Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Cost of Gaming Today VS Budget Gaming

Today I thought I’d try something different. Rather than making a video review of a game, I’m going to be writing about the cost of video gaming today. For starters, I’ll be comparing the prices of the three current-generation consoles. And yes, I said “current-generation.” I don’t know why people continue to refer to the Wii, XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 as “next-gen” when all three have been out as long as they have. I’d also like to point out that, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, especially my own, I’ll be adding $0.01 to every price. When I see “$299.99” on a price tag I read that as “three hundred dollars.” Saying “ninety-nine, ninety-nine” repeatedly is just silly. We all know we’re paying more than that after tax anyways. So now, let’s begin with the Wii.

Nintendo’s latest home console has accomplished what the gaming industry as a whole has been trying to do for years: it’s gotten people who haven’t owned a console before to start playing video games. Part of their success is thanks to the Wii having the lowest price tag at launch compared to the other two consoles: $250. For this price you receive the Wii console, vertical stand, a Wiimote, nunchuck, the game Wii Sports and all the necessary cables, including the sensor bar. While playing Wii Sports solo is probably enough to draw a lot of people to the Wii, chances are it won’t be enough to keep them interested for very long. Shortly after you decide to purchase a Wii you will most likely want to get a second set of controllers as well as another game. The most common 2nd game for a Wii owner is Wii Play, a second mini-game collection, since it comes bundled with the 2nd Wiimote for $50, only $10 more than buying a Wiimote by itself. Assuming you buy Wii Play and then pay another $20 for a second Nunchuck attachment so as to have two complete controllers, your total is now up to $320.

The ability to play your two mini-game collections cooperatively or competitively with a friend is probably enough for the new generation of “casual Wii gamers.” If you’ve been gaming for a while, though, you’ll probably want something more. With your Wii, you’re likely to buy a first-party Nintendo title like Super Mario Galaxy or Super Smash Brothers Brawl, or else buy a recently released quality third-party title like MadWorld or House of the Dead: Overkill by Sega. Either way, that’s an additional $50, bringing your total to $370. Now, unless you already possess a AA battery charger and four spare rechargeable batteries to dedicate to your pair of Wiimotes or will be playing your Wii so infrequently that you don’t mind buying a new set of batteries every so often, it makes a lot of sense to purchase a charger for your Wiimotes. Since Nintendo themselves don’t make one, several third parties have made their own for anywhere between $20 and $40. The most popular one (and the one I have) seems to be by Nyko, which is typically sold for $30, so we’ll go with that one. Your grand total for the Wii gaming experience is a solid $400. Of course, this is assuming the typical behavior of walking into a gaming/electronics store and buying these items new. If you buy your second Wiimote without Wii Play, get a less expensive $30 game and don’t need a new charger, your total comes down to $340, so we’ll leave the price range for a Wii as $340 - $400. Next, let’s take a look at the XBOX 360.

Although Microsoft has not been as successful as Nintendo, they’ll done very well considering the XBOX 360 is only their second console and have begun or refined some innovations this generation while simultaneously flooding the market with first-person shooters the same way Nintendo has flooded us with party-game compilations. The XBOX 360 currently comes in three models: the Arcade ($200, no hard drive), the Pro ($300, 60GB hard drive) and the Elite ($400, 120GB hard drive). All three are essentially the same console, except for the hard drive. You can upgrade your Arcade or Pro with an additional 60GB hard drive for $100, so for the sake of simplicity I’ll assume you’re buying the Pro model and keep in mind that the prices are all “give or take” $100.

