Video games have advanced a dizzying amount over the last 20 years going from bulky plastic cartridges in the 80s to digital downloads over the internet.
While there is of course still a market for buying games on discs, the future of buying games is clearly going to be online. Internet speeds are now fast enough to download them effortlessly, while games consoles and gaming PCs have huge memories capable of storing them.
Buying games online can seem like a daunting prospect though, especially with so many options available to you or your children. This guide will leave you armed with all the knowledge you need to either buy games yourself, or help your children buy games online.
The Xbox One family, which includes the Xbox One S and Xbox One X, lets you buy and download games in three very different ways.
The first of these is through the Xbox Store, which is available on both the Xbox consoles and through an internet browser on your computer or laptop.
This is the definitive store of games available on Xbox so the choice is absolutely huge, ranging from the latest blockbuster titles, small arcade games and even older Xbox 360 and original Xbox games that can now be played on the new consoles. As such the prices vary from £3.99 to £59.99.
If you’re accessing the Xbox Store on your Xbox One console you’ll be able to buy individual games and then download them directly to your console there and then. You’ll see exactly how much storage the game needs and if you have enough space on your console to download it.
You can also access the Xbox Store from a web browser on your laptop. You simply head to Xbox.com, sign in using your Microsoft Live account and then search for the game you want.
One rather cool feature about buying the game from your web browser is you can then press Install on my devices and it will remotely download and install the game ready for when you get home.
It’s a really easy way of buying games and because it’s run by Microsoft you also get peace of mind regarding refunds. As long as it’s within 14 days of purchase and you haven’t played more than 2 hours of the game you can get a full refund on any digital title.
Secondly any game you find in the Xbox Store can be bought as a gift. Simply select Buy as a gift below the main buy button. It then asks you to type the email address of the account you want the voucher to be sent to.
Once bought an email will be sent with a download code that can be redeemed on the Xbox console in the Xbox Store by tapping on the Redeem a code icon.
The final way to buy and download games on Xbox One is the Xbox Game Pass. This is a subscription service that costs £7.99 per month and gives you unlimited access to a library of over 100 games.
Any of these games can be downloaded, uninstalled and re-downloaded as much as you want. You can see which games are available by going to the Xbox Game Pass section of the Xbox Store.
New games are added each month to Xbox Game Pass including Xbox exclusives such as titles like Forza Horizon 4 and the upcoming Crackdown 3 the day they are released in store, as well as some old classics like the Gears of War series and Halo. There’s also a mix of current Xbox One titles and Xbox 360 games that are now backwards compatible on the new consoles.
One thing to note is that these games are only available while your subscription is active. If you decide to unsubscribe (which you can do at any time) you will lose access to those games and will need to either buy them separately or re-join Xbox Game Pass. However, as a subscription member you can save up to 20% on Xbox One game purchases from the catalogue.
If you’re someone who is casual gamer and wants to dip in an out of games then Xbox Game Pass is fantastic value for money. It costs around the price of two full games a year and gives you access to an impressive library of over 100 games with new titles being added all the time.
There are only two ways to buy and download PlayStation 4 games online and that’s through the official PlayStation Store.
The first way is by accessing the PlayStation Store on your PS4, PS4 Slim or PS4 Pro.
Much like the Xbox Store this is the main repository of video games for the PlayStation 4 so within here you will find just about every game that has been made for those consoles.There’s a dizzying array of games available from modern PS4 games to some classic PlayStation 2 titles that are playable on the new console. Prices range from as little as £3.99 to £99.99.
The second way is accessing the PlayStation Store through a web browser on your computer or laptop. You’ll have access to the full library of games available and once you’ve bought a game you’ll be able to remotely download and install it on the console back home.
If you or your child has bought something in error you can request a refund on any digital purchase within 14 days of buying it. Be careful though, if the game has been downloaded onto your console you won’t be able to get a refund.
There are two ways to download and buy games for the Nintendo Switch and they’re both through the Nintendo eShop.
The first is through the games console itself. Here you can browse all of the games available, download demos of some of the games on offer and also adjust your payment details.
Almost game that’s available for the Switch will be available in the Nintendo eShop so if you’re looking for something in particular it will be there. Prices again can range drastically from £9.99 to £49.99.
Using the eShop on the Switch console is extremely straightforward and once you’ve bought a game it will immediately be downloaded.
The second way is through the Nintendo eShop on a web browser on your computer. It’s not particularly well laid out and unless you have a specific game in mind using the store can be quite frustrating. We’d avoid buying games through the browser, instead stick to the Switch where it’s much simpler.
You can’t buy digital Switch games as a gift, instead the only way to buy it as a present is to either buy a physical copy of the game or buy a gift card for the eShop which the recipient can then redeem.
PC gaming has grown to be hugely popular in the last few years with the rise of online games like Fortnite, DOTA 2 and World of Warcraft.
There are several ways to buy and download games on a PC and it’s important to understand what each of them are and how they work.
The first and perhaps most popular of these methods is Steam. This is an online store that lets you browse thousands of video games, buy them and then download them to your computer.
The only way to play video games bought through Steam is by downloading the Steam app. It’s from here that you’ll see your game library, access the store and change your account details.
Once a game has been bought on Steam it can be downloaded and played on any computer as long as you have the Steam app installed and your account has been signed in.
Steam is a dizzying experience at first as it shares a lot of information. If you’re going to buy a game or let your child buy a game through Steam make sure you’ve properly researched if it’s compatible with your computer by looking at the Minimum system requirements.
One of the great advantages with Steam however is there is almost always a sale on, which means if you’re patient you can often buy popular titles with over a 50% discount.
Steam won’t have every major video game on it though, and that’s because some of the major publishers who make video games have their own stores.
The first of these is the EA Origin Store. This is where EA exclusively sells its own games and games made by other video games publishers.
It’s available either online through a web browser or downloaded as an app onto your computer, just like Steam.
Origin Store has a huge library of blockbuster titles including Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield and Tomb Raider. Games vary in price from £4.49 all the way up to £99.
You can buy games through Origin as a gift for other people. Simply log onto the Origin Store online, find the game you want to buy and then click on the arrow next to the buy button. You can only buy games as gifts for other Origin users however.
Similarly to the Xbox Game Pass, EA also offer a monthly subscription service called Origin Access.
It’s available in two forms: Basic (£3.99 per month) and Premium (£14.99 per month).
Basic membership gives you access to a vault of 160 games from various publishers, not just EA. These games can be downloaded as many times as you want. You’ll also be able to trial some games five days before they release to the general public.
Premium membership gives you a slightly larger vault of games but also gives you full access to all of EA’s new games five days before release. It also gives you instant access to any expansion packs that are made available for free.
If you’re a big fan of EA’s games this is a pricey but comprehensive solution, however if you ever cancel your subscription you’ll lose access to all of those games and you’ll either need to rejoin or buy them separately.
The last major video game store belongs to the game publishers Activision Blizzard and that’s the Battle.net Store.
This is an online store that can be accessed through your browser or downloaded as an app and it contains exclusively games made by Activision or Blizzard.
That means while the selection is very limited (11 games), it’s one of the only places you’ll be able to buy and download hugely popular games like Overwatch, Destiny 2, Wold of Warcraft and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 for PC.
Game prices vary from £20 to £90 depending on how new it is and what you’re buying with it.
World of Warcraft is a subscription-based game so in addition to paying £34 for the game you will need to buy a monthly subscription of £9.99 per month in order to play online with other people around the world.