Why Did I Become A PC Gamer? Because It’s The Cheapest Way To Play

Why Did I Become A PC Gamer? Because It’s The Cheapest Way To Play

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “PC? Oh hell no. That’s way to expensive and complicated. I like my 360 just fine.” There’s something to be said for that. We’ve reviewed many a high powered, high-priced machine here at Kotaku, and even the peripherals can add up. $400 for an Xbox 360, with a network that all of your friends are already on, as compared to $1500 or more for a PC, seems like a no-brainer to most players. And in a way, it is.

And in another way, it very much isn’t.

The family computer is a household device that, by the time I was 15, rivalled the family microwave or television in importance. We never had very much money; my father got laid off and faced a period of prolonged unemployment at what seemed like the exact moment that my mother became chronically ill. A Super Nintendo, N64 or PlayStation were emphatically not in the cards.

But we had a PC. It wasn’t the best PC in the world — in fact, by many estimations, it was actually the worst ever sold — but it ran DOS and Windows (3.11) and its 486/33 processor was at least powerful enough keep the thing functioning. And with its CD-ROM drive, it was enough to keep me gaming.

Shareware discs boasting “500 games!” for $3 or less brought me to a strange but memorable series of adventure games starring Hugo. They led me to a pair of titles from a studio then known as Epic MegaGames, Dare to Dream and, a sentimental still-favourite, Castle of the Winds. I ran mazes. I played third-hand clones of Prince of Persia. I played crosswords, and Solitaire, and got eaten by a yeti in SkiFree.

Eventually I was able to beg Myst for Christmas or maybe my birthday, and from that day I was well and truly off down the path of gaming. I discovered The Secret of Monkey Island and other LucasArts games down the street at a friend’s house, and she let me borrow her discs (and manuals, and cardboard gadgets, because that’s how copy protection worked at the time) to bring home and flail over on my own time. Somehow I ended up with a $5 bargain bin copy of Buried In Time, and convinced my parents to make up the half of SimCity 2000 I didn’t have the babysitting scratch for, when I found it on a shelf at Costco.


I reached adulthood with no fond childhood memories of any Zelda or Final Fantasy game, and the time I spent navigating Sonic around in circles was all at the neighbours’ house down the street in one summer. But the computer that was my tool for writing term papers in college also brought me Heroes of Might and Magic III, Diablo II, Worms Armageddon, and even a painful number of hours of Snood. In grad school, between arduous chapters of my terrible thesis I could nip into EverQuest II or Sid Meier’s Pirates!.

Since those years, mainstream gaming has become synonymous with gadgetry. We think of Xboxes and iPhones, of controllers and Call of Duty. And yet the PC era is more affordable and accessible than perhaps it ever has been.

A family can now get a decent PC, that everyone in the home can use for internet access, homework, job-work and the million other day-to-day functions society now relies on, for under $400 — about the same price bracket as an Xbox 360 or PS3. The games too now cost less than ever before.

The PC continues to have a bad rap as the most expensive way to pick up games when, in reality, we should be lauding it as the most accessible by far.

Over the last five years, inexpensive PC games have more or less flowed like water. Steam sales, GOG and competitors to both have made price wars work out in the consumer’s favour, especially as services begin to branch out into Mac and Linux gaming. The proliferation of indie bundles and pay-what-you-will pricing means that those who truly can’t pay can still play legally obtained, high quality games. And the internet is absolutely overflowing with low-cost and no-cost alternatives, whether Flash games or social titles that will take your time instead of your money.

Staying on the cutting edge of gaming, no matter what your platform of preference, is an expensive pastime. It takes a certain level of dedication and disposable income to be first, whether that’s paying $700 for a new PS3 or $80 plus day-one DLC costs for a brand-new game on any platform. I’ll be the first to admit that my current gaming PC isn’t my parents’ $350 family machine, and that the Nvidia GPU inside, by itself, cost more than an Xbox 360 when it was new.

