Part 1: The Backstory (if you just want the finance part, skip to Part 2)
In February 2013 my computer died. I bought it in the mid 2000ís from Best Buy as an open box item for just under $800 bucks. It wasnít a great computer. It featured an AMD Athlon 64x2 Dual Core 2.4GHz processor with 4GB of Ram. With the addition of an aftermarket video card, and a slightly better power supply it was enough to run the games I wanted to play and it worked great as a multimedia centre. I was very happy with how it handled. I had no issues running Bioshock or Oblivion on a 42 inch TV and had smug enjoyment playing from the comfort of my couch.
As time went on I ended up with an Xbox 360, Wii, and three PlayStation 3 consoles. The computer started only being used as a multimedia workhorse, and for the occasional game of World of Warcraft. In the last year of her life, the few games she saw included replays of the Baldurís Gate series (I started with the EE, then gave up and went back to the original games with mods), Scribblenauts Unlimited, and a short go with the Old Republic. I knew there was little reason to try to tease her with demanding new releases (more on this in Part 2), and with so many other gaming devices I had my bases covered.
Computerless, I had to decide how best to replace her. My first thought was to buy a cheap laptop for surfing and lurking -- why did I need yet another machine for gaming? Then again, I like to have more options and I remembered fondly the time spent modding various computer games in my computerís glory days. I ventured onto the google to start comparing prices, with the notion that I might spend a little extra and get a laptop thatíd run a game halfway decent.
When it came to hardware, I wasnít sure what I was doing. I didnít know the difference between a 520m video card and a 640m. This led me to youtube for the reviews of various products, which led to websites with benchmarks, and ultimately websites about overclocking -- something I had often heard about, but never really understood or cared to learn about -- †and then to computer building guides. By the time I had finish with all of the Linus Tech Tips, Tech of Tomorrow, and Tested videos and articles I was convinced that I had to build a computer. Not only was I determined to build the thing, I was actually feeling confident in doing it myself. To say I was excited to piece the machine together is an understatement.
There was one other thing these people mentioned in passing and itís that PC gaming could be cheaper on the whole, even after factoring in the cost of high priced items like video cards and processors. I knew of Steam as I had used it to buy a couple of games (Scribblenauts Unlimited at FULL retail price, gasp) but I wasnít aware of the crazy winter and summer markdowns. I was also unaware of Humble Bundles and GOG. I was fairly skeptical, but given that I now NEEDED a gaming PC I thought Iíd get to test out the claim myself.
After spending some time on Newegg, I finally bit the bullet and purchased the parts. Without getting into too much detail about why I picked the parts that went into the build, Iíll just say that everything was either on sale, had some sort of special, or there was a rebate involved. For example, the motherboard came with a free 8GB stick of ram. I also set my limit at $1,300 with the hopes of spending far less. Hereís what I ended up with:
Intel i5 Core 3570k $229.99
ASUS P8z77-V LK motherboard with 8GB of CORSAIR Vengeance $149.99 (I bought an additional 8GB of this ram, but it went into a separate build for my eldest child)
Hyper 212 EVO aftermarket CPU cooler $34.99
OCZ ModXStream Pro 600W PSU $79.99
Seagate Barracuda 1TB Hard Drive $59.99
Sapphire Radeon 7950 Vapor-X Video card (included Crysis 3 and Bioshock Infinite) $299.99
Cooler Master HAF 922 Mid Tower Case $99.99
Cooler Master MegaFlow 200 - Sleeve Bearing 200mm LED Fan $13.99
Windows 7 Professional $139.99
For those keeping score, the total price for the above build is $1,108.91. Before I ordered the parts for the system I priced similar builds with various sellers of gaming computers (ibuypower, alienware, cyberpower) and they were asking anywhere from $300 to $450 more. The price of my build was similar to some prices on websites like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, however, their systems were fairly dated and offered very weak performance for what was being asked. Thatís to say they included weaker graphic cards and processors (far, far weaker). Also note that I already owned a working monitor and television, as well as a mouse and keyboard so I didnít include them in the cost.
Once the items arrived, the case coming TWO days after the hardware, I was able to put everything together from memory (and the aid of the motherboard manual) with no issue. I canít stress how fun and incredibly easy building a modern computer really is. Aside from inserting the processor there isnít much you can really screw up if you follow the instructions. I even did it without an anti-static wrist strap. The process took about an hour, not quite two if you include installing Windows 7 and a few breaks to twirl around the room.
After everything was up and running, and after updating all the drivers, I started piddling around in the BIOS. I wasnít very confident with this step, so I backed out and loaded Windows. The nice thing about the ASUS boards is that the included software has a tool to ďsafelyĒ overclock the processor. I started the tool and it adjusted the processor and ram speed. After running several stress tests, the system was stable at 4.1GHz (3.5GHz stock).
