Buying gifts for gamers is eternally difficult. We're a fickle, impulsive bunch, and often that means there's a good chance we'll already have the things we want before you get a chance to buy them.
But there are always cool bits and pieces that might be a neat surprise around Christmas time. So to help you, your significant other, friends or family out, here's some suggestions that the PC gamers in your life might really appreciate.
As a general note, none of the prices quoted below include shipping — that's something you'll have to factor in for yourself, depending on how soon you want it to arrive. You might want some goods sooner rather than later, if you want to get them up and installed prior to Christmas. With that out of the way, let's go shopping.
Image courtesy of Saitek
The trend of space sims isn't going away any time soon. Star Citizen, Infinity: Battlescape, No Man's Sky are looming on the horizon and with the few already released, such as Elite: Dangerous, it's never been a better time to explore the cosmos.
Having a quality flight stick can improve the experience of these games, which people can lose thousands of hours — not to mention dollars — in. Having them around can also improve the experience of older games, including the X-Wing/TIE Fighter sims, Egosoft's X series, Freespace 2 and the litany of fan creations that use the engine, Freelancer and more.
I've opted for the X52 in this case because it's a far more affordable option than Saitek's X55 Rhino system, which will set you back around $300. You can even get the X52, which comes with a throttle and stick, for as low as $150 if you shop around.
It's not for everyone, but for the people who get any enjoyment out of flight sims it will make an immense difference.
Image courtesy of Digital Camera Warehouse
It seems small. It seems like a bit of a throwaway gift. But it's actually one of the most useful and understated presents you can have on hand — something that can quickly get all the dust and grime that builds up on monitors and tablets, and it's just as handy for getting rid of ugly fingerprint marks on mobile phones.
I've gone with this one from Digital Camera Warehouse, which costs only $7. It's cheap enough that it'd make for a neat Secret Santa gift, and if the recipient happens to wear glasses it'll come in handy for that too.
Image courtesy of Thinkgeek
It's a bit of a stretch, but let's be honest: everyone has a cup or a mug on their desk at some stage. Most people have a cup or mug on their desk all the time. Or you could be like Mark and have several mugs on your desk at any one time.
Point is, if you're going to have a permanent adornment, why not make it look good? This set of 10 cups from Thinkgeek are themed after the various planets in the solar system, with one for Pluto (as it should be) and an especially large-sized cup for the Sun.
They're made from glass and a high temperature heat wrap and they hold just under 300mL, not counting the Sun and Pluto. Note that they're not microwave or dishwasher safe, so keep that in mind for especially lazy types.
Thinkgeek are also selling a special set of Star Wars planetary cups for the same price, but that item isn't being shipped outside of Canada or the United States so you'll need a friend who lives in either country to get that posted down our way.
Image courtesy of Mwave
One of the nicest things about the EIZO 23.5" monitor that I own, having not had the feature before, is the two USB ports just behind the side of the monitor. It allows me to charge my phone and keep it in close proximity in a way that isn't entirely possible with the short micro-USB cables I have — and I don't want to run the longer extension cords from where my PC is located, because they're being used in the living room for PS4/Xbox One controllers on my Steam Box.
What would make life an awful lot better is this, a 7 port USB 3.0/2.0 hub from Mbeat. The more techy you are, the more ports you need, although I've found most of the time I'll be plugging in a USB key — and therefore having a USB 3.0 port close by is paramount.
As a result, I've gone for the Mbeat hub I could find that carries USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports. There's another 7 port hub stocked elsewhere that's cheaper, but it only carries USB 2.0 ports and it's a bit bulkier. You don't want that: spend the extra $10 and get something with USB 3.0.
Image courtesy of Elgato
There aren't too many PC gamers out there who don't also play games on console as well, and the crossover of gamers who like to stream and record their footage is increasing all the time. But the range of options for recording on PC are far greater than what you get if you just use the PS4 or Xbox One's in-built systems, and if you want anything more advanced then a capture card is the way to go.
The Elgato Game Capture HD60 has worked pretty well for most people I know, and it's easier to get running than the hassles that can sometimes arise with internal capture cards. You can pick up the cheapest HD60 from Kogan, although if you have issues buying from there PC Case Gear are selling the cards for $235. (You can check out a wider list of retailers via StaticICE.)
Image courtesy of Valve
There are some heavy caveats, although the Steam Link can be a killer gift for a lot of gamers. For people who predominately game on their PC, and have a TV in a separate living room, the Steam Link can be a great way to get some gaming in your living room without resorting to the cost of a console, a dedicated Steam Box or the effort of rigging up a Steam Box.
If you are going to invest in a Steam Link or get one for a friend, it's best to make sure the Steam Link is always connected to via an ethernet cable. Reports of the Link's performance via Wi-Fi is too sketchy and laggy to guarantee an enjoyable experience throughout, although given your/your recipient's surroundings that may not be entirely possible.
But if you can have both the streaming PC and the Steam Link hooked up via a wired connection, and you've got a couple of spare controllers around (the PS4's controllers work wirelessly out of the gate, and you can hook up just about any controller via USB) then it's a great, cheap method to get some couch co-op going. You'll probably have to do some configuration beforehand and having a mouse is always handy in case you want to play something with a separate launcher (hello Fallout 4) or Steam crashes entirely.
Here's a great piece of gaming advice — gaming headsets have some glaring issues. Not only are you paying a premium to have a microphone attached to the side of your head, but you're also paying an immense amount for something that quite often fails far sooner than you'd like it to.
It's always a better option to have a separate standalone microphone — especially in the days of streamers and YouTubers — and you'll always be able to get better quality from standalone headphones. On top of that, the recipient of your gift will appreciate being able to take a quality pair of headphones out on the road without looking like they're livestreaming their Clash of Clans on the bus.
When it comes to headphones, I usually tend to gravitate towards one of three brands: Audio Technica, Beyerdynamic (DT440's are very, very good) or Alessandro. Most gamers will be more familiar with Audio Technica these days, with the brand having branched out with a line of headsets, although you can get just as good sound for much better value by opting for headphones instead.
I'm currently rocking a pair of ATH-M50x's that I picked up from Kogan earlier this year, and I've owned a pair of the open back ATH A700's back in the past. The A700's were far more comfortable, although the line has since been discontinued for the AD700X/900X series.
I've opted for the closed design headphones only because, in my experience, many PC gamers I know will also have a separate pair of speakers as well. That means you're only popping on the headphones when you really want to concentrate, and in those situations being completely immersed in the sound is far more beneficial than the wider sound stage and extra lightness — for lack of a better phrase — that open headphones offer.
Competitive gamers also know the benefits of being able to shut out the world around them, and the next set of headphones I'm buying will be closed back for precisely those reasons. But if you, or your intended giftee, is relying on the headphones as their sole source of audio then you might want to consider the open variants instead.
Headphonic are selling the AD700X's for the cheapest, but if stock is an issue you can always check StaticICE for other vendors. PC Case Gear would be my second choice — just note you'll be paying a little extra.
That's all for our gift guide this year — what PC accessories are you giving to your gaming friends and family this Christmas? Let us know below!