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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Culture

How to buy PC games on the cheap

If you're paying full price, you're doing it wrong.

South Park: The Stick of Truth may be $59.99 now, but in a few months it won't be.
South Park: The Stick of Truth may be $59.99 now, but in a few months it won't be. Ubisoft

PC gaming may be on life support, but it's definitely not dead. Indeed, plenty of the top game releases of 2013 -- BioShock: Infinite, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Saints Row IV, Tomb Raider -- were not merely for consoles.

What's more, if you're looking for good gaming on the cheap, you really have to look to the PC. Although a decent desktop (one with a reasonably powerful discrete graphics card) will probably cost you a bit more than a console, you stand to save a bundle when it comes to stocking it with games. All you have to do is follow a few simple rules.

1. Wait.
If you buy a game within the first couple months of its release, you're almost certainly going to pay the full list price, or very close to it. Right now, for example, the just-released South Park: The Stick of Truth costs $59.99, while the recent reboot of Thief runs $49.99. Those are premium prices, and by exercising a little patience, you can avoid them.

For example, one year ago this month, the aforementioned BioShock: Infinite debuted with a $59.99 price tag. Today, Newegg has it on sale for $9.99 (actually, $7.99 if you apply coupon code EMCPGPF98 at checkout). That's a savings of nearly 87 percent. And all you had to do was wait a year.

Sometimes it doesn't even take that long. Last year, barely a month after Tomb Raider made its $49.99 PC debut, Green Man Gaming ran a sale offering the game for just $20.

Needless to say, you should never buy a PC game when it first comes out. I routinely see $40-$50 titles selling for $10-$20 within months after their release, and it's not uncommon to find top-rated, high-profile games for under $10 within a year.

2. Shop around.
For any game you're interested in buying, don't assume that, say, Amazon or Steam has the best price. On any given day, you might find a better deal at GameFly, GamersGate, Green Man Gaming, or another store.

Of course, you probably don't want to spend a lot of time store-hopping, searching for the game you want at each stop. Thankfully, you don't have to: price-comparison sites like CheapShark and IsThereAnyDeal will look up online prices for any given game, and even send alerts when prices drop.

Sites like GameHour will price-compare PC games for you.
Sites like GameHour will price-compare PC games for you. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

For example, if you simply cannot wait for South Park: Stick of Truth, CheapShark reveals that one store (GetGames) has it for 20 percent off the $59.99 list price. (I still say give it a few months, because eventually you'll be able to get it for $30, $20, or even less.)

3. Watch for bundles.
In your face, console owners! PC game bundles offer the kind of bang for the buck you simply can't get with a PlayStation or an Xbox.

Outfits like Bundle Stars, Humble Bundle, and IndieGala routinely offer some amazing deals -- usually for indie games (not that there's anything wrong with those), but sometimes for well-known commercial stuff as well.

This collection of a dozen indie games costs just $4.99 at Bundle Stars.
This collection of a dozen indie games costs just $4.99 at Bundle Stars. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

For example, earlier this year the Humble folks offered a name-your-own-price bundle of Sid Meier games. Last summer, Green Man Gaming put together a $10 Grand Theft Auto bundle, and before that the Humble Origin Bundle served up eight top-tier EA games for literally a few bucks. Come on!

A lot of these bundles give you the option of diverting some (or all) of your payment to charity -- icing on the cake, if you ask me.

Have you found any other tools, services, or secrets for scoring sweet deals on PC games? Share them in the comments!