An interesting thought came up in some post-E3 discussions with friends: with the introduction of the new Kinect for the XBOX 360 and Move for the Playstation 3, has console gaming become more expensive than being a PC gamer?
Common wisdom through the years has been that PC gaming is more expensive, that you need bleeding edge equipment and a two-year upgrade cycle, and will pay up to 10x the price of a console for a decent gaming computer.
But is that still true? Over the last four years since the latest console generation arrived PC prices have plummeted, and the move to multi-platform games has driven system requirements to a more attainable level. At the same time game prices for PC games tend to run $10-20 less than their console equivalents.
Let’s break things down: If we assume that you will buy a console, a second controller, the full motion control suite for the console; and that whatever PC you buy you will also get a monitor. We can also assume that PC games are $10 less than console games (though $15 is more accurate since about half of new games are $0 on PC). We will assume 1 game per month for 5 years.
For the consoles I used the ‘standard’ console editions which were both $300. For the PC I went on to Dell’s website and built a solid gaming system with a widescreen monitor. The components were not top line, but far outpaced the requirements of most games now available.
Here is the breakdown table:
The simple thing to note – it is the games that make up almost all the difference: $600 more for console games minus $500 more for PC hardware. The other difference is that whereas PC gamers get things like demos and friends and achievements free through a variety of services such as Steam, console gamers need to pay $50 a year for XBOX Live and soon Playstation Plus.
Since I started jotting this down I had a chat with some PC gaming advocates who routinely build their own rigs, and when I stated my thesis and data they asked if my PC was gold-plated or something! They said that if I was spending more than $500 on the PC I was doing something wrong, and that I should easily be able to build a PC that easily outpaces either of the hardcore consoles for $350 (without monitor) by choosing components with a gaming-centric focus and excluding much of the ‘fluff’ put into commercial systems.
But since the XBOX360 and Playstation 3 are more than just game consoles and have become media centers with Netflix streaming, Zune & iPod link-ups, and the default DVD and (for the PS3) Blu-Ray disk players for most, it seemed only fair to make that stuff standard equipment.
So the PC needed to have HDMI, surround sound outputs, WiFi as well as ethernet (I ignored the $100 XBOX WiFi accessory in this case!), and I also added Blu-Ray player! So for $1000 you are getting something that will play the latest games in high-def on the included monitor, and also serve as a media center that can be hooked up to the main family TV to watch movies either on disk or Netflix (as well as Hulu, YouTube, Boxee, and on and on – many places unavailable to console systems).
And still my PC gamer friends said I should be able to do all of this for $750 or less – and a quick perusal at NewEgg told me that for ~$650 I would get a pretty reasonable set of components. But for me, the thrill of doing ‘build-your-own’ PC systems faded along with the thrill of putting Linux on everything ‘because you can’ about 15 or so years ago.
Does this mean folks should dump their consoles in favor of the PC? Absolutely not – those systems serve a great purpose in being excellent at narrow-function capabilities and providing a great user experience. Not to mention that many popular games are console-centric or even exclusive to a certain console. Of course the same is true for PC games … and DS … and PSP.
But it IS time for console gaming fans to remove the tired ‘PC gaming is too expensive’ argument from their set arsenal – as we can see, that is just no longer the case.