Do Kinect and Move Make PC Gaming Look Like a Bargain?

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.

Categories: Editorials, Gaming

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7 replies

  1. Do Kinect and Move Make PC Gaming Look Like a Bargain?

  2. Hey Mike, very interesting read!

    As you well know, I’m more of a console gamer, so just wanted to pop in with my thoughts from the other side.

    I love PC gaming, but I’ve always shifted towards consoles for the exact reason of PC gaming being “more expensive.” I hadn’t realized it before, but you’re right, the cost of being a PC gamer versus console has become virtually equal at this point.

    However, from a console perspective I will say that for me personally it’s not the initial buy-in cost of PC gaming that turns me away, it’s the continued cost of having to upgrade hardware to run the latest cutting edge games. It’s been a few years now since I bought my current Dell gaming PC ($600-800 range if memory serves), and at the time it was able to run all modern games. But within a year it had already grown outdated, and while I can still run most current games, I can only do so at low/mid spec. And I don’t feel like throwing more money at it to upgrade.

    The reason I prefer consoles over PC is that the system specs are set in stone and I never have to worry about a video card lagging behind, upgrading drivers, or unpredictable system conflicts that prevent me from playing (or even installing) games that my PC should be able to run.

    Also, many of the extras like Kinect and PlayStation Move are strictly optional, and neither really play towards the core audiences of either platform. Same thing with some of the other services you counted. Like PlayStation Plus- it won’t be a required service for the same basic functionality that online PC gaming offers. The current (and ongoing) free PSN offers an open online service with features comparable to online on any other platform. Though they are the same price, PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold really shouldn’t be compared to one another, because XBL is a required subscription for the most basic online features, while PSN+ will be more like a perk package with monthly discounts and free games, early invites to betas, full game trials, that monthly Qore digital magazine thingie, and stuff like that. I have no intention of ever becoming a PSN+ subscriber, and unless Sony starts stripping away PSN free features I won’t be missing anything that significant for not doing so. On the other hand, my XBL subscription ran out recently, and I feel so limited on my 360 without it.

    One thing that does drive me nuts with consoles is the price of accessories that are pretty much mandatory. It’s still ridiculous that these HD consoles ship without true HD cables included in the box. I think the 360 at least comes with composite cables, but HDMI is an extra cost. The new Xbox 360 finally has built-in WiFi, so at least that’s no longer an added expense (though there are plenty of cheaper options than MSoft’s $100 adapter — I’m using a Linksys WiFi adapter and it cost me no more than $50 a couple years ago).

    Anyway, it’s definitely an interesting discussion, and I’m glad to see that the cost comparison has narrowed so much. At least the next time I have to break down and buy a new PC I know it won’t cost nearly as much as it used to!

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