The new casual gamer is most likely drawn to the Wii, so if you’re purchasing an XBOX 360 you’re not likely to be satisfied with the bundled Sega Superstar Tennis, Kung Fu Panda or Lego Indiana Jones games. The second controller will run you $50 and the latest first-person shooter or fighting game will be an additional $60, which brings your running total to $410 ± $100. Now you’re playing your new game against your friends, which brings us to the XBOX 360’s most prominent feature: robust, consistent online connectivity. Unlike it’s two competitors, Microsoft charges for online play. A year’s subscription will cost you $50. Once you’re online, you’ll likely want a $20 headset so as to be able to speak to your new online opponents, bringing the total up to $480 ± $100. So, at the lower end, the XBOX 360 Arcade does find itself just slightly below the higher-end cost of owning a Wii (at least until you need to renew your online subscription for a second year.) Note that if you foresee yourself ending up at the higher end, you might as well begin with the Elite version, since it includes the headset as a bonus, saving you $20. The XBOX 360 looks much nicer in black anyways. Assuming you listen to that advice, the final price range for an XBOX 360 comes out to $380 - $560. Finally, let’s look at the big, bad Playstation 3.

Sony’s behemoth of a console/multimedia entertainment center is by far the most expensive this generation (and in fact, the second-most expensive console ever, only behind the less-popular 3DO, which launched at $700 two generations ago.) Currently, you can go to the stores and find a $400 model with a 80GB hard drive (also, some stores like Target bundle this model with Motorstorm and Resistance: Fall of Man, a much better deal than buying from a store that doesn’t throw them in) or a $500 model with a 160GB hard drive bundled with Drake’s Fortune as a bonus. Again, you’ll probably want to buy a second controller, in this case $55, and a new game, in this case $60. Already your total is up to $515 - $615. The good news for the Sony fans is that, that’s pretty much it. The Playstation 3 doesn’t have loads of peripherals like the Wii nor does it charge for it’s online service like the XBOX 360 does. So, while it has the highest price tag, it might just be the most honest price tag. As a final note on the Playstation 3, I have heard rumors that it will be receiving a price drop sometime this year, but I have yet to see anyone confirm this.

To recap, our price ranges are: $340 - $400 for a Wii, $380 - $560 for an XBOX 360 and $515 - $615 for a Playstation 3. Of course, none of these assume you want to buy any extra peripherals for your Wii (like a wheel or zapper,) that you intend to continue subscribing to XBOX Live for years to come, that you will be downloading any games off of Wiiware, Virtual Console, XBOX Live Arcade or the Playstation Network, that you will be buying the latest Guitar Hero or Rock Band title, both of which cost more than the average game (and have extra peripherals available) or that you will be buying any additional games at all. Other things you might want to take into account are whether you will need to buy any special cables to use with your TV, whether you will need PS3/360 controller chargers or will be using any third-party hard drives. Of course, if you find a third-party controller you like at least as much as the standard controller for your console at a lower cost you can save yourself some money.

All three of these consoles have several notable games. Off the top of my head, the Wii exclusives include Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Mario Kart Wii, No More Heroes, Red Steel and the planned No More Heroes sequel by Ubisoft, MadWorld, House of the Dead: Overkill and the upcoming Conduit by Sega; the XBOX 360 exclusively has Halo 3, Fable 2, The Orange Box, Dead or Alive 4 and Gears of War 2 as well as the titles Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead, Street Fighter 4, Soul Calibur 4, Bioshock and it’s upcoming sequel, and Grand Theft Auto 4, all of which it shares with the Playstation 3, who in turn also has the exclusives Resistance: Fall of Man, Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet, Killzone 2 and Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction. All three consoles also share titles such as The Legend of Spyro: The Dawn of the Dragon, Star Wars: the Force Unleashed, the downloadable Mega Man 9 and EA’s mandatory annual cash-in titles for every popular sport. All three are great consoles, which some people seem to forget when defending their console of choice.

Of the three, I only own a Wii (and I do play it often), but I see the appeal of the two HD consoles and, if I were a rich man, I would probably buy them as well. If your house is HD ready (or you intend to buy an HD TV anyways) and you want the best home gaming experience money can buy, the Playstation 3 is likely to keep you happy as your video game console, DVD and Blu-ray player. If you don’t mind paying $50/year for the best online gaming experience, the XBOX 360 will likely keep you happy (so long as it doesn’t get the Red Ring of Death, a problem I hear is no longer as common an occurrence in newer models.) Either way, you will be ready for loads of upcoming titles since many developers publish on both consoles. If you’re not HD ready or you’re simply the type that’s more interested in Mario or Link than in Solid Snake or Master Chief, the Wii is a more-affordable console. But now, what if you’re not prepared to dish out $340 or more for a current-generation console, but would still like to play some great video games? Well, for that I’d like to look at the console I own besides my Wii: the Playstation 2.

