Long gone are the days where you could decide between buying a versatile, decent, and almost future-proof PC Gaming machine, or opt for a simple gaming device like a Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. RAM prices where relatively cheap by that time, and so where the GPUs in the market.
Fast forward 8 years into the very first days of 2018, and the PC Gaming market is relatively gone.
I say relatively because is still present, with all the whistles you and manufacturers can put into it. But the prices have transformed the market from a wide-appeal mainstream to a costly niche one. There is demand for it, but only from those who can pay high, and to those who can profit at higher margins. Nobody wants to build a computer unless they’re forced to.
Paying the toll in memory lane
The proliferation of the mobile market has become a very important matter for RAM and NAND manufacturers. For the big three (Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron) this has become their primary focus.
One of the main reasons why the memory market is starving it’s because the entry barrier for the mobile market has decreased immensely, thanks to Android and ARM licensed designs. Developing a phone now costs less because you don’t need to spend on developing your own microprocessor and OS, and now you have a lot of manufacturers with phones flooding the market.
The chips that power these devices need LPDRAM for system memory, and NAND for storage, and the OEM are happy to sell them to these companies, like Apple. Even Samsung won’t miss the opportunity to sell more RAM and NAND to Apple, even if the iPhone and Galaxy S are direct competitors, as long the iPhone sell like hotcakes.
While a phone lasts 2 years in top shape, if not less due to lack of support for latest Android versions, computers are made to last at least 5 years without an big overhaul. So, smartphones sell everyday, and so the memory modules on them; this scenario makes the PC Gaming market less appealing.
The age of cryptocurrencies
GPUs are the de-facto tool to mine alternative coins. Bitcoin has become so prominent that, in search of more profitability, computer video cards where replaced for ASICs. Alternative cryptocurrencies, on the other hand, still use the aforementioned.
Being that for the multipurpose capabilities — you can mine more than one coin in a GPU, because the instability of these coins makes ASICs a risky inversion, the cryptocurrencies market is growing and the demand for GPUs to sustain it also does.
The problem here is that people and companies making money from cryptocurrencies are willing to pay more for a GPU than the average PC Gamer. AMD Radeon cards, which are very good at this, are nowhere to be found unless you want to pay close to 200% the suggested retail price (MSRP). Even NVIDIA GeForce cards are being affected for this.
…high-end GPUs are selling over the USD$ 1,000 mark and there is no telling if this will push prebuilts prices up too
Common knowledge blames partners and retailers. The theory is the following: they are keen to sell directly to miners first and foremost, because they ensure selling most of the inventory quickly. Due to the profitability of mining, miners are willing to pay more for a video card. That leaves the remaining card at high prices basically to tame those who are willing to pay premium.
Add to that the another theory that the chinese market is quickly demanding NVIDIA cards to play Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, mainly because is very unoptimized title that needs a lot of raw power to be playable. Supply and demand.
Other things that ain’t helping ya
Memory modules and GPU Mining are two of the most important factors on the pricing hike we are seeing, but there are more things that are not helping to lower the entry barrier to have a PC Gaming machine.
AMD VEGA failure (for consumers)
Radeon Technologies Group really dropped the ball with this. The hype was higher for the new architecture, but it was an abysmal failure. VEGA came very came late to market, with low supply, with an horrendous performance-per-watt, and it couldn’t even properly compete with the GeForce 1070 and 1080, let alone the queen GeForce 1080 Ti.
The card sold, but not to gamers. Miners swoop the supply chain and the card became was nonexistent. Radeon VEGA FE came early to appeal the prosumer market, but it was so crappy that NVIDIA launched Titan V at USD $3,000 with the lack of competition and supply for VEGA. The green team is expected to launch Volta for gamers in the second half of 2018 at the very best; pushing the card some quarters is a good to maximize profits from Pascal architecture.
VEGA at 7nm as standalone gaming card won’t come this year, as AMD confirmed in CES 2018, so supply could not change at all.
Easiness to create new cryptocurrencies
Bitcoin appeared looking like the only cryptocurrency to exists, but nobody knew that the techniques and tools to create it would spawn more. Now we have services who offer to be incharge of almost everything to get your new virtual currency up in minutes.
Not so predominant but still almost serious alternatives like Litecoin and Ethereum are likely to stay relevant. Others are jumping into the bandwagon with braindead fraudulent cash grabs to get real money. Both approaches require GPUs to mine them.
VR is cheaper in PlayStation 4
The VR Market for PC has solidified as a high-end niche. It will never hit the mainstream appeal unless the whole setup doesn’t go over USD$500 for a very good experience.
…for solely entertaining purposes, you should get a gaming console instead of a computer.
To compare, the Nintendo Wii did offered a new gaming experience with USD$299, worked everywhere, and outsold every other console in the world. Cheapness was the key, and even PlayStation Move and Kinect wanted a piece of the cake.
VR in PC can come as low as USD $1,500, considering the acquisition of a good GPU at premium price point and HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, while PlayStation VR costs USD $449. Don’t get me started on killer games, the catalog still falls flat in numbers.
The best games are not PC exclusives anymore
Long gone are the days where PC gamers couldn’t wait until a great game made for consoles did the transition to PC. Nowadays, studios that made games for PC easily jump to the console market for additional income, like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Rocket League, to name a few.
That means that these games become non-exclusive to PC, and console exclusives become more noticeable. Going for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One doesn’t mean you will miss out great games launching on PC anymore.
Embedded devices, smartphones and TV are driving the innovation, not the PC. Digital Assistants and Biometric Scans are smartphone exclusives, and only this year there is talkings about laptops with 3G/LTE modems, 11 years since the creation of the iPhone.
TVs, for the other part, are the ones pushing 4K, OLED, HDR, with revamped OS made exclusively to consume television, into the mainstream and smartphones in someway. Embedded devices are proliferating like plague, like Google Home, wearables, and whatsoever.
All of these devices share something in common: there is less and less tendency to make them someway dependant from a PC.
Prebuilts are the only option left, still.
This situations sucks, but Tek Syndicate gets its right. JayzTwoCents just made a childish ranting: you should be mining if you can and your electric bill allows you to, but for those who want a new computer, the only alternative is to pick prebuilt or a laptop.
Big manufacturers get the best bulk pricing from OEMs, which makes their prebuilt computers the best value over the current market status. The mining craze have not reached the point to cannibalize these kind of products, nor the companies want to risk the play of rising the prices and lower the sales, but things are going south very fast — high-end GPUs are selling over the USD$ 1,000 mark and there is no telling if this will push prebuilts prices up too.
Is likely that a prebuilt computer will have inside the price a GPU at MSRP and RAM sticks a lot cheaper. You can basically buy the whole thing and call it a day, or sell the parts and recoup part of the spending. You could even swap the motherboard and PSU for something you want. But if you can do this, miners too.
For laptops, there is so much variety, and eGPU enclosures are almost decently priced around USD $250 to think about a future “expansion” on the GPU department, but again, you will get a decently priced GPU only if you keep an eye on offers from retailers, and have your credit card at hand to buy the moment they appear.
Meanwhile, for solely entertaining purposes, you should get a gaming console instead of a computer, which are definitely more cheap.
So, yes, PC Gaming is not dead…
…but is going to.
Update 1: Gaming Nexus published a really informative article & video about how the mining craze it’s affecting retailers and manufacturers alike.