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Pricing Online Consoles

by Jonathan Metts - May 27, 2002, 1:57 pm PDT

Take a look at what you’ll really pay to play your console games online.

Now that all three console makers have announced their online plans, you may be wondering how they stack up against each other in terms of features and cost. It turns out that playing online games on your console for a year can be pretty expensive... but that depends heavily on your current situation. Here is a quick estimate of the first year’s cost on each system (and keep in mind that some of these expenses are one-time, so the following years would be much less expensive):

GameCube

System: $150

Modem: $35

ISP Access: $40 per month (average)

Game: $50

Subscription: Usually free

Total: $715 for one year of online gaming, plus $50 for each additional game

PlayStation 2

System: $200

Modem: $40

ISP Access: $40 per month (average)

Game: $50

Subscription: Usually free

Total: $770 for one year of online gaming, plus $50 for each additional game

Xbox

System: $200

Modem: Included

ISP Access: $40 per month (average)

Game: $50

Subscription: $50 per year, includes headset

Total: $780 for one year of online gaming, plus $50 for each additional game

*Note that monthly ISP access is based on dial-up service plus one extra phone line, or the typical cost of DSL or cable Internet service.

At a glance, GameCube is clearly the most economical choice, mainly because of it being the cheapest hardware and not having a standard subscription fee. GameCube also benefits from Nintendo’s software policy of not collecting royalties for online games, so compatible software could theoretically be sold at less than the normal MSRP for GameCube titles (not calculated in the table above). Nintendo is also not demanding any general subscription fee, although individual games or an individual publisher may charge one itself. For example, Sega may charge $5 per month for access to SegaNet, which would let you play all of Sega’s online games as much as you want. Or Sega may charge for Phantasy Star Online separately, as they did with the game’s second edition on Dreamcast. The bottom line is that Nintendo is leaving the choice up to publishers, and Nintendo’s own first-party games will presumably be free to play online.

Sony’s strategy is almost identical to Nintendo’s, but their hardware is pricier and the modem is just slightly more expensive, though you do get both 56K and broadband capability in one piece. Like Nintendo, Sony is leaving subscription fees up to the individual publishers, and first-party online games will likely have no monthly fee. Sony has no royalty-free plan like Nintendo, but there are rumors that the company is planning to cut PS2 software down to $40 across the board.

Microsoft Xbox is arguably the easiest console to get online since its modem is already built in and included with the system’s price, but dial-up users will be out of luck. Microsoft is the only one of the big three charging a universal network subscription fee. The initial offer is $50 for one year, plus a headset communicator; no announcement has been made as to monthly or annual subscription fees after the initial offer expires. The mandatory subscription fee makes taking Xbox online more expensive upfront, but it may turn out to be competitive in the long run depending on what publishers do with Nintendo and Sony’s more lassez faire attitudes. And, like Sony, Microsoft is rumored to be considering a universal price cut on Xbox software.

Overall, Nintendo looks like the winner at least in terms of price, but there are, of course, many factors involved here that will vary from person to person. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already paying for ISP access every month... so that cost is already figured into your budget. You probably also own one or more of these consoles by now, so that takes care of a bulk of the above totals. There is also the issue of a hard drive-type of device, which will cost you extra on the PS2, and isn’t available at all for GameCube at this time. What it really boils down to, however, is that all three systems are really quite comparable in pricing, and the most important factor is which software library (and especially which online games) appeals to you the most.

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