The Cost of Gaming Today Versus Budget Gaming

The beginning of a new console generation is always an incredibly exciting time.  From the Sega Genesis to the Sony Playstation to the Xbox 360, every early console of a generation reaffirms video gaming as a legitimate form of media and entertainment to the mainstream public while gamers eagerly anticipate the experience this new technology will bring.  With every new console generation gamers also begin to cringe at price tags their beloved new plastic boxes will carry and this generation has been no exception.  In the past few years we have seen the standard price of a new release rise to $60 for HD titles and replaceable hard drives do away with memory cards.  We have seen online connectivity in consoles become the norm, allowing some game developers to use these capabilities in creative ways to add longevity to their games while other developers shamelessly abuse these systems to charge gamers for extra content which often could obviously have been included in the standard package; something which in the past would have been unlockable through challenges or cheat codes.  Perhaps one of the most positive outcomes of this console generation’s streamlining of online connectivity is the ability to download games directly onto your console’s hard drive.  Nintendo’s Virtual Console and WiiWare Channel, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade and Sony’s Playstation Network allow gamers to download smaller, original titles, which provide easy revenue for the companies while presenting gamers lower-cost gaming options as well as providing independent game developers an attractive alternative to high-budget game production.  This also facilitates this period’s newly acquired appreciation for retro gaming by offering legal means of downloading previous generations’ titles.

