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Gaming Systems Guide

Finding the right gaming system can ignite passionate discussions on the web and yet, every option out there will be the right choice for someone despite the experts' preferences. These conflicting passions can sadly make things more confusing than they need to be; even more so if you're shopping for a gift. In this article, I'll go over a few tips which should help make the process smoother.

Let start by saying that, as far as gaming goes, there are no bad systems. As long as you're having fun, you're doing it right. Your goal here shouldn't be to pick the most capable machine, but rather to get the one you will enjoy playing the most.

I've provided a few links and product trailers for your convenience. Links looking like this one lead to trusted retailers who might pay me a finder's fee if you buy something from their site. Clicking those links costs you nothing extra and helps me with TekAdvisor's upkeep.

The Lay of the Land

Let's start by going over the different kinds of gaming systems on the market today.

Game Consoles

There are three primary gaming consoles on the market today.

The Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 both launched recently and have few games to show off their prowess over the last generation. Of course, that will change. They will become the new standard in the coming months. Xbox and Playstation historically have similar games, with the PlayStation featuring more exclusive titles in recent years. They provide the best graphics among consoles, and they share a sizeable chunk of their games catalogue with PCs and previous console generations.

The Nintendo Switch is the most distinct, featuring a lot of games you won't find on any other platform. It can also be used in the living room like its competitors or as a handheld console. Among gaming consoles, it's usually the most family-friendly. It is also a favourite among frequent travellers looking for fully-featured games to play offline on the go.

Game consoles are the primary focus of large game developers. It's a natural choice if you like your games flashy, with big budgets and massive advertising campaigns fueling the hype. If you often talk gaming around the water cooler or the schoolyard, a console is usually the right choice.

Gaming PCs

The PC offers the most varied selection of games and game genres. It's the platform of choice for Strategy, Western RPGs, Massively Multiplayer, Free-To-Play and Indie Games, which you often won't find on consoles or mobile.

Playing on PC involves educating yourself a little; you have to know what your machine's capable of. In return, gaming PCs can produce graphics of higher visual fidelity than consoles. More customization and modification options also let you play games the way you want.

If checking compatibility and adjusting game settings are not for you, you will probably feel more at ease with gaming consoles.

Mobile Games

Gaming on mobile devices involves a significant downgrade compared to the other platforms on this list. Still, they make an excellent distraction for those few minutes you have to kill.

Mobile devices are ubiquitous, and games are plentiful and affordable. It's the perfect way to stay entertained during road trips, on the bus or during lunch break.

Gamers on these platforms are the most vulnerable, however, with apps frequently collecting personal information (including GPS coordinates), pausing the action to display targetted ads and micro-transactions. Because of that, I have a tough time recommending them for anyone concerned with privacy or addiction.

Still, thanks to its sheer convenience, gaming on mobile is the easiest way to entertain yourself anywhere (yes, even there).

Buy Gaming Systems for the Games and your Friends; not the Machine

Now that we reviewed the different options, I want to highlight one thing: it doesn't matter which system is the strongest. It would be best if you instead focused on having easy access to the games and people with which you enjoy spending time.

Multiplayer Considerations

If you'd like to play with your friends, your best bet is to get the same system they have. Identical games on different systems can't always connect to each other, so going for a different platform is quite likely to make you the odd one out.

If gaming, for you, is mostly a solitary activity, your independence gives you a lot more freedom in your selection.

Games and their Availability by System

Here's a list of popular games and which platforms let you play them.

As you see, very few games are available for every platform. As a result, your choice of games will likely help to narrow down your search.

The Length of your Game Sessions Matters

Games are more Enjoyable when you're Comfortable

Games usually offer a lot of experience for the price, in part due to how long it can take to complete one (if it can be completed at all). If we compare different forms of entertainment in "Dollars per Hour of Enjoyment," games tend to rank quite well.

But because we often play for prolonged periods, that also means that comfort while playing is a big deal. Breaking your neck playing hunched over a laptop or tablet could quickly sour your experience.

Here are the best gaming systems based on the length of your typical play session:

One+ Hour at a Time

Do yourself a favour and get comfortable. The best locations to play for you would be:

  • The living room, on the couch (assuming sharing the TV is not an issue)
  • A desk with a comfortable chair and a good monitor.

Recommended

  • PC (laptop or stationary)
  • Consoles

15-30 Min. at a Time

If you play in shorter bursts, you will still need a surface to play comfortably. The kitchen table might do the trick in this case.

Recommended

  • Laptops
  • Tablets

1-15 Min. at a Time

Thanks to the popularity of handhelds, you could now play video games pretty much anywhere, anytime you have a free minute.

Recommended

  • Tablets
  • Smartphones

But What if I Must Have the Best Graphics?

A game's visuals are affected by two things: the hardware's graphical features and the game's visual style. Realistic visuals with dynamic lighting and complex shaders applied to detailed 3D geometry are demanding. Still, titles with the right visual style can deliver a jaw-dropping experience on lesser hardware.