After thoroughly outselling the Nintendo Gamecube, Sega Dreamcast and original XBOX, the Playstation 2 had a huge library that continued to grow. So much so, that while it’s three competitors have been discontinued, the last-generation winner Playstation 2 continues to sell, new and used, even today up against the three new consoles. Certain multi-platform titles which have been released in the Playstation 3, XBOX 360 and Wii also received a fourth port for the Playstation 2: talk about lasting power. Combined with the fact that the Playstation 3 has been the most expensive console since it’s launch, the Playstation 2 has still had months where it was the best-selling console. To summarize, I believe the Playstation 2 is simply an amazing console. I have had mine for over six years, it is still in perfect working and I continue to find new titles for it at a lower price than those for the new consoles. So, to those of you who cringe at the price tags of the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3, but don’t think the Wii will have the games for you, I advise you to consider a Playstation 2. Allow me now to run the numbers for this console.

Having just received another price drop (possibly suggesting that the Playstation 3 will as well), a new black or silver slim Playstation 2 now goes for $100. A second controller goes for $25 and a solid memory card (no hard drive on this console) for $20. The most expensive titles for it (again, besides games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band) are $40. Your grand total for a new Playstation 2 is $185. You can throw in a few more games before reaching the lower-end price for a Wii. Also, if you don’t mind playing games released years ago you can find tons of titles for $10 - $20. Now we’re really getting into budget gaming.

How about someone who has never been into gaming (or at least hasn’t for a couple generations) and would like to play some very low-budget, yet quality games, regardless of how old they are? If you don’t mind buying used, you can get a Playstation 2 for $80 or less. The next step is looking into its discontinued competitors. Video games stores such as Gamestop sell used Gamecubes for $30 and XBOXes for $50. The incredible price drop in these is probably due to the fact that their successors play all of their games anyways. So now, you can get one of these consoles with a second controller, memory card and two or three (or more, depending on the titles) games for under $100. The Sega Dreamcast, being Sega’s swansong, discontinued earlier and still regarded as an incredible console and victim of circumstance, is harder to find. However, enough hunting at thrift stores or swap meets will yield one for about $40. Again, you can get this with a second controller, memory card and at least a couple games for under $100.

Would you like to go another step further? The new Retro Duo console is selling online and at certain vendors for $50. It comes with two controllers and plays almost every Nintendo and Super Nintendo cartridge, many of which you can find at yard sales and swap meets for $1. I could go on, but looking for say an Atari 2600 is borderline shopping for antiques, so prices won’t necessarily get much lower. Of course, if you window-shop often enough and keep your eyes open, you can eventually find very good deals, especially on older consoles. Even with the new ones, though, shopping around for a good bundle package can pay off. For example, Best Buy is currently throwing in a free controller if you buy a new Playstation 3 and a $60 game. This is a nice deal seeing as the standard Playstation 3 controllers are $55.

Hopefully, I’ve shown you that regardless of your price range you can find a suitable console that is capable of bringing you years of entertainment. I won’t go into playing games for free through the use of roms and emulators, since that’s another topic altogether. However, I would like to state that for anyone gaming on a budget, even starting off with a Nintendo 64 or Playstation can be a great experience, especially since these two consoles are credited by notable sites such as as having some of the greatest video games ever created. What’s more, I believe you really have to look both backwards to the times of Atari, Nintendo and Sega as well as forwards to the new Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft consoles to fully experience and appreciate the history and expression of art that video games have become, but again, that can be another article altogether. To the wealthy Playstation 3 owners, humble retro gamers and everyone in-between, thank you for reading.

-Rafael Alejandro