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Money-Saving Tips on Entertainment, Part 1: Gaming

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We're all looking to save money, but who wants to give up their daily indulgences in the process? With that in mind, we've scoured the Web for the most cost-efficient services that can help you cut back on your daily expenses — especially when it comes to entertainment costs. In this first segment of a five-part series on cutting your entertainment expenses, we're going to look at gaming and find the best ways both avid and casual gamers can save some cash and still get a crack at the latest titles. This way, both you and your bank account can be happy.

Whether you own one console or all three, buying games isn't as cheap as it used to be. Those $29 game cartridges have now been replaced by $60 discs. Even console prices have skyrocketed to the point where you can easily pay over $400 for one system. Fortunately for budget gamers, there are services like GameFly.com that let you rent video games rather than spend $50 or more buying them. The concept is simple, like Netflix. Once you sign up for membership, you maintain a queue of games you're interested in renting. The number of rentals you can have out at any given time depends on the plan you sign up for. GameFly membership plans range from $15.95/month to $36.95/month. These plans let you rent anywhere from one to four games at a time. The 2-game plan is the most popular ($22.95/month), as it saves you roughly $98/month if you typically buy two games a month.

GameFly has one West Coast and two East Coast shipping facilities, so you shouldn't have to wait more than two to four days for your games to arrive. Return shipping is free and if you choose to buy a game, shipping is also free. (Of note, gamers looking to buy used games on the cheap can purchase them from GameFly without signing up for a monthly plan). As an added bonus, members get 5 free music downloads each month from GameFly Tunes. The tracks are mostly "up-and-coming" artists, but they're DRM-free which means they can be played on any MP3 player.

Like GameFly, Gamerang also lets you rent video games based on a monthly subscription plan. Gamerang's plans start at $14.95/month ($17.95/month after the first month) and peak at $59.95/month. Their 2-game plan is $2 higher than GameFly's, at $24.95/month. In addition, their top tier plans (which let you take out 3 and 4 games at a time) require a $75 and $100 deposit, respectively. However, Gamerang has the advantage of having an additional shipping center, so your wait times may be smaller. They also offer more platform options (including PS1 games) and give you the choice of buying games you rent as well as PC games. (Of note, you cannot rent PC games).

For a more community-like environment, there's GottaPlay. GottaPlay offers the lowest membership plans — $12.95/month for their 1-game plan and $20.95/month if you opt for the 2-game plan. What sets them apart, however, is their GameTrade service, whereby members can trade games for $1.99/per game received or $9.99/month for unlimited trades.

Another inexpensive way of satisfying your gaming fix is through Microsoft's Xbox Live service. Xbox 360 owners have free access to Xbox Live Arcade, an online mecca of old-school classics like Galaga, Street Fighter II, Ms. Pac-Man, and more. You can even download trial versions of the games before throwing down for the full version. Games are bought on a "points" system and once purchased are yours for the keeping. You can purchase points online via the Xbox console and your credit card or simply buy a gift card at most electronics stores. (1,600 points will set you back $19 and most arcade games go for about 800 points).

Free Alternative: If you're looking for free games, GameTap offers a 50-item catalogue of free retro arcade games, from Space Invaders to Tomb Raider. The initial download is lengthy and you'll have to sit through 40-second ads before each game loads (the paid plans lose the commercials), but the app works on both Macs and PCs, runs hiccup-free, and best of all, it's free. If you want a far larger selection of games, turn to GameTap Gold, which costs $9.95/month.

Louis Ramirez is a dealnews Features Editor who's tired of forking over $50 whenever a new game debuts.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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