Which next-gen game console has the lowest cost of ownership?

What each new game console costs to own

By Garrett Mickley — November 22, 2013

The next generation of video game consoles here, and while there are plenty of fan boys out there loyal to their particular brand no matter what, a lot of us haven’t made a decision on which to choose.

For those of us who care more about getting maximum bang for our buck, we’ve put together some information that should help you make the decision on which video game console is best for you.

  PS4 Xbox One Wii U PC***
Cost of machine (basic bundle for consoles) $399.00 $499.00 $299.00 $1,450.67
Cost of an additional controller* $59.99 $59.96 $49.99 $0.00
Cost of buying 12 new games** $779.87 $779.87 $779.87 $779.87
Cost of multiplayer (over 8 years) $399.92 $479.92 $0.00 $0.00
Total $1,638.78 $1,818.75 $1,128.86 $2,230.54
Annual average over 8 years $204.85 $227.34 $141.11 $278.82
*Most console owners purchase at least 1 controller, according EEDAR research
**Midrange estimate of the number of games bought over the lifetime of a console, according to EEDAR research
*** Cost of PC with hardware roughly equivalent to consoles, plus replacement cost to reflect lifecycle of gaming PCs
(http://www.cyberpowerpc.com/saved/1FK18M), (http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/06/14/build-a-next-gen-pc/)

Nintendo’s Wii U

The first console of this generation to come out was Nintendo’s Wii U, which debuted way back in November 2012. That may be one reason the Wii U’s hardware is significantly behind both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.

“The Wii U, while first to launch in the 8th generation, is closer to current or 7th generation performance,” says Michael Inouye, a senior analyst with ABI Research.

Also, unlike the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Wii U lacks the hardware to play DVDs or Blu-ray movies.

But the Wii U’s older hardware also means a lower price; the Nintendo console comes in at $299, significantly lower than the other two, plus online multiplayer requires no subscription. The cost of a brand new Wii U game on launch day is also $40, compared to the $60 for Xbox One or PlayStation 4 games.

Overall, the cheapest solution is the Wii U, but you’re really not getting the most up-to-date hardware, nor will you get many of the blockbuster games that will be coming out for the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 in the coming years.

Microsoft’s Xbox One

When announced, Microsoft’s Xbox One was met with controversy among Xbox fans. Microsoft has since gone back on some of those plans, including forcing users to keep the game console connected to the Internet and making it impossible for users to sell or trade their games.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the price. Coming in at $499, it’s the most expensive console in this generation. The hardware for the Xbox One is far more powerful than the Wii U and comparable to the PlayStation 4.

"Both the Xbox One and PS4 are sourcing their CPUs (both 8-core) and GPUs from AMD, and while there are some differences between the two platforms, from the consumer’s perspective they probably won’t see a great deal of difference when it comes to the games," Inouye says.

One thing that the Xbox One has that the others don’t is its 3D camera, the Kinect. That may be the reason for the high price, as the PlayStation 4 will not include their 3D camera, the Move, as part of a basic system. Online play will also cost you, with a Gold membership to Xbox Live costing $10 per month, or $60 per year. As with the previous-generation Xbox 360, games will cost $60 on release.

Sony’s PlayStation 4

Sony made a point to not repeat the mistakes it made with the PS3. Not only did their console announcement come out with virtually no controversy, but the console will also be $399, a full $100 less than the Xbox One, their biggest competitor.

Despite that lower price, the PlayStation 4’s hardware is on par with the Xbox One and may be a faster for some games, says Inouye.

"The difference in actual performance/experience should be minimal. For instance, reports suggest the recently released Battlefield 4 will run native at 1080p for the PS4, but 720p in the Xbox One. But it will get upscaled to 1080p (on the Xbox One), so visually they should look very close," Inouye says.

Newly released games will cost $60 for the PlayStation 4, the same as for the Xbox One. There will be some pricing differences when it comes to online features, however. Access to things such as Netflix will not cost you anything, whereas with the Xbox One you will be required to have an Xbox Live Gold membership to use Netflix or similar apps. However, for online gameplay, PlayStation Plus will be required, and will cost you $50 per year. As part of that membership, though, you will also get access to game betas, plus there’s a rumor you will get access to certain PS4 games for free, which was customary with the paid online service for PS3.

Windows PC

Millions of gamers will probably avoid the new consoles in favor of PC gaming. For those who don’t mind waiting a little while to pick up the latest and greatest games, building a Windows PC and using services such as Valve’s Steam and EA’s Origin can be the best way to go because of the lower price of games, says Shaun Wightman, a game designer and art director at game developer Astro Crow Games.

"Building your own PC is definitely the most affordable in the long run if you only buy games when they’re on sale on Steam," Wightman says.

New PC games mostly come out at $60, but online play is generally free for most games (not including many MMORPG’s such as World of Warcraft), and there are services such as Steam and Origin that frequently offer games at a discount every day of the week, with bigger discounts on the weekends, along with special events such as winter and summer sales.

There are some downsides to PC gaming, however. You have to have some knowledge of what parts you need to meet the hardware needs of today’s game and how to put them together, as well as how and when to upgrade hardware. And those upgrades can be expensive — a new processor can cost $150 to $200, and upgrading a graphics card can run anywhere from $100 to $500 and up.

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One comment

  1. Thomas S says:

    You forgot to mention that XB1 comes with Kinect, which if you want similar play from PS4 will cost you $100. Yes, it’s an additional cost, but the 2 systems aren’t the same.
    Nice breakdown of gaming options.

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