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

Say it with me: “Building a gaming PC is getting more expensive.” Price is top of mind when building a gaming PC in 2022, and why shouldn’t it be? Today, the best graphics cards will cost you well over $1000, DDR5 is ungodly expensive, and CPU prices are double or even triple what they were ten years ago.

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

And after digging into what $1,000 buys you today versus a decade ago, I can confidently say that PC gaming isn’t getting any more expensive.

What $1000 buys you right now

You can still build a respectable mid-range PC for $1000 right now, despite sky-high GPU prices. Even though AMD has released its Ryzen 7000 processors (read my Ryzen 9 7950X review for more) and Nvidia has pushed out the RTX 4090, we’re still in the difficult middle ground between the last generation and the next generation. That means mostly last-generation components that offer great value now that prices are starting to drop.

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

The most popular demanding games today include Cyberpunk 2077, Horizon Zero Dawn, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Dying Light 2. Tom’s Hardware shows that the RX 6750 XT reaches over 110 fps in Horizon Zero Dawn and 80 fps in Red Dead Redemption 2 at 1440p, while TechPowerUp shows that the card hits just under 60 fps Cyberpunk 2077 at 1440p.

That is our baseline. If you spend $1000 today, you won’t quite reach 4K in the most demanding games, but 1440p is still well within reach (often over 100 fps). You also get 1TB of game storage, a recent six-core CPU, and a case and power supply combo with room to grow.

What $1000 bought 10 years ago

Wind back to 2012: AMD had “HD” in their graphics card names, every motherboard was adorned with blue plastic, a metal PC case would cost you over $300, and even a 60GB SATA SSD was over $100. We have come a long way.

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

Reflections aside, here’s the configuration I settled on from 2012, with prices on Newegg available through the Wayback Machine.

  • processor: Intel Core i5-2500 – $210
  • Motherboard: Asus P8Z68-V LE – $130
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3-1866 – $60
  • Storage: Seagate Barracuda 2TB 7200 RPM – $160
  • Graphics card: MSI N570 GTX 570 – $370
  • Case: Antec Three Hundred – $60
  • Power supply: Cooler Master Silent Pro M600 – $60
  • Total: $1050

In 2012, DirectX 11 was brand new, and the landscape of demanding games looked much different. Batman: Arkham City led the lineup of titles, along with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Crysis: Warhead, battlefield 3, and Subway 2033 (the original release).

A decade ago, 4K was still a dream, with 1440p being the aspirational resolution for the most expensive graphics cards. Or rather, 1600p was the aspirational solution. At the time, 16:9 hadn’t caught on as the de facto aspect ratio yet, 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 in terms of performance.

The GTX 570 was able to surpass 60 fps in Batman: Arkham City on Full HD at maximum settings, though it fell short at 1600p with an average of 38 fps. The same applied in battlefield 3, offers almost 70 fps at Full HD and around 40 fps at 1600p.

This time was still very much in “can it run”. “Crysis” era, which is clearly from Crysis: Warhead performance. The GTX 570 falls short, offering just 50 fps at Full HD and closer to 30 fps at 1600p. Subway 2033 was the real yardstick at this time – like Cyberpunk 2077 now — where you can expect around 30 fps at Full HD, and closer to 15 fps at 1600p.

Are PC games getting more expensive?

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

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

But there is a narrow segment of buyers who want that configuration. If anything, you get more for your money today than you did 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, so you can save money by choosing options from previous generations.

Today, $1000 buys you over 60 fps, and often closer to 100 fps, at 1440p with the ability to play in 4K. A decade ago you could skirt 60 fps at Full HD without much use to jump up in resolution. It’s clear that resolutions and game requirements change over time, but it’s clear that games ten years ago were much more demanding on hardware than games today. You get a better experience, even with the most demanding standards available in each era.

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