The next big video gaming choice: Where do you want to play?


It’s not quite time to be talking hardware – there are other things to keep in mind still

Welcome back! So now you know we will be looking at the first step of hardware choices. Where do you want to play?

Most people will be saying “At home”. The gaming den is the dream of gamers everywhere. But this isn’t always the case. Spend a lot of time on public transport? That time could be spent gaming! Or maybe you catch up with friends for a LAN party regularly? Some people even need to move on short notice, and large gaming desktops computers do not like being transported easily.

This goes with your mindset. This is probably the most significant overlooked criteria I see when people look at what they want to do. It’s great to know you want total immersion, but if most of your free time is when you are out and about gaming on a desktop is all but out.

My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There is no right answer here, it’s all about the right solution for you. So let’s have a look at some starting choices we will be building on as Talking Tech continues.

Some solid starting choices

Looking at all of the available games is daunting. Knowing what you want to play is even worse. Different people have different tastes. I love RPGs, and I am lucky that I can play them on almost anything. But how do you know what you want to play? 

Unfortunately, it’s like movies, books, music, or even cars – until you try them, you don’t know for sure. And you can’t try them until you make an investment. Of course, if you know someone that plays games and can try them out on their machines, it helps. But it’s not always that easy.

So if you are looking at playing a wide range of games, below I have some reliable starting places that you can look at as a safe starting choice. 

These aren’t recommendations – don’t look at them as such. But these will let you look at some options and the costs involved to get started from scratch and a feel for budgets, and we can build from here going forward.

At home gaming only

Bang for buck starting out, I would suggest an Xbox One S and Game Pass subscription. You can play hundreds of games for $15 a month (for ultimate), keep some freebies and try lots of different types of games.

Why do I recommend Ultimate Game Pass? It comes with Gold, which gives you free games each month for the extra $5. Plus right now, I can crossplay games with my desktop!

If the game is a Microsoft Game Studios one, you can even play it at launch on Game Pass. Look at spending AUD$400 + Game Pass subscription to get a good starter and excellent gaming experience.

Xbox has starters and the digital only console. Every saving has some form of extra price.

You would have seen many headlines that PlayStation ‘won’ this console generation. While true in sales, that’s not really the whole story. I prefer PlayStation as a platform (I am a PlayStation fanboy), and it has more exclusive games than Xbox. That alone doesn’t make it the best console out there, but you can’t go wrong either.

PlayStation provides a great gaming experience, and you can usually get deals on the base PS4 and a couple of games for $500. Add $80 a year for PlayStation Plus, and you will get to keep a couple of new games each month as a part of the deal. If you want to dip your toes into VR as well, PlayStation is your console choice.

Today, you get access to some fantastic exclusive titles as well – more about that later.

Starter packs are a great way to save a little money, but you still spend more

You can’t really go wrong on either platform unless you must play a title exclusive to one over the other. Have to play Halo? Don’t buy a PS4.

Looking for the Switch? Well, I consider the Switch a portable, even in docked mode. Check out ‘Gaming on the go’ for some Switch thoughts 🙂

For more power, choice and flexibility you would be buying/building a PC. You can get a system with a GTX 1660Ti/RX 5600 graphics card that will rip through games at 1080p for around AUD$2,000. This includes a monitor, keyboard etc. – the computer itself will be around the $1500 – $1600 mark. You can still take advantage of Game Pass, plus have access to Steam Sales and GoG.com which has great titles for much less than the console equivalent. Even Epic gives away a free game a week.

Does a system like that have all RTX this and 4K HDR that? No. But then again, I haven’t talked about the PlayStation Pro or the Xbox One X either. The highest performing graphic cards cost AUD$1400+ by themselves!

No flashy lights and bling, but works well (once you put the side panel back on :p )

Everything I have outlined here is for what I consider a solid baseline experience – 60 frames per second for smooth gameplay at 1080p (Full HD) resolutions. I wouldn’t look at anything less than these choices for a great experience. There are exceptions, but these are niche situations and should be looked at as such. For example, I would love a multi-game arcade cabinet at home, but I can’t play Resident Evil 3 on it!

Can you do better? Yes, in every single case. But future articles will start explaining these options.

Gaming on the go

If you want something you can take with you, then primarily you are looking at a Nintendo Switch or a Gaming Laptop.

For the Switch, budget about $330 for the Switch Lite (handheld only) or $500 for the version you can plug into your TV for choices. Add $60ish for a case and screen protector – you want to protect your portable! It’s a vague amount because the case you like could be cheaper or more expensive. They all do the job at the end of the day.

Then add about $80 per game you want to buy. Switch Online gives you some classic games, but no new titles like Sony or Microsoft. The Switch is a great platform, and quickly became one of my favourites. The downside is that games for it are expensive compared to every other platform.

Yes, there are compromises playing on a 'weaker' platform. But there are positives as well!

For a Gaming Laptop, I would budget for about $2,000 – $2,500 for similar specs to the gaming desktop I talked about before. It will still rip through games at 1080p and has all the same benefits as the desktop. It won’t be quite as fast performance-wise as the desktop though.

Don’t get put off by this statement – a lot of people talk down about laptop performance, and the hate talk is not justified. The differences in many titles will be within a couple of percent of frames showing per second (think the smoothness of gameplay). This difference is for a bunch of good reasons, and I will be making a comparison between Desktops and Laptops in a couple of weeks.

