We now live in a day where a $350 CPU is called a bargain.
We now live in a day where people eagerly await a “broken” $450 video card, and the makers really want you to pick up two.
That may be a downright bargain compared to the talk of future $1,200 cards.
We now live in a day where magazines put together $13,000 “dream machines” that don’t do a whole lot better than those that cost 10-15% as much.
Did you all get rich when I wasn’t looking? Somehow I doubt that.
Who is buying this stuff????
I mean, really, who are they? Where are they? They can’t be in the usual geek spots because outside of an occasional exception here and there, nobody is laying out this kind of money for their equipment.
However, they can’t just be a freakish phenomenon giving all the time and effort being spent building this luxury equipment. Just the other day, you had Dell give the bird to Intel’s motherboard division just because Intel didn’t come up with a true dual x16 SLI motherboard fast enough for their XPS line.
Somebody has to be buying these things.
We Have Met The Enemy
It would be one thing if the emergence of luxury computers had as much effect on the prices of regular computers as the price tag of the latest luxury car had on the price of a Ford Taurus. Namely, none.
However, that’s not the case, not the case at all. Prices for good equipment are now a lot higher than they were two years ago.
Why is that? I think nVidia’s comment the other day was instructive, that pricing these days isn’t based on the actual cost of the items, but rather what they think people will pay for it.
So Mr. Spouting-Money-Like-A-Broken-Hydrant isn’t just draining his wallet, he’s draining yours, too, by encouraging manufacturers to assume that you’re all twenty/thirty-somethings with apparently little to no interest in anything non-virtual who need somebody to relieve them of troublesome excess cash.
The damage isn’t that you’ll go out and spend $13,000 for a system. The damage comes from you putting out an extra hundred here, an extra hundred there because you don’t think you have a choice in the matter.
Does It Really Matter?
There’s an article of faith among gamers (well, at least the gamer equipment manufacturers) at least as solid as the divinity of Christ is to the average Christian: Hardware matters.
Does it? Does it really? Obviously, you’re going to be faced with real handicaps trying to play the most popular/demanding games today with a GF3 video card. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t stand a chance if you don’t have an SLI setup with two 7800GTXs.
At what point does it just become eye candy, and expensive eye candy at that?
For sure, you’ll see the top/professional competitors loaded to the silicon gills, but how much of that is need, and how much is marketing trying to convince you that you have to have it?
Even if there’s a case to be made at the very top that any edge counts, is that as applicable for the other 99%+ of gamers? If you have the response time and tactical skills of a rock, isn’t that your problem?
This is the kind of testing folks ought to be doing these days. Unfortunately, it’s the sort of testing that requires a research grant to do right, and believe me, the people making the equipment will get intimate with elephants before they’d ever fund something like that.
What Can Be Done About It?
Obviously, you can’t stop people from spending money. However, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done.
Peer pressure is one possibility. While one should never underestimate the human capacity for self-praise, if spending outrageous amounts of money were considered to be decidedly uncool, and those who did so were regularly flamed for it, this might help a bit.
OK, maybe you need a bigger stick than that.:) Fortunately, there is one.
What is the main purpose of loading up for bear these days? To beat up on people who aren’t so loaded. If gaming competition were split up into classes based on equipment, though, you could solve much of this problem in one fell swoop.
Want to spend $10,000 on your rig? Fine, then you’ll compete against those in the same weight class, and not beat up on technological cripples. Can’t spend more than $750 on yours? Compete against those equivalently-equipped.
It ought not be terribly difficult for gaming servers to do hardware checks to see where someone signing on would fit in. Nor would it be difficult to allow aspiring future gaming stars to choose to compete in equipment classes above their weight class. You just couldn’t compete below your weight class.
If some gaming systems were set up this way, the overall community would reap several advantages.
First, it would reduce the perceived need to “keep up with the Joneses” in order to be able to play at all. Second, it would keep more gamers around if the felt imperative to “upgrade or drop out” weren’t so strong. I often get emails from people telling me, “I used to game a lot, but then I got married, and I have better things to spend my money on.” In the long run, it would be better to keep those kinds of folks around rather than making gaming the equivalent of a singles bar without women.
Finally, with such a setup, we might actually begin to get a good idea as to how much (or little) equipment really counts in competition.
Of course, the computer hardware establishment will hardly like this idea, but then, they wouldn’t, would they?
If anybody doing game serving wants to try out this idea, be my guest. No charge. 🙂