I then proceeded to overclock the video card using the MSI Afterburner software. This was the icing on the cake. When it comes to overclocking video cards itís a roll of the dice as some cards are able to clock higher than others, you just have to hope you score a good card. At stock the video cardís clock speed was 850 for core and 950 for memory. With a few clicks of the mouse, the card was running smooth and stable at 1150/1500. I basically hit the jackpot. Using the Unigine Heaven for benchmarks, my scores went from 78 fps and a score of 1959, to 158 fps and a score of 3983 (an increase of 102%). With all the setup and overclocking out of the way, I was ready to get on with the real reason I bought the computerÖ gaming!
Part 2: My Finance Report
So now we know that my gaming rig cost just over a grand to build ($1,108.91 for those that skipped). Thatís kind of high, I know, but itís still considered mid-range as far as PC builds go. Itís also important to note that I may have went a bit overkill for my needs. Iím not interested in running games at perfect visional levels, but the system is capable of doing it and will be able to handle things for a while to come. My long term goal for this system is to use everything in it for five years before replacing or pushing it off onto one of my children. This isnít a crazy notion by any stretch of the imagination, and it does fly in the face of the upgrade myth. I also now know my dead computer could have handled such games as Far Cry 3, though not with the highest visual quality, but it would at least have been playable, so I do not think Iím being too optimistic.
With the rig and its cost out of the way, letís focus on the games. As stated in Part 1, during my research I learned about such things as Humble Bundle, Steam sales, and the various other platforms of digital delivery. After I decided to build the computer, and while I did research and waited on parts, I bought every bundle or sale that caught my eye. I pledged to myself that Iíd only buy games that I thought Iíd actually play (ha!) and only games that were on sale for at least 50% off or more. Itís still a promise I stick to, with a few exceptions planned (South Park Stick of Truth, GTA V).
I could just tell you the number of games I own and the amount of money spent for the entire collection vs. the retail price, but I have something much more tedious in mind. Iím going to list every game I purchased with the transaction price and the suggested retail. Iíll then give you the running total of the software cost, the software cost with hardware included, as well as the retail value. The number of games in my library bought since February of 2013 currently totals around 140 from various digital platforms including some 17 Humble purchases, so letís start there.
Humble Origin Bundle! - $6/$215
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box, Crysis 2 Maximum Edition, Dead Space, Dead Space 3, Medal of Honor, Mirror's Edge, Battlefield 3, Populous, Sims 3, Sims 3 High End Loft, Sims 3 Late Night, Populous
Humble Deep Silver Bundle! $6/$190
Risen, Risen 2, Sacred 2 Gold, Saints Row 2, Saints Row: The Third, Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package, Dead Island GOTY, Metro 2033, Sacred Citadel
Humble Indie Bundle 9! $3.25/$64.99
Trine 2: Complete Story, Mark of the Ninja, Eets Munchies, BrŁtal Legend
Humble WB Games Bundle! $6/$124.99
Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, F.E.A.R. 3, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Batman Arkham City GOTY
Humble Weekly Sale: ACE Team, ATLUS Games and Tripwire Interactive $3.25/$54.99
Dwarfs!?, Killing Floor, Zeno Clash 2, Zeno Clash
Humble Weekly Sale: Alan Wake! $6/$49.99
Alan Wake Collector's Edition, Alan Wake's American Nightmare
Humble Weekly Sale: Arcen Games! $4/$64.99
AI War + 4 DLC packs & Tidalis, AI War: Vengeance, A Valley Without Wind 1 and 2
Humble Weekly Sale: Focus Home Interactive $6/$134.99
Cities XL Platinum, Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition, Divinity II: Developer's Cut, R.A.W. Realms of Ancient War, Game of Thrones, Confrontation
Humble Weekly Sale: Hosted by PewDiePie! $6/$49.99
Botanicula, McPixel, The Showdown Effect, Thomas Was Alone, Amnesia: Dark Descent
Humble Weekly Sale: Kalypso Media $2.25/$39.99
Tropico 3, Sine Mora, SkyDrift, Anna
Humble Weekly Sale: Klei Entertainment $3.25/$29.99
Shank, Shank 2, Eets
Humble Weekly Sale: Multimedia Fusion 2 $2.50/$13.99
Faerie Solitaire, MANOS: The Hands of Fate, Multimedia Fusion 2, OddPlanet, Pitiri 1977, Splotches, Vincere Totus Astrum
Humble Weekly Sale: Nordic Games $6/$179.99
Supreme Commander, Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, The Guild 2, and Red Faction: Armageddon, Neighbours From Hell Compilation, Penis, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, ArcaniA, Darksiders II, and SpellForce 2: Faith in Destiny
Humble Weekly Sale: Paradox Interactive $6/$125
War of the Roses: Kingmaker, Warlock, Dungeonland, Leviathan: Warships, The Showdown Effect, Europa Universalis 3 Complete
Humble Weekly Sale: Serious Sam $4.25/$99.99
Serious Sam 3: BFE Deluxe Edition, Serious Sam 2, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, Serious Sam Double D, Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack!, Serious Sam Public Test 2
Humble Weekly Sale: Zen Studios $4.25/$29.99
Pinball FX2 Core Pack, Pinball FX2 Zen Classics Pack, Pinball FX2 Earth Defense table, Pinball FX2 Paranormal table, and Pinball FX2 Epic Quest table
Humble Weekly Sale: bitComposer Games $3.25/$49.99
Galaxy on Fire 2 Full HD, Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers, and Thunder Wolves
Thatís 17 Humble collections with 94 titles for a total retail value of $1,518.86, and an out of pocket expenditure of only $77.25. If I also factor in the cost of the rig we are looking at a total of $1,186.16, a difference of $332.70 from the retail value. Now onto my other games. These were purchased from Amazon, eBay, Gamefly, GameStop, Green Man, GOG, Groupees, Origin, and Steam.
