For newcomers, a visit to a video game store -- physical or on-line -- can be an intimidating experience. The walls or web sites are lined with games with obscure titles for various systems and the consoles crouch in the corner with intimidating prices and obtuse technical specifications. This guide is geared to introduce you to the world of gaming and make it easy to decide how to spend your money to build the gaming setup that will best suit your needs.
Step 1 -- Set a Budget
Whether you're buying as a gift or for yourself, it's a good idea to go into your buying spree with a set amount to spend so your expectations don't outpace reality. Don't worry about setting it too high -- no matter the route you take, you'll almost certainly be able to spend whatever money you have. Like any other hobby, there will always be a new product coming down the pipeline to demand your money and time. On the other hand, you'd be surprised how little cash it takes to get going. If you're willing to settle for a system that's a few years out of date, $150 may be enough to get an impressive library started. Our recommendation for getting going with contemporary equipment is $500. That will be you a console, an extra controller and at least a game or two to get rolling.
Step 2 -- Decide How You'll Play
The idea of splurging to buy the finest next-generation video game gear may sound appealing, but you need to decide if you plan on hunkering down in front of the couch and banging on your controller or sneaking in a few minutes of play while waiting at the post office. For couples and families who want to play together, home consoles such as the Xbox 360, Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube are the way to go, since such systems cater to multiplayer functionality. If you're a businessman who's always on the move or a recently married guy looking for something to do while your wife watches Oprah and Two and a Half Men, a handheld system, such as the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP is your best bet.
Step 3 -- Formulate a Game Plan
Taking your budget and lifestyle needs from the first two steps into account, price your desired systems, controllers and games and piece together the package that looks the most appealing. If you've got $500 to spend and want to hook yourself up with a slick home console and innovative handheld complete with games, you might want to invest in a GameCube ($100) and DS ($130). Twenty bucks can go to an extra GameCube controller , leaving you with half your budget to blow on games. Check out our Video Game Buying Guide for advice.
The GameCube is an excellent system for beginners because of its spare button design and largely simplistic games. Most GameCube games are geared toward the younger set, making the system a solid by for kids under the age of 13. The Xbox is one of the strongest systems going, second only in capabilities to its younger brother, the Xbox 360, and although it costs a bit more than the Cube, it's a solid investment, thanks to its hard drive -- which saves game progress -- and brilliant graphics. The PlayStation 2 is the most popular of all systems, and though it's weaker than the Cube or Xbox, it's a capable basic system with the widest game selection of any system. If you're saving your cash for the holiday period, you may want to wait for one of the newest consoles, the motion-sensor controller-activated Wii and the high-tech PlayStation 3. Both systems may be hard to come by upon release in late 2006 because shortages are common with new systems. For handheld play, the cheapest choice is the GameBoy Advance, while the slightly more upscale Nintendo DS and the super-sleek Sony PSP are pricier choices with better games.
The software is what most determines your enjoyment level with whatever video game system you select. Aiming for used games instead of new releases can save you more than 50 percent off the cover price. The rule of thumb when it comes to gaming is it never hurts to wait when making game purchases. The price always drops and the hype always fades. The games that remain standing after incisive reviewers and burned gamers have taken their shots are the ones most worth purchasing. Check out our Video Game Resource Guide to read up on the best games out there. Also check out our Video Game Buying Guide.
Most important among all accessory buys are Video Game Controllers. Usually one controller comes with the system, while it's up to you to decide whether or not it's worth buying a second controller to allow for at-home multiplayer. This is an absolute must for sports game fans who want to take on all comers in Madden NFL Football. Other peripherals you'll want to think about are memory unites, which allow you to save your progress. Online play is also a possibility with some systems. If you're an Xbox player, look into getting an Xbox Live subscription. If the PlayStation 2 is your choice, you may need a PS2 online adaptor.