Sony and Microsoft permit the home console to change only a few times however.

Each account can simultaneously play a purchased game on the home console and any other console while online. Buying two copies of a game allows four family members to play – including multiplayer! This is known as “Game Sharing”. This works with two consoles and even four – with two copies of games. 

Buying Multiple Copies of Games

Rewards

There are easy ways to save money on games for any platform. There are free rewards programs available: Nintendo Gold Points, Sony Rewards, and Microsoft Rewards. Each offers about 1% of purchases back as points. You can then redeem points for gift cards or other rewards. Make sure to check the program details as they each have their own quirks.

For example, you earn points using Bing web search and by completing surveys in the Microsoft program. There are many rewards available, including Xbox Live and Xbox Game Pass memberships at discounted prices. Many people find they can pay for a year of both Xbox Live and Game Pass membership just by using Bing search daily.

Sales and Wishlists

Look for the weekly digital game sales on your platform of choice. Savings range from 25% to 75% off. Subscribers to PlayStation Plus often save an additional 10% on sale items. Xbox Live Gold members have a special weekly sale. Patience pays off as most games will go on sale at least once a year.

If you don’t have time to track the weekly sales you can still save. Steam, PlayStation Store, and Nintendo’s eShop for Switch all have wishlist features in their digital game stores. Steam will even email you when something on your wishlist is on sale! There are also many third party sites which offer price tracking like IsThereAnyDeal for Steam, TrueAchievements for Xbox One, and TrueTrophies for PlayStation. Each sites offers multiple notification options. These sites require an account to track your wishlist.

Saving on Digital Games

Using specific payment options can also save money.

Sony offers the Sony Card with 5X points (~5%) on entertainment purchases, including those from the PlayStation Store. The credit card company deposits points in the linked Sony Rewards account each month. This discount stacks with the rewards points earned from purchases via Sony’s digital game store. Redeem points for PlayStation gift cards.

Families may already have a Target Red credit or debit card, offering 5% off purchases at Target. This discount applies to gift cards. Target charges an additional 5% on digital gift cards delivered by email however. Saving requires a trip to the store.

Amazon offers the Amazon Prime Store credit card with 5% back on purchases at Amazon. You must be a paying Amazon Prime member to qualify. Amazon offers Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox digital gift cards delivered by email.

Remember gift cards are not subject to sales tax. And the discounted gift cards “stack” with any game sales for more savings!

Gifting Games

Gifting digital games is available on Steam and the Xbox Store. This is helpful as it allows you to maintain a single account with funds. Use this “primary” account to purchase games for the whole family and gift them to your children’s accounts. This also serves as an anti-fraud measure, because you won’t have to add a payment method to your children’s accounts.

Microsoft rewards points are also in a single account when using this approach with Xbox for faster accumulation. Microsoft parental controls also support “request to purchase” on child accounts. However, you can only gift DLC as “request to purchase” does not work. In-game currency such as Fortnite V-bucks require purchasing from the child account. In this situation you can apply a gift card to your child’s account only for the needed amount. Microsoft has said they are working to improve the process.

PlayStation and Xbox Online Services

PlayStation and Xbox require a paid membership subscription to play games online named Sony PlayStation Plus and Microsoft Xbox Live Gold. Each costs US$60 per year. Alternate subscription lengths are also available. Buying a membership for one account will enable online play for anyone logged into that player’s primary or home console. The paying account can also play online from any console while logged into the Internet.

Subscription Services

Microsoft Xbox Game Pass

Microsoft has a Netflix-style service dubbed Xbox Game Pass for US$10 per month. This offers a library of “over 100” games available for download. Game Pass games are available to anyone on the purchaser’s home console. The paying account can also play these games from any console while logged into the Internet.

With Game Pass for the family you have games everyone can play together. Microsoft has stated games they publish will remain in the library. Microsoft adds or removes other games periodically. Game Pass offers a sliding discount up to 20% to buy games in the library based on the game’s age. Game Pass games don’t include DLC but there is a 10% discount to buy it. The Game Pass discount only applies to full price games and DLC.

It is worth mentioning that not all games in Game Pass are family friendly, nor are they all multiplayer titles. Some are older Xbox 360 games that play on Xbox One but lack the high resolution and performance of newer games. There are multiple games from many genres including multiplayer family favorites Zoo Tycoon, Rocket League, and Lego Star Wars. The complete list is available here.

EA Access for Xbox

EA Access is a subscription specific to game publisher EA. It is available for US$30 per year on Xbox One only. Sports gamers can enjoy last year’s version of EA’s Madden, FIFA, hockey, and basketball games. EA also makes Battlefield, Need for Speed, and Plants vs. Zombies series which all have games included. Overall EA Access offers a smaller and older selection of games compared to Xbox Game Pass. Game Pass includes none of EA’s games.

EA Origin Access Basic and Premiere for PC

EA Origin is the PC counterpart to EA Access on Xbox. There are two levels available: Basic and Premiere. Basic is a separate PC-only subscription also for US$30 per year. The game selection is similar to EA Access on Xbox One but includes games from other publishers.

EA Origin Access Premiere is US$15 per month and adds newly EA published games immediately. This can be appealing for gamers who buy several EA titles for PC each year.

Sony PlayStation Now

PlayStation has the PlayStation Now service for US$30 for three months. This offers a library of games for PlayStation 3 plus a few for PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 4. The service streams gameplay across the Internet rather than downloading games to the console. For any multiplayer games you will need a great Internet connection to support four or even two players. Instead of streaming games over the Internet it is rumored Sony will add support for downloading Playstation 4 games to a Playstation 4 console. PlayStation families should check back in the coming months for updates.

Xbox Backward Compatibility

One budget-friendly option for families is backward compatibility on Xbox One. Simply insert a supported original Xbox or Xbox 360 game disc into the Xbox One. The console downloads a small update and the games are ready to play. The list of Backward Compatible games is available from Xbox Community Manager Major Nelson’s site.

There are several sources for inexpensive used Xbox 360 game discs. eBay, Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon all sell used Xbox 360 games. This can be a cost effective way to expand your family game library. Also, digital copies of almost all backward compatible games are available in the Xbox store.

Game Sharing and Always Online

Game sharing lets you use digital game licenses on two consoles simultaneously. This is key to economical family gaming on both Microsoft and Sony’s consoles. Xbox accounts have a home console. Similarly for PlayStation accounts there is a primary console. Changing the home console is possible only a few times.

The home or primary console can always play games. The second console must be always online and connected to the Internet. If the Internet is not available then the console will not be able to play purchased digital games. If PlayStation Network or Xbox Live are down the second console will also be unable to play. This has ruined Christmas for some people.


That was a whole lot of info right? And we aren’t even close to done! Come check back for part two tomorrow!


About the Author

Adrian Luff is a lifelong video gamer with three video game obsessed boys and a very understanding wife. He is fortunate enough to have worked in the video game industry for over 20 years building online services for multiplayer gaming. He worked on servers for Battle.net used by the Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft games. He also designed the launch infrastructure for World of Warcraft. Adrian leads a team of engineers building robust systems, infrastructure, and developer tools for Twitch.tv (a division of Amazon).

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