Ed note: Our staffers don’t always agree on matters of the dollar, and we’re totally not above taking that fight out to the flagpole at 3:00. Today it’s on like Donkey Kong as Matt Jancaitis has a bone to pick with Cliff Forster’s “Forget the console…” op-ed published on Monday.
When you have to throw an arbitrary $400 price tag onto the cost of a 360 just to make your numbers work out, it kind of feels good to be a part of the console gaming world, doesn’t it?
My good friend Cliff based his argument that the PC is a better gaming value by — and I’m not making this up — adding a $400 price tag to the 360′s cost because “[e]veryone needs a computer.” Yessir, whether you want one or not, you’re getting a computer out of this deal. Ever a salesman, my friend Cliff is.
Examining the argument
What if a gamer has an aging computer? That PC is perfectly capable of handling email, web surfing, chat, Skype and even movies. It cannot, however, run Mass Effect or Dead Space. What’s a chap to do? Why, buy a brand new computer for $750, of course! “But wait,” I hear you thinking: “Why not just a $300 console that plays those games?”
“Why not?” is a fantastic question, and a scenario that Cliff doesn’t even pretend to ponder. If you’re into gaming, you must be buying a new computer right now. It doesn’t matter that you already has one that does almost everything you want; now you can have a second one that can do more, and for just over twice the price! Some value, right?
Cliff offers a blanket statement that, for the purposes of comparison, precludes the price of a TV and home theater equipment or, in the case of a PC, a monitor, speakers or headphones. Is that, however, a valid comparison? Consider the market: If you’re building a brand new gaming computer as Cliff is assuming you are, why would you have a spankin’ hot monitor or a great gaming headset already? Now continue to consider the market: How many people already have a TV? How many people have a TV and consider a home theater system a requirement to game on it? You can leave that cost out. The TV has speakers that are just fine for most.
Let’s pretend for fun that you’re a laptop user, and can do everything you want on it except game. You could get a $300 console that attaches to your current TV, or you could buy Cliff’s $750 PC hardware. Don’t forget to include the extra $200-$400 for a nice new monitor and a headset. Some value, right?
Cliff also proposes that “[e]ach platform should be viable for at least two years,” but omits the part where both Microsoft and Sony have pledged 10-year console life-cycles, which likely means five or six years of primary development. Over those 5-6 years, developers are tweaking their skills, improving their engines, and managing to pull more out of the console than when it first arrived. Some of the Playstation 2′s best titles launched in the console’s 10th year. Meanwhile, your 6-year-old-PC will be lucky to play a modern game at a fraction of the image quality settings it managed for titles six years ago. Some value, right?
Considering the costs of console ownership
Now let’s take a look at the cash flow for owning a console: Xbox Live’s cost? Sure, Live pricing is ostensibly $50 for 12 months, and it’s worse if you do it monthly, but let’s not ignore the frequent deals on 12+1 month cards that go for under $40.
How about game prices? I’ll admit that PC game prices frequently have the edge on consoles– $60 on console vs. $50 on PC. But when was the last time you tried selling a PC game back to a store for a partial refund? Oh, right. Nobody does that. You certainly can’t sell back your Steam purchases. Meanwhile, console gamers can pick up a used copy from eBay, Gamestop, or a friend’s place, pop it in their console, and play away. Some of the big used game retailers even let you return a game for a full refund within a few days of purchase. Not the game you wanted? Beat the game already? Get bored of the game already? Just take it back for a full reimbursement.
Even for new games, console gamers can eventually sell them off for somewhere between $4 and $45. They can turn around and immediately use those proceeds on a new game. If we pretend (conservatively) that a console gamer can reclaim 25% of a game’s initial purchase price with a trade-in, console games are suddenly $45, too.
In the interim, consolers don’t have to worry about activation, no-CD cracks, or if the game will even function correctly on their machine. Some value, right?
The gaming experience
That, of course, leads me to my next point: People buy consoles because they guarantee a consistent experience with every game, no matter who owns the console you’re playing on. There are no 1337 NICs or high-DPI mice that some pro can pwn you with. His GTX295 and Core i7 God-platform doesn’t mean instant death as soon as you try to load the round with your E8400 an 8800GT. No, everybody is using the same black box, and the only variable is the network connection. If Apple’s growing market share is teaching us anything, it’s that consumers like things that they perceive to just work. You never have to worry if an Xbox 360 game will run suitably on your 360. It’s guaranteed to.
I’ll even go ahead and nitpick at the gas cost analysis. If a console gamer is really concerned about it, plenty of retailers like Best Buy, Amazon, and Gamestop, offer release day delivery (often free, particularly in Amazon’s case) for new games. This reduces the consumer’s gas cost to zero. The online purchase may even be tax-free (Ed note: lol use tax) if the company doesn’t have a warehouse in your state.
Running the final numbers
You can say the PC will get you a vastly superior visual experience, but I say my 65″ DLP TV has the final say in my household. When both the monitor and TV are 1080p, but one of them is deliciously huge, I see no reason to sit in front of a desk on the weekend when it’s what I do all week.
So, Cliff, let’s rework your numbers, shall we?
- $300 for console
- $90 (conservatively) for two years of XBL (or free PSN)
- $0 for a pre-existing, perfectly suitable computer
- $675 for games (since we’re evening it out at $45 per title)
- $50 for the occasional gas and taxes you might feel like expending taking a joyride to the store
- $40 for DLC (I’ll give it to Cliff, the MS tax can screw some console gamers)
- $0 for sitting on the couch!
- $750 for hardware
- $675 for games
Just to be a good sport, I’ll leave out the $250 upgrade to the processor/RAM/motherboard or GPU upgrades that gaming PCs need roughly every three years. You can factor that in if you want.
Long story short
Consoles offer a consistent experience to which everyone that owns one is entitled, a fantastic price point, and plenty of ways to save money. Console life cycles frequently last far longer than a competitive gaming machine, and the technology within console games continue to improve throughout that life cycle.
Tacking $400 onto the hardware’s price “because you’ve gotta have a PC,” over exaggerating console costs, and neglecting to account for the myriad cost-saving and cost-reclaiming options available to console gamers made your analysis wildly one-sided. Make your arguments about whether keyboard and mouse trump a gamepad or whether the community’s better on PC or console, but the price wars aren’t won yet.