Games and Green: The Cost of Consoles

As a new era new gaming consoles approaches, a good deal of our time waiting for them will likely be spent wondering just how hard the next generation of systems will hit our wallets.

At this point we know little-to-nothing about the machines themselves. With only the very preliminary details of the PlayStation 4 revealed, and only rumors floating around Microsoft’s next console, any guess at just how much they will cost is pure conjecture.

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From what little we have seen and heard, it’s probably a safe bet to say that they won’t be cheap. I’m no technology wizard, but I can tell you that as Mark Cerny excitedly spoke about X85 chips and PC GPU, I could almost hear the soft, pitiful whimpering of my bank account.

It made me harken back to the “Good Old Days” when consoles were cheaper. Or were they?

I quickly realized that most of the systems that I grew playing as a child, the ones most heavily cloaked in the noxious cloud of nostalgia now, were ones I never actually purchased myself. They were bought for me.

So I went to the source. The person who actually had to shell out the cash for the consoles that started my love of videogames.

My mom.

She initially agreed with me.

“I don’t remember them being that expensive,” she said, likely wondering why her 28 year old son had called to talk to her about videogames. “Not like they are now.”

That might have been the end of it, but then she added.

“They weren’t cheap though.”

She was right, getting a new system was far from a minor purchase in my family, usually reserved for occasions like birthdays or Christmas. So while $100 for a console seems like a steal now, it was still nothing for a working parents to thumb their nose at in the mid 1980s.

My first console was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Released in America in 1985, the console initially sold for about $199 for the deluxe bundle, which came with the R.O.B Robot, a light zapper, two controllers and two games. The model I had included just the controllers and a one game for $99.

After running those number through a handy-dandy inflation calculator online, the $199 cost of the NES deluxe bundle translated to $410 in American currency today, more than the cost of the “pro” Xbox 360 bundle at launch. The $99 for the version I got came out to a $204 in current currency.

The 16 bit consoles of my youth, the SEGA Genesis and the SNES, cost $189 and $199 respectively when they were released in America in the late 80’s. Inflation on those systems came to $344 for the Genesis and $330 for the SNES, both slightly above the $299 launch cost of the basic bundle for today’s newest console, the Nintendo Wii U.

After the 16 bit era, consoles would begin a noticeable steady climb upward.

“From what I remember, the PlayStation was when they really started to getting expensive,” my mother recalled. “They just kept going up from their.”

The last console my parents bought for me was the PlayStation. At the suggested retail price of $299 when it launched in 1995, its cost set the bar for the preceding generation of consoles. The PS2 and the original Xbox would also retail for the same price. Calculating for inflation, the PS1 would run for about $444 today, more than retail cost at launch for the base model Xbox 360 and just below the $499 cost of the 20 gig PS3.

In the end the consoles of yesteryear are really only seem cheaper in hindsight. Even the Atari 2600, which came with a price tag of about $199 in 1977, would cost a whopping $743 once adjusted for inflation.

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While we do not yet know just how much the next new consoles will set us back, its seems that little has changed. Set by marketers and suits who make enough money to buy new systems by the truckload, the price will, as it has always been, expensive enough.

Expensive enough for consumers, gamers and a new generation of parents to grumble about, even as they reach for their wallets.

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