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Gaming on the Cheap

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Fishville

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Piggy banks: empty

The holiday season is but a memory -- and while it might be easy to take down the tree, the lights, and the stockings, tackling the credit card bill for all those goodies is likely to be a different story. What's a cash-strapped gamer to do in the meantime? Here's a few ways you can get your game on without further damaging your bank account.

Free online role-playing games

World of Warcraft might be hogging the headlines, but you don't need to fork
out its monthly fees for your dose of online gaming. Faced with
Warcraft's dominance of the market, many top online games have abandoned
their monthly fees, turning to microtransactions or graduated account
systems that'll let you pay whatever you like, including nothing. Lord
of the Rings Online is perhaps the most robust, but there are many more.

Social games

They're more than just Farmville, you know. Check out Popcap's range of
Facebook games (it won't take you long, there are only two) for
casual-friendly entertainment with a decidedly hardcore, competitive
edge. Ikarium and Kingdoms of Camelot both offer more gameplay depth than your usual farming sim. And if those aren't doing it for you, Yahoo!'s hosting its own versions of
Fishville, Mafia Wars, and other top social titles that'll let you play
with your Y! contacts. All of the above -- naturally -- are free,
although if you have a few bucks to throw at them, you'll get ahead
faster.

Mobile games

The coming of the App Store opened up a whole new world for frugal
gamers...or, at least, those who are both frugal and well-heeled enough
to lay down a few Franklins on some Apple hardware. Still, once you're
rocking an iPod, iPad, iPhone, or other iThing, the sky's the limit:
even though most quality App Store games run between $2 and $10, sales
are frequent. Just a few weeks ago EA slashed prices across its whole
catalog, meaning savvy shoppers could load up on $10 games for 99 cents a
pop, and most other publishers do likewise from time to time. Our tips:
check out AppShopper, from the App Store -- install it (it's free),
create a wishlist of games you want, and it'll nudge you with a push
alert whenever any of them drop in price. And freeappaday.com (as its name might suggest) is a reliable source of daily freebies.

Awesome indies

Triple-A video games cost big bucks, but they have extensive marketing budgets,
huge teams of developers, complex graphics, licensed music -- the list
of costs is enormous. Ditch all that paraphernalia, and you can ditch
much of the price tag, too. The last few years have seen an explosion of
talented, independent game designers striking out on their own,
producing work that's far more original and creative than anything
you'll see from the Call of Duties of this world -- and usually for far
cheaper, too. Minecraft was the PC success story of last year (and,
quite possibly, this year too), while over on the consoles, spectacular
titles like Limbo and Cave Story proved you don't need to pay big for
big fun.

Keep your eyes on the deals

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, online stores like Amazon, Best Buy,
and Walmart are in hot competition for your gaming dollars -- and that
means lots of good deals. But they tend to be fleeting and
unpredictable, meaning you're unlikely to happen upon them yourself. So
let the Internet do the hard work for you: there are lots of sites that
exist solely to let you know about hot deals. Fatwallet
is a legend among Net-savvy bargain-hunters, but you might find the
signal-to-noise ratio better on specialized gaming deal site CheapAssGamer.

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