The cutting edge, though, isn’t the only place gaming takes place. Mass Effect was just as good a game when I finally played it in 2010 as it was when it came out in 2007. Bastion will be just as beautiful for gamers in 2014 as it was when it launched in 2011. And between remakes and Kickstarters, re-releases and retro reboots, there’s never been a better year for the new to be old.

The PC continues to have a bad rap as the most expensive way to pick up games when, in reality, we should be lauding it as the most accessible by far. It doesn’t take a five-figure setup to dive in. Almost anyone can have a go. And far beyond exceptional graphics and sound, or the ease of keyboard control, that accessibility is the best reason by far to love what the PC can do.

Top photo: Flickr user possan


  • I enjoy how you continue to propagate the myth that we need to decide one form of gaming over another. Some people enjoy playing games on either or both PC and Console without coming up with a laundry list of reasons why one is somehow better overall.

    Seriously, can you not post potential flame bait articles like this? Couldn’t you have just said “Playing on PC is cheaper than you think” or some other title which didn’t imply superiority?

    • How on earth did you come to that conclusion from reading this article?

      The whole point is she couldn’t afford a console. It’s not flamebait. At least, I didn’t think it was. and I have both pc and console.

      • The actual content of the article was pretty tame, granted. But the title is just begging for PC elitists to come in here and look down on the ‘poor console sheeple who play on their crazy backwards tech’. It happens on virtually any article comparing console and PC so I don’t see why we need to escalate that chance with a title like this.

        For an example of what I’m talking about, scroll down to tisme’s comment below.

        • So everyone has to censor what they say so the haters won’t get upset?

          Haters are going to hate no matter what. Just don’t engage! I haven’t had a flame war in almost 10 years now. Just don’t reply to the crazies and they have no fuel to get started.

    • Not everyone owns every console and treat them all equal. I have all console and gaming pc but I still play all of them. For people that have Xbox only will say ps3 and pc is horrible. Ps3 owners will say Xbox and PC is horrible and when you have both ps3 and Xbox you will say pc is the worst. It is just fanboyism at work nothing special or insulting just the way the world work with hipsters and and fan boys.

    • I feel that they are talking more towards people with very limited disposable income to the point where it would only be practical to put the money investment into one platform.

      If you have enough money to buy several platforms then the price of a high end PC is probably going to be less of an issue anyway.

      Being only able to afford one personally would lean me more towards a computer as they can do so much more. I’d find it hard to type an essay on Xbox live.

    • this…

      I play strategy and MMOs on PC, the occasional shooter/stealth game on console. I like the fact with the console I sit down on the couch to play it; rather than upright in the chair, makes it far more relaxing.

  • My laptop was $620. Given that PC games are about $45 as opposed to $60 on release, it was easy to make up the difference in the initial purchase price. Plus, from what we’re hearing, my laptop will be more powerful than the PS4, so an upgrade is a while off.

  • Why is the pic not of a pc but a commodore? Yes commodore built pcs but they used svga monitors not commodore rgb.

  • The big issue is, developers (most of them) want to push the hardware they’re developing for. For the PS3 and Xbox, the hardware is set, it’s the same as it was when they were released. When I buy a game on the PS3, I know it will run. When developing for the PC, they push to get the most out of current and upcoming hardware. If you want the most our of your games then you need to spend a decent amount on hardware and continue to upgrade. Sure you can lower the graphic details, but will it still run on a PC you bought back in 2006?

    For me, I now only use my laptop for photography and internet browsing mainly, so I can’t justify the need to buy the latest hardware. If I was still doing my 3D work at home, then yes, all the justification I needed would be there.

    It’s a personal choice, but I prefer to have a dedicated gaming machine. I used to upgrade all the time, but a mortgage and life in general has meant I have to be smart about spending, and for me, an $800 cost which will last me 5+ years makes more sense than spending $600+ on upgrades every couple of years.

    Besides, as good as Borderlands 2 looks on a high spec PC, it still plays the same on my PS3 and I’m loving it for the gameplay!

