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Feature: Hidden costs of gaming

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It's a well-known fact that the big three console manufacturers - Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft - all want your money. Once you fork out a few hundred notes for a console, they have you in their mighty grip, and bleed you dry with their capitalist agendas. In some cases, this can be as much as £300 over the next five years, not including essentials they don't include with the console. It's similar to hidden bank charges, except Watchdog's Nicky Campbell won't be fighting your corner - he'll be kicking your a*se at Halo instead.

Before we begin tearing apart consoles for their economic crimes, the SKUs (Stock-keeping Unit) tested are the standard ones - the basic Wii bundle (with Wii Sports), the 60GB Premium Xbox 360 package, and the latest 80GB PlayStation 3 with DualShock. Prices are the RRP, but you can knock off a few quid here and there if you shop around.


Electricity Costs
Like any appliance, consoles will use up different amounts of power, and the difference between them is staggering. The Wii, the simpleton of the bunch, will use up to ten times less power than its high-definition competitors, with the PS3 requiring the most electricity. They weren't messing around when they said this is the most powerful generation yet. Nuclear power station peripherals are yet to be confirmed.
  • Wii - 12.41 kWh - £1.98 a year
  • Xbox 360 - 120.45 kWh - £19.21 a year
  • PS3 - 204.40 kWh - £32.60 a year

The Wii is hands down the cheapest, but the PS3 will make those energy price rises your worst nightmare. Figures are based on playing a game from a disc (standby and movie playback differ) for two hours per day for a year. (Figures obtained from sust-it.net.)


Controllers
You'll be screwed without them, and charitably each console comes boxed with one. If you want to play with your mates then your wallet will have to take a gut punch, and in the case of recharging them, selling its kidney on the wallet black market.

  • PS3 - Technically there are no added extras, however early adopters missed out on the now-standard rumbling DualShock 3. This will set you back £40.
  • Xbox 360 - There is no rechargeable option out of the box unlike the PS3, but at least it has one - a Play & Charge kit retails for £15, and additional wireless controllers are £30 a pop. That's £60 for two charge kits and an extra wireless pad. However you can save by getting a Wired controller for £25.
  • Wii - Comes with a Wii remote and Nunchuk, however an additional remote costs £30, and Nunchuk £15. That's £45 for one additional control set. And to add insult to injury, there are no rechargeable options. Hope you have a fresh supply of batteries.

The PS3 is hands down the cheapest, however the others differ according to what you buy. Technically the Wii is the most expensive, considering it costs £45 for the extra control set without recharge. The 360 is £60 for an extra pad and two recharge kits, but you can always make do with wired controllers or your own batteries.


Television Cables
Confusion sets in at this point, where many gamers are left stranded behind their television, adopting the foetal position and shaking in bewilderment. All consoles come with connection cables, but the quality varies immensely, even between standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD). From plain awful to crystal clear the cables rank composite (SD), RGB (SD), component (SD / HD), and HDMI (HD). Considering there are more HD sets than before, cables are as vital as anything else on this list.

  • Xbox 360 - Comes with component for HD out of the box, also doubling up as composite cables for those with normal tellies. While there are better SD and HD options, these options will do you just fine.
  • Wii - Comes with a composite cable. While it looks bad, on a standard definition set it is passable, but you should get either an RGB or component cable. You need component for the best resolution on HDTV sets. They each cost £20.
  • PS3 - Just a composite cable; no HD option in the box. Your gorgeous new HD console will look like it's being played back through an '80s VCR. You need a component or HDMI cable, stat. That's £20, thank you very much.

While all three consoles could have better cables, the 360 offers you a near-perfect solution out of the box that gives you decent HD and SD connections. The Wii could do with an upgrade, while the PS3 needs one. What's cheaper, a HDMI cable or cataract surgery? You be the judge.


Connecting to the internet
If there is one big leap this generation, it's that each console feeds on byte-sized information from the World Wide Web. If you want to get the most from your new pride and joy, you need to connect to the internet.

  • PS3 - Comes with both Wi-Fi receiver and LAN port for both wireless and wired connections. Perfect.
  • Wii - Wi-Fi receiver only. If you want to connect via LAN port, you can buy one for £20.
  • Xbox 360 - Ethernet port only. If you want to get a plug in Wi-Fi receiver, it'll set you back £60.

While they all have a base covered, the PS3 hits a home run by being as flexible as an Olympian gymnast. Considering many households own a wireless router, paying £60 to have the privilege to do so takes the metaphorical biscuit. Bridge your internet connection to your 360 and spend that £60 on a pick-and-mix.


Other Additions
These are the little added extras that most people would purchase in their console's lifetime. Not surprisingly, Microsoft pushes these little additions.

  • Xbox Live subscription - While the Wii and PS3 online services are free, full Gold membership costs £40 a year on the 360. Without it, you cannot play online with others or access certain content.
  • Downloadable Content - This is subjective, as many games offer additional content that perhaps should be in the full product, but are not on the disc. But when games such as Beautiful Katamari (360) ask you to pay to unlock things already on the disc, it reinforces the point that you have to be a millionaire playboy to get the most out of everything.


Quantitative Total
So when it boils down to it, which console is the most expensive? Brushing aside the base package, games and optional extras, the initial investment is about the same for all three systems, although the 360 is cheapest if you opt out of the recharge options. However the on-going running costs of electricity and subscriptions might find your Xbox 360 finding a new home on eBay. If you plan to keep it for the next five years, it could cost as much as £295, compared to Wii's paltry upkeep of £10. The PlayStation 3 isn't economically friendly either, coming in at £163. Eep.

Initial investment -
  • Wii - £65 (television cable upgrade, extra Wii remote and Nunchuk)
  • PS3 - £60 (television cable upgrade, additional DualShock 3 controller)
  • Xbox 360 - £30 (extra wireless controller)

On-going investment (per year) -
  • Wii - £1.98 (electricity)
  • PS3 - £32.60 (electricity)
  • Xbox 360 - £59.21 (electricity, Live subscription)

Summary
It should be noted that these are all optional costs - you don't need to buy another controller, to purchase a Live subscription or run your console every day for the next few years. But many people do, and if you are thinking of getting a new system for yourself or someone else these little costs add up to something fierce. The Xbox 360 is the worst for those hidden costs, although the others aren't exactly innocent either. When you consider this doesn't include what you actually bought it for - the games - it shows that this hobby is a costly thing indeed.

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