This past year has been one of rumors and speculation finally leading up to price drops for all three of the current-generation consoles.  These price drops along with other releases and announcements that have occurred in recent months have prompted me to write this article comparing the true costs of each of the “Big Three’s” consoles.  I’d 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 are paying more than that after tax anyways.  Keep in mind that some previous console models are now discontinued, but still available at certain retailers possibly at a discount.
Sony’s behemoth of a console/multimedia entertainment center was 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) when it launched at $600.  Until recently, the cost range for a Playstation 3 was $515 – $615 for a $400 model with an 80 GB hard drive (sometimes bundled with Motorstorm and Resistance: Fall of Man, a much better deal than buying it without them) to a $500 model with a 160 GB hard drive (usually bundled with Drake’s Fortune) assuming you also purchased a second controller for $55 and a new game for $60.  Given these prices during a recession, it’s really no mystery how the successor to the world sales record-breaking Playstation and Playstation 2 has been thoroughly outsold by the Wii and Xbox 360.  After months of rumors, speculation and even severe pressure from game developers such as Activision for Sony to drop their Playstation 3’s price, Sony has finally indeed released a brand new, redesigned Playstation 3 model with the expected drop in price.  The previous “PS3 phat” model is now officially discontinued and in its place remains the new Playstation 3 Slim for $300 with a 120 GB hard drive, an obviously much nicer deal.  Not long after, Sony also released a second PS3 Slim model with a 250 GB hard drive for only $50 more.  Besides the new slim design, the console is also friendlier on your electric bill, which is always a plus.  Unlike Microsoft, Sony’s consoles include built-in wireless connectivity and their online service, The Playstation Network, is free to use for downloading demos as well as purchasing previous Playstation titles, such as Final Fantasy VII.  For those of you who like to entertain rumors, the PSN may eventually offer all Playstation 1 and Playstation 2 titles for download as well as (and this here is the big shocker) even select Sega Dreamcast titles.  Unfortunately, the prices of controllers have not dropped from their hefty $55 price tag and new games continue to be released at $60.  Of course, previous killer apps, such as Metal Gear Solid 4, can already be found as Greatest Hits titles at a reduced price of $30.  A loner can find a lower-cost title for about $30 and have a final cost of only $330.  Assuming you want a second controller and purchase a new game, your cost instead comes to $415.  Unlike the Wii and Xbox 360, the Playstation 3 is able to recharge its own controllers via the included USB cable (which is, in fact, a very standard USB cable; I found three more lying around the house), so no charger is required (although more-convenient chargers, which can recharge two or four controllers at once, are available for those who would prefer them.)  If you own a high-definition television and want the greatest experience graphics-wise, you will likely want to also purchase the popular Dynex PS3 HDMI cable for about $30 or shop around for another brand’s cable for anywhere from $10-$40.  Are you all about online multiplayer?  In that case, you may want to throw in a wired headset by RocketFish for $20 or the standard PS3 Blue-tooth wireless headset for $40.  This brings the price range for a Playstation 3 gamer to $415 – $545, with $445 being your cost if you get the smaller hard drive, wired headset and find a cheaper HDMI cable.  This makes Sony’s machine a much more clear-cut purchase than Nintendo or Microsoft’s.
Speaking of Microsoft, let us take another look at the Xbox 360.  Although Microsoft has not been as successful as Nintendo, they have 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 previous price range for this console was $380 – $560 depending on the model (Arcade for $200 with no hard drive, Pro for $300 with a 60 GB hard drive or Elite for $400 with a 120 GB hard drive) with a second controller, new game, wired headset and a year’s subscription to Xbox Live.  In response to Sony’s new slim console, Microsoft lowered the price of their Elite model to $300 and discontinued the Pro model (still available for $250 while supplies last) leaving Microsoft with only two models.  Previous killer apps for this console, such as Halo 3 continue to sell for $40.  A solo gamer with no desire to go online or need of a hard drive can get one of these titles and enjoy his new Xbox 360 Arcade model for only $240.  However, like the Wii remotes, Xbox 360 controllers require a rechargeable battery pack if you do not wish to be periodically purchasing batteries or do not mind dedicating a set of rechargeable batteries to them if you happen to already own some.  These packs sell for $20, bringing the solo total to $260.  If you want a hard drive, the extra $100 for the Elite model is a good deal in order to get the 120 GB, especially considering that Microsoft throws in a headset with that model in addition to the free month of Xbox Live.  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 Pure and Lego Batman games (you may also be able to find older models with the formerly bundled Sega Superstar Tennis, Kung Fu Panda or Lego Indiana Jones games).  Assuming you also want a second controller and online capabilities so as to play with as many people as possible, you’ll be spending $50 each for a second controller and a year’s subscription to Xbox Live, while the latest first-person shooter or fighting game will be an additional $60, bringing your range to $360 – $460.  Two $20 rechargeable controller batteries make the running totals a solid $400 – $500.  Unlike the Wii and Playstation 3, the Xbox 360 does not have wireless Internet capabilities built-in.  A wireless receiver for your Xbox 360 will run you an additional $100.  Not satisfied with the bundled wired headset?  A wireless headset will cost another $60.  Again, an HDMI can be found for anywhere from $10-$40, leaving the price range at $400 – $700.  Not that this makes a huge difference at this point, but a bit of foresight can save you $5, since you can buy your second controller bundled with its battery pack for $65 rather than the $70 they cost when bought separately, slightly lowering your totals to $395 – $695.  Suddenly, the Playstation 3 seems like a much better deal than the Xbox 360, no?  However, Microsoft’s not done: the immense popularity of the Call of Duty series, which has led Electronic Arts to announce their anticipation that the newly released sequel Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 will be the best-selling game ever has driven Microsoft, eager to ensure that their version of the game sells better than Sony’s, to launch a special bundle in commemoration of the game’s launch.  The black Xbox 360 emblazoned with Modern Warfare 2 insignia (which some fans have dubbed the “Super Elite”) includes a 250 GB hard drive and is packaged with the game itself as well as two matching wireless controllers all for $400.  If we run this package through the same process as above, we find it has a price range of $490 – $690, but with a hard drive more than double the size (roughly a $100 value).  Remember, this does not assume you re-subscribe to Xbox Live for any longer than a year (or rather, 14 months when including the packaged month plus the free month you get for a year’s subscription.)  Finally, let us take a look at the console that was appropriately codenamed Revolution.
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.  With both of its competitors’ consoles dropping to $300, the price gap was closed to $50, making the Wii no longer seem like much of a bargain console, so Nintendo has finally dropped the price of the Wii to $200 in order to hold onto their lead in the console war.  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 Wii Sports 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, but now that I have taken into consideration solo gaming on the other consoles I will include the situation for the sake of completeness.  So, if you like playing Wii Sports by yourself and do so infrequently enough that batteries are not a noteworthy issue, then your cost of gaming is nothing more than $200.  If that is the case, you’ll be playing Wii Bowling often enough that I recommend you eventually go to an actual bowling alley.  Obviously, this is an unlikely scenario, since the Wii is marketed as the family party console.  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 $270.  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 spend $50 for a first-party Nintendo title like Super Mario Galaxy or Super Smash Brothers Brawl, bringing your running total to $320.  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 doesn’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 I have recently noticed drop from $30 to $25, so we’ll go with that one.  Your grand total for the Wii gaming experience is $345.  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 and get a less expensive third-party title like MadWorld or House of the Dead: Overkill by Sega for $30 your total comes down to $315, so we’ll leave the running price range for a Wii as $315 – $345.

To recap, our costs for the price-conscientious solo gamers are: $330 for a Playstation 3 Slim, $260 for an Xbox 360 Arcade and $200 for a Wii, while the standard price ranges are: $415 – $545 for a Playstation 3 Slim, $395 – $695 for an Xbox 360 Elite and $315 – $345 for a Wii.  Of course, these are initial costs for the most part; 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 television, whether you will need extra 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.  Next, I would like to take a look at the costs of common peripherals and other extras for each of the three major consoles, including the enabling of four-player gaming.