    • that “gameplay” can feel heavy restricted when you have to use a controller…plus theres the whole thing of games having more depth when you have a keyboard at your disposal

      • I’m currently playing nethack (arguably the most in depth use of a keyboard in any game ever) on my iPhone which has nothing but a touch screen. So I don’t really accept the argument. It’s all about creative use of what’s available. Sure it would be a little more difficult to do nethack on a 360 controller but I’m fairly convinced now that it would be possible. Plus with the WiiU on the horizon, as well as microsoft smart glass, I expect most consoles to have a touch screen moving forward.

    • I am an avid PC gamer who unfortunately lost my desktop a while ago – now I use my 2 year old mid-range Dell laptop for games… And it hasn’t let me down once.

      Its brought me through Skyrim, SR3 and ME3 without a hitch the only game it struggles with is BF3.

      Plus I love the keyboard+mouse setup. For me its the only way to play.

    • As noted in the article based on how many games you play the price difference disappears pretty quickly. You can get games that came out last year for less than 10 dollars quite often on the PC, Deus Ex has already been on steam for $7.50 twice where as console games seem to have a lower cap of around 20 bucks and that is for much older games second hand with no online passes/whatever else you need. Brand new games on the PC can be had for 40 dollars from most online stores also where as the Xbox version is always 60.

    • Or the developer only wants to develop for the platform(s) that will sell more copies, then does a really quick port to PC (COD MW3 for example).

  • This isn’t exactly a PC-exclusive trait. Sure, DD sales and stuff make things ridiculously cheap at times. But the argument in the end there (“Mass Effect was just as good a game when I finally played it in 2010 as it was when it came out in 2007”) holds just as true for consoles too. Most of those games drop to the $20 mark within a year or two, that’s how I scooped up the majority of my 360 pile once I ended up with that console.

    • But you pay just to keep playing online – you have saved nothing and enforced an ongoing cost for what pc users do for free.

      • Yeah but I basically never play online so I don’t have a problem with that 😛

        My main deal’s Nintendo, the 360 is just there because I won one. But the cheap games principle still applies to Nintendo, and I still get to play online for free.

    • However, consoles don’t have access to the cheap games of steam and Good Old Game or the free games of Kongregate and dirt-cheap indie games that can bring something new to the table.

      • Kongregate are just a whole bunch of Flash games aren’t they? Most of those are playable through the Wii’s browser, I remember there being entire sites dedicated to games made specifically for that back in the day. Never bothered with it myself, but they were there.

        No matter what platform you pick, you’ll be missing out on some of the experiences available on the other ones. Just depends which ones float your boat – personally, I don’t see anything on either of the “HD” consoles that make them in any way worth buying, nor does anything on PC tickle my fancy at all.

  • I find it’s cyclical. I grew up with a computer and played lots of games, until I got a console, then I played games on there, until my computer games became more sophisticated and interesting and I was back there, then back to the console in the PSX era and so on. Right now I’m spending more time on PC again because the current generation consoles are really getting old – I’ve got all the platforms so if it’s an exclusive, I play on whatever platform it’s exclusive to, otherwise PC, so I guess I’m primarily a PC gamer at the moment. I imagine that may change in a few years, then come back in a few years after that.

    • I have been similar, At the start of the console cycle its good to play on the consoles because they are fresh and exciting however by the end they really start to look dated in comparison.

      I only really touch my consoles now to play exclusives but im sure that will change when I pick up the PS4/720.

      If something is cross platform though I usually prefer to play on the PC unless it has some Games for windows live rubbish or other crap stuck to it.

  • I started buying consoles after getting sick of buying PC games that didnt work. A sound card issue. A graphics card issue. An anti-virus program conflicting. A firewall conflicting. An internet connection requirement. It just got too hard. Even when you had the required specs, I was buying PC games that still for some reason would not work.

    With a console… you buy the game. You slot it in. You play. Theres no ifs or buts. If it costs more for that to happen in the long run then I’m personally happy to pay it.

    I cant speak for others but thats my experience. I still play PC games but its consoles all the way for me.

