Are PC games more expensive today than they were a decade ago?

By | November 30, 2022

Say it with me: “Building a gaming PC is getting more expensive.” Price is the top concern when building a gaming PC in 2022, and why shouldn’t it be? Today, the best graphics cards cost upwards of $1,000, DDR5 is incredibly expensive, and CPU prices are double or even triple what they were a decade ago.

It’s easy to add up the numbers and come to a conclusion, but that ignores the game’s optimizations, the falling prices of other components, and the various upscaling tools gamers have to get extra performance out of their PCs. Instead of adding up what you could spend on a gaming PC, I added up what you would spend.

And after researching what $1,000 buys you today compared to a decade ago, I can confidently say that PC gaming isn’t getting more expensive.

What does $1,000 buy you right now

A Radeon RX 6700 XT GPU unit installed on a motherboard.

You can still build a respectable mid-range PC for $1,000 now, despite rising GPU prices. While AMD released its Ryzen 7000 processors (read my Ryzen 9 7950X review to learn more) and Nvidia released the RTX 4090, we’re still in the middle ground between last-gen and next-gen. That mostly means high-end components that offer great value now that prices are starting to come down.

  • cpuπŸ‡§πŸ‡· AMD Ryzen 5 5600 – $160
  • processor coolerπŸ‡§πŸ‡· Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo – $45
  • motherboardπŸ‡§πŸ‡· ASRock B550 Phantom Gaming 4 – $105
  • MemoryπŸ‡§πŸ‡· Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200 16GB – $60
  • Storage 1πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Samsung 970 Evo Plus 500GB – $70
  • Storage 2πŸ‡§πŸ‡· Crucial MX500 1TB – $90
  • Video cardπŸ‡§πŸ‡· ASRock RX 6750 XT Challenger Pro – $400
  • CaseπŸ‡§πŸ‡· Fractal Design Focus 2 – $70
  • Power supply: Thermaltake Smart BM2 650W – $60
  • Total: $1,060

For today’s most demanding games, you’re seeing upwards of 60 frames per second (fps) at 1440p with this setup, as well as 4K with upscaling tools like FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR). This configuration can play the most demanding games available today on the maximum setting, as long as you’re willing to sacrifice a little in the ray tracing department.

Today’s most popular and demanding games include Cyberpunk 2077, Horizon Zero Dawn, Red Dead Redemption 2, and The death of light 2. Tom’s Hardware shows the RX 6750 XT hitting above 110 fps in horizon zero dawn and 80 fps in Red Dead Redemption 2 at 1440p, while TechPowerUp shows the card hitting just under 60fps at cyberpunk 2077 at 1440 p.

This is our baseline. If you spend $1,000 today, you won’t be able to reach 4K in the most demanding games, but 1440p is still within reach (usually above 100fps). You’re also getting 1TB of gaming storage, a recent six-core CPU, and a chassis and power supply combo with room to grow.

What $1,000 Buys You 10 Years Ago

Clock back to 2012: AMD had “HD” in their graphics card names, all motherboards were adorned with blue plastic, a metal case cost upwards of $300, and even a 60GB SATA SSD cost over $100. We’ve come a long way.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see the same talking points that are present today, especially for the GTX 570 graphics card in this configuration. Even a decade ago, critics complained about the “arm and leg” price of the GTX 580, which launched at $500. It echoes what we’re seeing now with the RTX 4080.

Thoughts aside, here’s the setup I’ve established from 2012, using Newegg prices available from the Wayback Machine.

  • cpu: Intel Core i5-2500 – $210
  • motherboard: Asus P8Z68-V LE – $130
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3-1866 – $60
  • Store: Seagate Barracuda 2TB 7,200RPM – $160
  • Video card: MSI N570 GTX 570 – $370
  • Case: Antec Three Hundred – $60
  • Power supply: Cooler Master Silent Pro M600 – $60
  • Total: $1,050

In 2012, DirectX 11 was brand new and the demanding gaming landscape looked very different. Batman’s Arkham City led the title lineup, joined by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Crisis: Warhead, battleground 3, and Subway 2033 (the original release).

A decade ago, 4K was still a pipe dream, with 1440p being the go-to resolution for the most expensive graphics cards. Or rather, 1600p was the aspirational resolution. At the time, 16:9 hadn’t really caught on as the ratio, so most tests were run at 16:10. It’s important to remember that there were no options for upscaling at this point – you got what you got for performance.

DDR3 memory on a motherboard.

The GTX 570 was able to surpass 60 fps in Batman’s Arkham City in Full HD with max settings, though it fell short at 1600p with an average of 38 fps. The same happened in battleground 3, offering around 70 fps in Full HD and around 40 fps in 1600p.

This time I was still very much in the “you can run Crisis” time, which is clear from the Crisis: Warhead acting. The GTX 570 comes short, offering just 50fps at Full HD and close to 30fps at 1600p. Subway 2033 was the true benchmark at this time – similar to cyberpunk 2077 right now – where you might expect around 30fps at Full HD and closer to 15fps at 1600p.

Are PC games getting more expensive?

A hand holding the RTX 4090 GPU.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

It’s hard to answer whether PC gaming is really getting more expensive because the answer is both yes and no. For evidence, look no further than Nvidia’s latest GPUs. A flagship 10 years ago cost $500. Today it’s $1,200. If you want the best of the best, PC gaming is more expensive today than it was a decade ago.

But this is a narrow segment of buyers who want this configuration. In fact, you’re getting more for your money today than you were a decade ago. Upscaling tools like Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) make higher resolutions possible with less capable hardware, and your CPU plays a much smaller role in game performance, allowing you to save some money using older generation options.

Today, $1,000 buys you above 60fps, and often closer to 100fps, at 1440p with the ability to play in 4K. A decade ago, you could get around 60 fps in Full HD without much resource to increase the resolution. Of course, game resolutions and demands change over time, but it’s clear that games a decade ago required much more hardware than today’s games. You’re getting a better experience even with task benchmarks available in each era.

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