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If you’re happy to play free games for your smartphone all day, every day, gaming will barely cost you a cent. However, if you want to step up a level and play on your PC or consoles, the story is very different.
How expensive is gaming as a hobby? This is something worth figuring out before you dive in, or allow your kids to get the gaming bug. So, let’s try and analyze some of the costs associated with playing video games as a hobby…
Let’s assume you’re starting from scratch. What are the essentials that you need to be able to begin your gaming journey?
Two companies dominate the traditional console market—Sony and Microsoft. If you want to play the latest big-budget titles, you’ll inevitably need one of their products.
The latest PlayStation model is the PS4 Pro, while the latest hardware from Microsoft is the Xbox One X. Both products are incremental upgrades on the standard PS4 and Xbox One; they offer a few hardware and design improvements, but little else.
The PS4 Pro currently retails for $399.99. The Xbox One X currently retails for $499.99.
There’s little point in splashing out on top-end consoles if you don’t have a screen to enjoy their glorious 4K output, multiple teraflops of GPU power, and high-quality audio.
At the very least, you’ll need a well-sized 4K TV. When we reviewed some of the cheapest 4K HDR TVs, we established that the 55-inch Sony XBR55X900E and the 55-inch LG 55SJ8500 were good picks for gamers. So, if you don’t already own one, you’re looking at another $500 to $1,500 for a good TV.
Of course, lots of hardcore gamers insist that playing on a dedicated desktop computer is the best way to enjoy your hobby.
If you’re just getting into the world of gaming, you probably don’t need a console and a computer, so pick whichever works best for you.
For a top-of-the-range gaming computer, you can expect to pay upwards of $1,500.
You can’t be a gamer if you don’t have any games to play. New AAA games typically cost around $60. However, if you’re happy to play games that are more than a year old—especially annual-release franchises—you can spend considerably less.
Gaming is too expensive.
— Nicholas ? (@Audaxation) August 22, 2018
While the things we’ve listed above might be enough to get you started, other costs will soon begin to rack up.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve taken the console or PC approach to gaming, there are lots of add-ons that make gaming more fun.
The list of gaming peripherals you can buy is almost endless: racing wheels, headsets, cameras, console stands, gaming keyboards—each of which has the potential to set you back $100 or more.
Consoles usually only ship with one controller, so you’ll want to pick up a second one almost immediately. After all, gaming is more fun when you do it with friends.
Both a new Xbox controller and PS4 controller cost about $60, though retailers sometimes offer a discount if you buy one at the same time as you buy the console.
If you play on PC, you can play against other gamers online for free using apps like Steam.
Unfortunately, Sony and Microsoft aren’t so generous. They both force you to pay for a subscription in order to play online via Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus. The most cost-efficient way to sign up is to buy an annual plan. Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscription is $50/year; Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold is $60/year.
Downloadable Content and Microtransactions
Microtransactions and downloadable content (DLC) are now commonplace throughout the gaming world. Players don’t like them—there are endless stories of expensive games locking some of the best content behind a paywall—but they are here to stay regardless.
The cost of DLC varies considerably. Some content can cost almost as much as the original game, while lesser items can be picked up for a couple of dollars apiece.
Similarly, microtransactions have become almost necessary if you want to keep pace with the top players online. They can cost anything from a few cents to tens of dollars.
Right now, the cutting edge of consumer gaming is virtual reality. Perhaps surprisingly, the entry cost is not as high as you might expect.
For example, when we reviewed the standalone Oculus Go VR headset, we gave it a score of 10/10 and called it a “must buy.” Best of all, the headset costs a mere $200. It’s an absolute steal. On the downside, it only has access to the games from the Oculus Store, and they cost a few dollars each.
For a more extensive selection of games, you will need to pay a bit more. The HTC Vive costs around $500, and the Oculus Rift is about $400. The Rift has access to the SteamVR library. Check out our article if you need help deciding between the Vive and the Rift.
And, before you head to the shops, you need to make sure you’ve got a suitable space in which to use your headset. If you don’t, you might be wasting your money.
How to Start Gaming on a Budget
The price of all these elements add up to a tidy sum, but there are a few ways you can eat away at the total.
Subscribe to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold
Yes, we just listed the two consoles’ subscriptions as an expense. We didn’t mention, however, the impressive number of free games that the two plans give you.
In the last 12 months, both services have given their users around $700-worth of free titles. And these aren’t junk games that you’d never want to play. Example freebies include Mafia III, Assassin’s Creed IV, Halo 3, and Gears of War 3.
If you’re a casual gamer who doesn’t play for more than a few hours a week, you might never need to buy another game again.
Note: The two plans also offer up to 50% discounts on games.
Buy Cheaper Consoles
Although Sony and Microsoft might dominate the world of big-ticket consoles, there are plenty of other choices out there.
If you spend a lot of time on the road, you might find the portable Nintendo Switch or 3DS XL to be a good option. Those looking for family fun could even pick up a Nintendo Wii on the cheap. And if you’re looking for retro fun, you could even grab the recently re-released Super NES Classic.
Games on other consoles are also cheaper than on the Xbox and PS4.
One thing I miss in life is the Nintendo Wii. Nothing quite like a competitive family game of bowling on Wii Sports, trying to stay on track during Rainbow Road on Mario Kart and spending hours trying to perfect the look of your Mii
— Millie Payne (@_milliepayne) January 28, 2018
Cut the Cord and Play More Games
You could offset some of the cost of your new hobby by cutting the cord. These days, it’s possible to save a lot of money on your cable bill without losing access to your favorite TV shows and live channels.
But why not kill two birds with one stone? The Nvidia Shield is one of the best devices for cord cutters, but it also has excellent gaming potential.
The GeForce Now beta gives you access to a massive library of high-quality free games, including NBA 2K18, Call of Duty, Bioshock, Sonic, Civilization VI, Overwatch, and many more.
A new Nvidia Shield even comes with a gaming controller in the box.
And the Total Cost Is…
Gaming isn’t cheap. Gone are the days when a Gameboy and two games could keep you entertained for six months. If you want to truly experience what the world of gaming has to offer, you need to get your wallet out.
And as for how much gaming costs? There’s no easy answer; no two people are the same. However, we estimate an average family household might look something like this:
- Xbox One X: $500
- 5 x AAA games: $300
- Other games: $100
- 2 x extra controllers: $120
- Other peripherals: $150
- Xbox Live Gold: $60
- Total: $1,230
This should be enough to get you started gaming, but you’ll inevitably spend more as the years pass. Especially when Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo release their next must-have consoles.
If you’d like to learn more about gaming, check out our article about the best websites for gaming news and reviews.