    • Stop buying computers at retail. Build you own. The issues you mention have not really been a factor in pc gaming since the 80-90s. Not even an issue for highend audio workstations anymore so you shouldnt have a problem building a gaming pc that works with everything.

      • ummmmmmmmmmmmm no. Sorry, but I disagree with your viewpoint entirely.

        TheRev’s comment is entirely valid.
        Sometimes a rogue driver, patch, application/program update, or even actual device can make a game come to a screeching halt. Or in my case, constantly panning cameras that rendered random games unplayable. I enjoyed the investigation and solution to the problem, but I can easily see how others might not.

        Buying computers at retail, getting one built by a trusted system builder or building your own can have similar results when it comes to these sorts of things.

        • I agree entirely. This is the main reason I stopped playing games on the PC. Basically as my life got busier I had less time to waste trouble shooting a game that would just work on a console. As you say, some people enjoy the pursuit, not me…I just want to play.

          I remember distinctly when Oblivin came out. I spent about 2k upgrading my GPU, CPU and RAM (motherboard had plenty to give yet)……to have a jittery game on lower level graphics. Clearly something else was at play other than the available power of the machine.

  • Pc has been cheaper and better for gaming for a long time. Only stupid people who cant add up believe otherwise. Also consoles are all way behind in tech. Even the wii u is pathetic compared to a basic pc. Enjoy ur 30fps while my sli rig sits on 300 fps all day with better quality than a console could dream of. Oh yeah $1 games every xmas on steam. $50 for poorer quality versions of the same games if ur stuck in console. Its a no brainer to build a good pc and save in the process.

    • Lol…..300fps. What is the point? Your eyes couldn’t distinguish the difference between 60 and 300fps. Besides which, you play by yourself in a bedroom. I play with my family in the lounge room. Different audience, doesn’t mean I’m more right than you. Just at a different stage of my life.

      • Human eyes can differentiate between 60hz (or 60fps) and 120hz (120fps) for a matter of smoothness, but you are correct in saying that nothing is distinguishable above that. However, you are incorrect in saying Computers are for a bedroom. I have one in the lounge room attached to the TV for an HTPC/Gaming solution, and is used for Racing/Fighting games with a wireless 360 controller. It’s like a 360 I suppose, but it’s also able to provide far better quality graphics and frame rates and higher resolutions.

    • Probably because its not PC exclusive? If you give someone 50 bucks to mod your xbox you could just borrow games from people and install them straight to your console via the built in xbox menu, much easier than messing around with cracks and such on a PC.

      There are games on the PC that still have not been cracked, I cant think of a single Xbox game that hasn’t.

  • I was an avid Xbox gamer in the past but with the group of mates I had online, we would almost be forced to pick up every new multiplayer title just to keep going as a group. Paying $80 for each game got a little crazy on the pocket so we switched to PC and now we all play LoL, WoW and CS:GO and it’s been like that for about a year and a half now. If we kept playing on Xbox live I’m sure we would all have spent quite a pretty penny but these days the cost is minimal (apart from our WoW subs) but it’s been a HUGE money saver.

  • Pc is cheaper? At least with a console we don’t need to spend a few hundreds to upgrade every year on parts just to be able to play the newest game out.

    • If you build a PC with better specs than the console when it comes out it should run every console game until they release a new one. The only thing you wouldn’t be able to play are high fidelity PC exclusives that you couldn’t play anyway.

      • What a lot of people miss though is that as a poor kid, or even an adult without much spare cash, PC components are out of the question. When I was young I could save up and buy a SNES. Even if you added it up and showed me it was cheaper in the long run to buy a PC, the cost of a decent PC was so high that it eliminated the option.
        It’s also hard to draw the line on PC specs when you don’t have money to throw around. Do you get the more expensive processor even though it only plays an extra two or three games at the next highest setting? It’s a hard thing to judge. If you get the expensive processor there’s a certain obligation to buy games that will make use of it. If you get the cheap one you have to live with it struggling later in life.