If the games you want are available on multiple platforms, the choice might come down to which platform delivers the best graphics.

PCs can have a considerable horsepower advantage over anything else, depending greatly on their video card's strength. Sadly, a portion of that power sometimes gets wasted when some games ship on PC without being adequately optimized.

After that, the Xbox and PlayStation deliver comparable performances, depending on how proficient the developers are at exploiting each platforms' quirks. Further down the ladder is the Nintendo Switch, and at the very bottom, we find tablets and smartphones.

How about cost-effectiveness?

With so many games launching simultaneously on PlayStation, Xbox and PCs, you might think that a 500$ console is a better deal than a 1000$ PC. It's not that simple.

Gaming Expenses Calculator

Suppose you have to budget your expenses carefully. In that case, the following calculator will help determine how much different gaming systems will cost you. The table below reflects what I would consider typical use for each of the consoles involved, but feel free to adapt the values to match your gaming habits.

Hardware Cost Game Purchases How frugal are you? Yearly Cost
(including game purchases)
Xbox Series X C$99/y. C$419/y.
Xbox Series S C$63/y. C$383/y.
PS5 C$104/y. C$424/y.
Nintendo Switch C$193/y. C$513/y.
Desktop PC
($1400 now, with $300 in upgrades in 4 years)
C$243/y. C$483/y.
Gaming Laptop C$350/y. C$590/y.
iPad
(and most tablets)
C$193/y. C$211/y.

Are you confused about these numbers? Here's an overview of the forces affecting gaming expenses.

Hardware Lifespan

Consoles hardware development evolves in giant leaps every 4-7 years instead of progressing gradually. A game developed for one generation effectively only run on consoles from that generation. Meanwhile, PCs evolve continuously and can run games much newer than them, sometimes by reducing visual fidelity.

In other words, consoles become obsolete (or retro, if you prefer) shortly after a new generation comes out. In contrast, a brand-new PC tends to remain compatible for a (relatively) fixed duration.

We can currently expect the Switch to stick around until 2021-2023. The recently launched PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, on the other hand, could reasonably last until 2027. On the other hand, a PC bought today, with a few upgrades in the future, could last you up to 2028 and beyond.

The cost of Games

One significant expense you should consider is the cost of the games themselves, and there are many things you can do to save.

Many Mobile Games are Free, but there's a Catch

Mobile games often come with strings attached, especially when they're free. The developers will need to resort to other financing strategies to pay the bills, introducing additional considerations.

Ads could be pretty straightforward but tend to be targeted nowadays, which means these apps are also used to track you. So you could end up in a situation where the sites you've visited on your PC end up influencing the ads seen by your kids when you hand them your phone and vice versa.

Many games require an online connection to work, which could end up costing you actual money, especially if you're not on Wi-Fi. Studies revealed that free apps often ended up costing more to their users than paid alternatives.

Mobile games often ask for payment from their players to unlock nice things and sometimes even stop the action when the fun is at its peak and make the player decide between paying or waiting for a while before it'll let you continue. This practice can be excessively costly for people with self-control issues, including kids.

Games often Cost Less on PC, Especially if you can Wait for Steam Sales

Let's compare big-budget games available on Playstation, Xbox and PC. They usually cost the same on all platforms at first. With a little patience, however, prices tend to drop faster and lower on PC thanks to digital distribution platforms such as:

Games that are PC exclusive often launch at a lower price point than console-exclusive titles. As a result, a gaming PC can end up paying for its extra cost depending on your game consumption. Especially considering how short-lived the last console generation was.

It's also good to mention that no premium membership is required to play with your friends over the internet on a PC. Some consoles charge a monthly fee for that option.

What About the Last Generation's Consoles?

Despite the hype, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are not over; in fact, few games even take advantage of the new hardware as I'm writing this.

As a result, we're in an interesting situation where the last generation consoles and their games (on physical media at least) are plentiful and affordable. The used market is also about to be flooded with them. If you don't mind being behind the latest trends, you could build your library for a minimal fee and go right for the best titles the platform has to offer.

It's also worth mentioning that there's a transition period from one generation to the next, and most games launching in the coming months will work on both. I've even noticed sports titles launching on old consoles years after the new generation supplanted them everywhere else.

So, in some cases, getting a game console past its prime can be a great move.

Made your decision?

Ready to buy?

Hopefully, this article helped you figure out what to get. Now, if you wonder where to get it from or which model to get, here are a few suggestions:

Shopping for a PC

If you decided to go for a gaming PC, you have a bit more shopping to do, but thankfully, that's one of my specialties:

for the Gamer for the Serious Gamer for the Hardcore Gamer
Stationary Computers Computers for the Gamer Computers for the Serious Gamer Computers for the Hardcore Gamer
Laptops Laptops for the Gamer Laptops for the Serious Gamer

Shopping for a Console

Know which console to pick? They're usually easy to find at your local toys and electronics store. Still, I do keeptrack of their price and relative value (provided that they're actually in stock online somewhere):

Compare Consoles

Good Luck, Have Fun!
Guillaume