Bioshock Infinite, Crysis 3 $0/$69.98 (included with video card)
Sleeping Dogs, Hitman Absolution, Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon $14.99/$94.99 (eBay)
$92.24 ($1,201.15) $1,683.83
Groupees Be Mine Bundle $5/$169.99
Eschalon: Book 2, iBomber Defense Pacific, Livalink, Party of Sin, Men of War: Assault Squad, Two Worlds II, Edna & Harvey: Harveyís New Eyes, Planets Under Attack, The Cat Lady, Major Mayhem, AirBuccaneers, Dungeon - The Dark Lord, Adventures of Shuggy, Galactic Arms Race, Men of War: Assault Squad DLC Pack
Title, Price Paid, Retail
Assassinís Creed III $11.49/$29.99
Command & Conquer: The Ultimate Collection $9.99/$19.99
Crysis Maximum Maximum Pack $9.99/$69.99
D&D Anthology: The Master Collection $9.99/$19.99 (one of the BEST values)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution $2.99/$19.99
Dishonored & Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Pack $14.99/$49.99
Dungeon Keeper $0/$2.99
Dungeon Keeper 2 $0/$2.99 † † †
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion $4.99/$19.99
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim $7.49/$29.99
Fallout 3 - Game of the Year Edition $11.99/$19.99
Fallout Collection: Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout Tactics $0/$19.99
Legend of Dungeon $1.49/$9.99
Mass Effect Trilogy $9.99/$39.99
Neverwinter Nights Diamond $4.99/$24.99
Organ Trail: Director's Cut $1.49/$4.99
Sid Meier's Civilization V Gold $12.99/$29.99 (Gamestop random sale)
SimCity 2000 $2.99/$2.99
SimCity 4 Deluxe $4.99/$19.99
State of Decay $9.99/$19.99
Tomb Raider $10.62/$49.99
Torchlight II $4.99/$19.99
Two Worlds II $6.99/$29.99
Universe Sandbox $2.49/$9.99
Walking Dead Pack $7.49/$24.99
Thatís 46 additional games (plus DLC) with a total retail value of $643.72, for a retail grand total of $2,497.54. My out of pocket for just these 46 games was $170.88, for grand total of $268.12. Factoring in the cost of the computer brings the total up to $1,377.03, making the difference from the retail total $1,120.51.
So, there you have it. Is PC gaming as cheap as some people make it out to be? Well, only if you consider spending almost a grand and a half cheap, but the reality is that gaming on the PC offers a lot of value and the potential to save on costs even after the large initial Ďinvestmentí. It's also important to remember that this is just my first year with the computer and I've already recouped the cost of the parts with the money saved on the software. Owning consoles, I can say that there is very little in the way of deals or specials offered. Most of my big console scores are thanks to eBay where I am able to buy up used copies of games which are still steeply priced in the retail setting. Even taking into account the holiday specials or things like PSN Plus itís hard to argue they are even remotely close. This is mainly thanks to PC being an open format with lots of competition with the delivery platform, though some publishers are actively trying to squash this and regain control (Ubisoft and EA). Itís also, as people correctly point out, because you do not technically own the games being purchased, just a license to use the software. This isnít too far off from whatís going on with PlayStation Plus and has never really given me pause.
As it stands, Iím happy with my venture back into PC gaming and it will probably remain my go to device for now, though I am excited to see what Sony and Microsoft will bring to the table with their newest consoles. I can honestly say that Iím looking forward to 2014 and hope it turns out to be another excellent year for gaming and deals.