        With consoles you get a much more stable experience. You buy a SNES and every game you buy uses every cent of that initial SNES investment and it’s extremely rare for any of them to remind you that you’re playing on an older machine. The lines are much more defined and the whole experience is relaxed.

        That’s not to say either is better or worse. As an adult with plenty of money I love having a PC. I just find some of these ‘it works out cheaper if you buy a fifty games a year’ or ‘just buy a good one’ comments a bit naive.

        • When I was younger I couldn’t afford any consoles so the only games I could play were on the family PC as many people would have a computer for work etc.

          A surprising amount of games are playable on integrated graphics.

    • Just a few hundred to replace your console when it RRODs, or a patch bricks it, or to replace your games when the console scratches the disc, or to upgrade to a version with a hard drive larger than a 5.25″ floppy, or to the version with WiFi built in, or to the one in the slim case, or to buy digital downloads of all your old games because they removed backwards compatibility in the newfangled version.

  • I found there was a lot less pressure to keep up with consoles. It didn’t matter that I lagged behind getting a SNES. I just went down to the video store, picked out a NES game and took it home. It played as well and looked as good as any other game I was playing at the time.
    Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing on the PC and when I was young there wasn’t that much difference between new and old games so I could play Hugo without feeling trapped in the stone age. Eventually that gap grew and I went with the N64. Throwing all my games and controllers in my backpack and go to my friends to play them was about as good as gaming ever got. You just can’t beat a cart.

  • I just prefer PC gaming.. *shrugs*

    Is it because it’s cheaper? No.. is it because it’s “better”? No..

    it’s because I prefer it.. I find it more convenient and suitable to my lifestyle..

    I do own a PS3 and X360.. but they just sit there, gathering dust.. I thought I would like to play them after I’ve played them at friends and family houses.. but when I get them, I end up not playing them myself…

    PC gaming is not better.. it’s just different. I’m glad there is a choice.

  • I have been around since the days of the Vic20 and have had them all, PC and console. I like to think of my gaming console/PCs as Pokemon…gota catch em’ all. In this day and age it should not matter what gaming platform you use, they are all outstanding and if you are not an early adopter inexpensive. But back in the day if it was not a Commodore then you had the wrong gaming machine.

  • Labels like ‘PC Gamer’ are weird. Imagine if you labelled the type of movie viewer you were by the media in which you consumed the movie not the content of the movies.

    “Oh I’m a 60-seat cinema movie watcher, he is a 42′ inch lounge room television movie watcher”

    • Not really the best example. Audiophiles and … whatever the visual equivalent is are to music and movies what PC is to consoles. Not watching movies and TV on a super huge HDTV with the biggest resolution and lowest response times and 7.1 Dolby surround sound with 3D output? You’re just the equivalent of a console user, using outdated and dinky technology. Also, everyone knows that Vinyl is the best audio quality and that MP3s and other digital formats are lossy formats that degrade audio quality. Right? You wouldn’t want to be “one of those” people that doesn’t keep up with the cool kids would you?

      My point is, whatever the interest, there are always going to be elitist groups who separate themselves as the better group by using labels.

      • Haha yep good analogy! 😀 I guess the key thing is elitist groups will always do that, but it should be just them labelling themselves and using those terms

  • I spent $2000 on my gaming notebook by ASUS…. Have to say best thing I have ever done! My Xbox cost around $400. My PC games all 60+ have cost me in the range of $2-20 alot cheaper than a $80-120 console game. But…. Sometimes I can’t be bothered and just jump on the console and play games all this PC vs console vs console stuff needs to stop! It’s pointless games are fun enjoy then no matter what platform they are on! 😉 stop being a bitch about it all!

  • Y’know, thinking about this article… what a load of crap! Unless you were using a 5yr old pc, it’s always been MUCH cheaper to buy a console. Because you already own a tv, but with a PC, you gotta get everything. Our first pc, a 286 cost us $1200. It was either $1200 or 2 grand, i can’t remember as I was only 12, but it was bloody expensive.

    No offence to the author though. I still enjoyed the read.

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