Looks and size are a big part of the price, but if you want to pick it up and game, laptops are always there

Portable means you can game almost anywhere, you just need power and maybe internet access.

The thing to remember though is if you want portable, you sacrifice computing and graphical power, and pay a premium. The same goes for the Switch compared to PS4 and Xbox by the way!

The trade offs for a Switch vs Xbox/PS4 are pretty obvious, but it’s still a great experience. I know a lot of people (and roll my eyes at lots of comments) that complain the Switch doesn’t have 4K HDR. It could, but you would be carrying around something the size of laptop anyway! It’s all pros and cons.

Another portable console that gets shunned by the general gaming community is your phone. Yes, I said it. Your phone can be an awesome gaming platform!

Will it play the latest games at fast frame rates and have all the bells and whistles? Nope. Mobiles rarely have the newest AAA games released on them. Gaming will eat through your battery as well. But a lot of us have pretty high-end phones we purchased on a contract.

But if you just want to check out Fortnite? You probably already have a way sitting in your pocket!

You don't need this phone specifically, but gaming on mobile is fun

For playing on your phone long term, I would probably suggest investing in a Bluetooth controller. The PS4 DualShock works well for about $90. There are lots of different controllers but think of the DualShock as a reliable general choice.

So how do I know what I want to game on?

Really, it comes down to what you want to play. 

If you want to play first-person shooters, adventure games or role-playing games? Good news – you can play on pretty much anything. Real-time strategy? Not many come to console, but they exist. Personally, I prefer PC – keyboard and mouse is still better than controllers. 

The release of the Epic Store has introduced confusion because Epic has paid companies to only release their games on the Epic store. Mostly it’s what is known as a timed exclusive, meaning that you can only buy and play it from Epic for 6-12 months. Want to use your Amazon gift card to buy it? Sorry. You can’t. Well, not for a while at least. And then you have to get it when some other game you want to play is being released. This is a big part of the ‘uproar’ of Epic Games.

This has gone against the industry trend as a whole. Microsoft Game Pass (yes, I keep going on about it) is releasing Xbox games on PC. Older games need work most Xbox games aren’t available. Still, going forward Microsoft has been releasing their games made by Microsoft Studios to work on PC and Xbox. So in a few years, you won’t necessarily need an Xbox to play console games – your ‘gaming PC’ and Game Pass could be all you need for any Microsoft games.

Choice is rarely a bad thing, but gamers can be very vocal in their disapproval

Before last year, if a game came out on PC, it used to be on PC. Steam is the defacto PC store, and you could buy it there digitally. You could still buy it from other places though – you didn’t have to buy it only from Steam. Go anywhere that sold physical versions like EB Games, Amazon, JB Hi-Fi and you got the same thing. There are services like EA Origin that only sold their titles. Still, they didn’t have such a significant impact across so many titles. Eventually, such services ended up releasing simultaneously on other platforms such as Steam anyway because sales suffered.

These days, a lot of games come to both PC and consoles across the range. The idea of ‘exclusives’ are both dying off and taking strange turns locking you in, which does make choices confusing for new shoppers.

What are exclusives? Generally, it means a title tied to one platform. If you must play Horizon: Zero Dawn or Marvel’s Spider-Man you need a PS4. Your choice is really between buying a PS4 or PS4 Pro. Want to play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Buy a Switch. It’s not on anything else.

Apart from First Party (Hardware Makers) titles, it's rare to not be able to play on a lot of platforms these days

Even Sony has started to back down on its exclusives. Death Stranding is coming to PC, and rumours of Horizon Zero Dawn are out there as well. True, this approach isn’t as aggressive as Microsoft, but the fact they are backing down at all is a significant step for them.

Streaming is another factor in all this, but not one you need to worry about today. What streaming means is you can play games from your subscription on almost anything. As I said, for today, don’t worry about it. The tech is still new and not widely available, so while it’s coming don’t be put off by the next big thing. We will get benefits down the line, just not quickly enough you need to prepare for it.

How does this help you pick what you want to game on? If you don’t know what you want to play, you need a platform with the most choices for games.

Streaming will mean you don't need specific hardware - but it's a ways off yet

As a rule of thumb, PC has the most comprehensive selection of popular games, followed by PlayStation with their exclusives, Xbox, and then Switch. Each platform has strong titles only available on that platform. Unless you need to play that one particular game/series, don’t let it be the only thing that guides you.

But now I am even more confused!

Possibly. And I am sorry about that. There is a lot of information and choices to take in, especially in one go. But what I have outlined today is only a small amount of the possibilities out there. The amount of choice is staggering. Even veterans get confused at this stage. I promise this is the only time I will have so many options laid out like this.

Not every choice is viable for everyone. If you only want portable gaming, then you can see there are only a couple of easy options now. You can get cases with screens for making your PS4 and Xbox portable. You can get small form factor desktops with handles to take with you. There is still more to think about, but if you want quick and easy, hopefully, the choices aren’t as intimidating now. All the other stuff is extras, like getting customisations on your car.

If you only want to game and/or keep costs down, consoles are a great choice. If you have spent a lot on a work desktop system, you can just add a better gaming graphics card. You might be surprised at how many games a ‘work’ laptop can actually play! All of this I will be breaking down in the coming weeks.

We need to know what you really want your experience to be so that you can explore the options that best suit you. Next week, we will take a look at console gaming in more detail.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD