Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
With micro transactions invading our systems like so many little green men, our only hope may be the gift cards we find in our stockings, *hint hint.*
But before getting to funny money, allow us to expand on the virtues of not paying the MSRP for a video game, ever. This can be done with a little help from Gamefly. Functioning just like Netflix, this service lets you play all the games you want, without pawning your girlfriend's jewelry or donating blood until you inevitably shrivel up and die. You have nothing to lose, except the games themselves.
Xbox Live! isn't just how you play online anymore, especially since November 22nd, when the service began selling individual television episodes and feature length films. While the service isn't as robust as On Demand cable, it's only been active for three weeks, and remember, Microsoft has more money than God. Not to mention all the demos, arcade games and other random things a person can buy on Xbox Live! Twenty bucks can either buy your friend/nephew a fraction of a game (Thanks a lot), or a few games and maybe a TV show or movie. The future of unimaginative gifts is now.
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Wii Points Card
MSRP: 2000 for $19.99
Same basic idea as the Live Marketplace Points, except their conversion actually makes sense (100 Wii points = 1 dollar), and instead of spending them on episodes of Jericho, you can buy classic NES, SNES, N64, Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 games through Nintendo's Virtual Console service, including the original Legend of Zelda, Altered Beast, Bonk's Adventure, Gunstar Heroes, F-Zero and Mario 64, for between 500 to 1200 points. Clap if you like VC!
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World of Warcraft Trading Card Game
MSRP: Starter Deck for $19.95
Perfect for the WoW fan in your life, provided you can pry their cold, claw-like hands from the mouse and keyboard long enough to actually check a stocking. When they do, they'll be pleasantly surprised to find not only a great CCG (collectible card game), but several cards that can be redeemed for actual in-game items, such as the sleek and desirable turtle mount. Trust us, it's faster than it looks, and guys pretending to be chics dig it.