One of the most popular titles on the Wii system is Mario Kart Wii, which comes with a single Wii Wheel.  Racing fans can obtain a second wheel for $15 or by purchasing ExciteBots: Trick Racing.  The Wii Zapper is packaged with Link’s Crossbow Training for $25.  The recently released sequel to their pack-in game, Wii Sports Resort includes a single Wii Motion Plus accessory for the standard $50 price tag.  Wii aficionados can obtain a second Motion Plus attachment for $20 or by purchasing the Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’10 bundle for $60.  Alternatively, you can now find the special Wii Sports Resort bundle packaged with two Wii Motion Plus accessories, also for $60.  Ubisoft’s upcoming Red Steel II will include a Motion Plus bundle as well.  Also note that you can now purchase black Wiimotes bundled with a matching Motion Plus attachment and sleeve for $50, $10 less than buying white ones separately (and black Nunchucks are sold separately at $20.)  Those in need of an additional Nunchuck attachment can obtain one packaged with Punch-Out Wii for $65, which is a $5 savings.  Many third-party developers also package their games with their own accessories.  These include Big Bass Fishing with a fishing reel, Cabella’s Big Game Hunting with an orange rifle (possibly a nod to the original NES Zapper), Monster 4×4 Stunt Racing with Ubisoft’s own wheel and several other sometimes fun, often gimmicky add-ons.  Then, of course, you have Wii Fit+ bundled with the Wii Balance Board for $100.

Because the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 are similar enough to have most of the same accessories, I have put together this chart of the more-useful accessories for us to look at for a more direct comparison.

Sony Playstation 3 Microsoft Xbox 360
Logitech Driving Force Wireless $80 Wireless Racing Wheel $90
Blu-ray Remote $25 Universal Media Remote $20
Energizer Charging System $30 Nyko Charge Base $33
PS3 Eye Camera $40 Xbox 360 Live Vision $40
Wireless Keypad $50 Messenger Kit $30
Total $225 Total $213

You can see that Microsoft slightly wins this round.  Now how about those of you who intend to throw crazy gaming parties? You probably want a console with four controllers.  An extra pair of Xbox 360 controllers will run you $100 or $130 with the battery packs bundled while a second pair of Playstation 3 controllers will be another $110.  Wiimotes are $40 each and Nunchucks $20 each, meaning a complete second set comes to $120.  So in this regard, the three consoles are almost even.  The Wii still has the lowest cost of entry while the Playstation 3 is the best overall deal and the Xbox 360 has the lower cost for an HD console assuming you do not go buying extras.  The bottom line is that the decision of which console would be the wisest purchase is very specific to your situation and you should take every variable into account before committing to a purchase.  Are you a parent looking for a kid-friendly system that will encourage your young children to play off of the couch?  The Wii with Wii Sports, Wii Play and maybe some other title like Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure will give your children a lot of enjoyment on their feet.  Maybe also buy No More Heroes for you to play after they go to bed.  The Wii also has the greatest nostalgia factor of the three consoles with Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the Metroid Prime Trilogy delivering what old-school Nintendo fanboys crave most, not to mention all the Nintendo classics available for download via Virtual Console.  Teenagers and young adults are more likely to want one of the two HD consoles for great fighting or action games.  Fans of the Halo and Gears of War series or first-person shooters in general will be naturally drawn to the Xbox 360, which also delivers the golden age arcade classics like Pac-Man, Frogger and Galaga through its Xbox Live Arcade service.  The Playstation 3 delivers most of the same fighting games as the Xbox 360 plus some notable exclusives such as Metal Gear Solid 4 and the Ratchet and Clank Future series, arguably the only remaining series challenging Mario’s 3D platformers.  All three of these consoles have several prominent games.  The two HD consoles share notable games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum, Bioshock, The Orange Box, Saints Row 2, Fallout 3, Street Fighter 4, Soul Calibur 4, Grand Theft Auto 4, Resident Evil 5, Tekken 6, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Dragon Age Origins, Borderlands, Assassin’s Creed II and, of course, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The Xbox 360 exclusively has Fable 2, Dead Rising, Dead or Alive 4, Left 4 Dead, Crackdown and even Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts while the Playstation 3 has the exclusives Resistance: Fall of Man, LittleBigPlanet, Infamous, Killzone 2, Grand Turismo 5 and the unreleased God of War III. Wii exclusives include No More Heroes, Red Steel and the upcoming No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle by Ubisoft; MadWorld, House of the Dead: Overkill and The Conduit by Sega; and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and the upcoming Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All Stars by Capcom.  Meanwhile, all three consoles also share titles such as The Legend of Spyro: The Dawn of the Dragon, Star Wars: the Force Unleashed, NBA 2K10, the downloadable Mega Man 9 and Electronic Arts’ mandatory annual cash-in titles for every popular sport.  You should also take into consideration the types of other media these consoles can play: the Wii plays Nintendo Gamecube games; the Playstation 3 plays Playstation 1 games (but not Playstation 2 games, unless you have an early model), DVDs and Blu-rays; and the Xbox 360 plays Xbox games as well as DVDs.  All three are great consoles, which some people seem to forget when defending their console of choice.  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 is 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 more than $300 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 other console I own: 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 on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii also received a fourth port for the Playstation 2: talk about lasting power.  Not only that, but certain Playstation Portable titles also receive Playstation 2 ports, so you can still find new games for it such as Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters and Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier.  It even received a very late exclusive with Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories. Combined with the fact that the Playstation 3 was the most expensive console at launch, the Playstation 2 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 condition 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.

Since its last price drop, 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 do not 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 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 $30-$50.  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 feels 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 was recently throwing in two games with their 120 GB Playstation 3 models.  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.

Thank you for reading and happy gaming,

-Latino Gamer

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