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Thursday, 13 October 2016 10:51

It May be Time to Switch: The Average Gaming PC Costs $150 Less Than The Average Console

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Steam is the largest gaming platform ever conceived, and Valve has done a lot towards solidifying its hold on that title -- so much so that the vending platforms of its Host OSes are minuscule by comparison. One of the services that Steam offers to its users with the wealth of data they provide is the Steam Hardware Survey, a database for the purposes of comparison for their 150 million active users. One of the most intriguing metrics displayed there is the most common hardware employed in gaming PCs – as it tells a different story than the narrative pushed by the mainstream gaming media. Console enthusiasts represent the largest viewership in the gaming market, so larger publications have naturally let some confirmation bias sneak into their articles for the sake of retaining that audience.

The narrative I’m referring to, while nowhere near as important as, say, political media bias in the run-up to the election, or the lack of coverage concerning information freedom and surveillance, is still a thread of misinformation perpetuated to drive sales and stop healthy competition in our industry. That narrative is, of course, that Personal Computers are not a viable, high value, or lasting platform for the hobby we all enjoy.

We discussed this issue recently when Motherboard published an ill informed and lazily researched Op-Ed on the subject, but with the next iterations of the current-gen systems asking a premium, VR being pushed into the mainstream, and the increasingly untenable value proposition of consoles as a product (fees for access to a network you already pay for, hard-line retail game prices, iterative upgrades that cost more than “base” models, massive telemetry and hardware lock downs on systems that equate to low end gaming PCs, expensive one generation peripherals, etc.) I find that now may be a good time to reiterate this point.

There used to be official Linux support on Sony’s devices. That’d never fly in the current market

I’m all for individual choice and freedom, and in the current console market, those things just aren’t represented. Your choices are between a company that owns the second largest corporate surveillance network in existence, a corporation who’s idea of security is 'passwords and credit card info in plaintext,' and one that doesn’t know how to set up interoperable hardware or peer-to-peer game netcode. I buy games to own them, without DRM or calling home online, I play and emulate my titles on an open source operating system, and I go out of my way to shut out corporate telemetry and data collection of my private affairs. If I wanted to do any of these things on the more pedestrian gaming platforms, I’d end up with a banned account, a bricked device, or catch a case for piracy. Owning a personal computer allows you to these things and far more, and the average gamer spends 150$ less than the average launch price of a console to do them, according to the Steam Hardware survey:

The average steam PC has a 2 core processor, a 1GB GPU, 500 GB HDD, and 8GB ram.

Using the most popular parts on the market, a PC fitting the average description will run around $325-360 USD new (depending on whether they want an AMD or Intel platform) and outstrip these metrics by a good margin on all fronts. I’m ignoring the inclusion of a VR headset for reasons that should be obvious, but it’s hard to build a new PC that doesn’t hit all these check boxes or better, even using bottom-of- the-barrel, bargain bin parts. And sure, that price range doesn’t seem like that much cheaper than a console at first glance, the average launch price of this generation was 400 bucks. But this generation’s average price is cheaper than most. If you take the last few generations and adjust their prices for inflation, the average price of a console comes to about $490 new. If you throw in $5 a month membership for the life of the console, 3 extra peripherals (I don’t think it’s unfair to price a mouse and keyboard similarly to one controller) and the increased average price of games (at the conservative estimate of 20 games bought over the course of 4-5 years), and that number skyrockets to around $1250 – strictly including the things not necessary to play games on a personal computer.

But let’s ignore the external factors for a second – if the average PC costs so much less to build and own than the average console, why are game journalists and enthusiasts so quick to point to elitism, cost and frivolity as reasons to steer clear of gaming on general purpose machines?

Imagine, for a moment, that you make a product that a young, impressionable market demographic flock to. You have control of every aspect of said product once it gets into that demographic’s hands, making incredibly profitable. The same advances that allow you to sell these products cheaply also make a similar product designed for productivity inexpensive as well. Problem is, you don’t have control over that competitive platform on anywhere near the same level, and your current business model makes your efforts on it far less profitable. Luckily, you have massive influence over a sector of the media that essentially evolved from advertising your products, and the young, impressionable demographic you market to pays attention to that media. you’d be a bad businessman not to leverage that influence.

Building a computer for gaming has never been cheaper, and gamers have matured to the point that more and more are realizing this. There’s another factor I haven’t mentioned, though. A PC is also useful for work, creative pursuits, and myriad other things outside of interactive video entertainment. For those of you saving up for the next console iteration, consider what you could do with a powerful workhorse desktop instead of a glorified set-top box. Parents: consider how much your kids could get out of a machine that lets them create art, learn to program, makes schoolwork easier and encourages experimentation over one that serves only as an entertaining distraction. You’ll save money, empower yourself and the people around you, and have access to the largest library of games on the market. If there is a ‘time to switch’ to PC gaming, all evidence points to that time being now.

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