Console Contemplation: Inflation VS Those Irresistible Holiday Bundles

The holidays have a way of conjuring up images of years past but the grass wasn't always greener. Take, for example, the laws of inflation. Did you know a VCR would have set you back close to 5-grand in today's dollars. Ouch!

There is some intense irony at play in the world of console gaming hardware of late and I ought to know, having been a part of the console wars, fan-boyism (before such a term had even been coined) and unbridled brand loyalty that exists in our industry since my cousin decided he would part ways with his Atari 2600 (complete with massive library of games and enough faux wood-grain to make the Family Truckster jealous) so as to finance the then-forthcoming ColecoVision.

My folks, with substantial coaxing from a very young yours truly, were the recipients of said used Atari for the then-hefty sum of $250. While this may sound reasonable in today’s economic clime, when adjusted for inflation, 250-beans in 1981 translates to roughly $675.11 of today’s dollars.

Now here’s where things get really interesting. Just today Target happened to be running a holiday sale on a Wii U bundle that consisted of the 32 GB Nintendo Wii U console with Super Mario 3D World and Nintendo Land packed in. The asking price? $250. Thirty-one years later and a couple hundred dollar bills and a single fifty could still put you on the front lines of the contemporary console battlefield.

Of course the major difference here is that while the monetary amount may not have fluctuated in these many years, the value of the dollar behind it certainly has. In fact to calculate a reversal of the inflation that has taken place since 1981, another way of looking at it would be the $250 that can buy you a Wii U today at Target would have been closer to $92 then. A lot of this is due to the electronics manufacturing process itself, which has gone largely automatized in the three-decades since Atari ruled the world.

We witness this phenomenon in a whole multitude of facets. A 19” color TV then, which would likely have consisted of about 50” of wood surrounding a small porthole of a screen reminiscent of watching the analog world though the view-port of the Nautilus, would have set a consumer back $400 or $1,080.18 today. High definition? Forget about it. That concept wouldn’t be made official here in the US until 1993 and it would still take a solid decade after that before high-def was made widespread enough to grace the average home.

When the VCR came on the scene in 1977, it wore a price-tag of $1,280. That would be roughly $4,600 in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars. A blank tape on which to put a couple hour’s worth of grainy and fuzzy broadcast television shows were priced at $20 apiece ($72 these days). If you happened to be about using this new technology to record family moments or try your hand at amateur film-making, Sony would gladly have sold you one of their then-cutting edge camcorders (yes, there was once a time when not every human being carried a cellular phone/ high-def video camera/ mobile recording studio/ global broadcast antenna in his or her pocket) for $1,800- yes that’s over four-grand today.

I began this piece by claiming there is some irony taking place in the console wars front of late and that comes in the form of the simple fact that this is perhaps the slowest hardware generation I can recall for my gaming pals to adopt yet it is also one of the most affordable. Most affordable when compared to the relics mentioned above? Nope, most affordable even when compared to the hardware launches leading up to this one. This, despite my incessant argument with said friends that prices are so low right now, you’d be crazy NOT to buy in. No need to take my word for it, let’s examine some of the hard facts.

There is some irony taking place in the console wars front of late and that comes in the form of the simple fact that this is perhaps the slowest hardware generation I can recall for my gaming pals to adopt yet it is also one of the most affordable.

When Sony’s Playstation 2 launched domestically back in November of 2000, it retailed for $300 (or $415.42 today); right on par with the cost of a new PS4 right? Well sure, it would have been if supply could have kept up with demand. Because there was a significant shortage of consoles produced and consumer demand through the roof, retailers and private sellers alike began demanding exuberant costs for the systems- and getting what they were asking. It wasn’t uncommon to expect to pay close to $800 to snag one in those first few months following launch. In case you haven’t been following along, that $800 in the year 2000 is more like taking $1,107 out of your wallet now.

The Playstation 3 managed to take things even further with its November of 2006 launch and $499 and $599 retail prices ($592.10 & $710.52 today respectively).

While the Playstation 4 launched at $399 nearly exactly a year ago at the time of this article’s writing, there have been a rash of enticing deals of late designed to lure holiday shoppers away from Microsoft and Nintendo’s charms; among the notables a bundle that packs in The Last of Us Remastered for $379 and another that includes a pair of games (Lego Batman 3 and a free download of Little Big Planet 3) for $399.

Microsoft, not unlike the Nintendo Wii U bundle mentioned above, has been extremely aggressive with their marketing and pricing of the Xbox One this season as well. Just a tad over a year ago today the system launched for $499 (and included the Kinect peripheral out of the box). In effort to steal some of the momentum away from the Playstation 4, that price has since dropped considerably, sans Kinect, culminating in what has, to date, been the most affordable incarnation I have yet to encounter this season: $299 for the system packed with two games (Assassins Creed IV Black Flag & Unity) with a card good for a year of Live.

After a few moments of internal conflict copied and pasted from any one of numerous Peter Jackson scenes involving Elijah Wood, a gold ring and a flaming eyeball, the feeling passed and the Elvish scroll on my flash-burnt credit card returned to normal squared-off numeration.

While I’ve owned the system since launch and planned to use this season of price cuts to try and snag a Playstation 4, this was the deal that nearly caused me to buckle and buy a second Xbox One for purpose of visits with friends. After a few moments of internal conflict copied and pasted from any one of numerous Peter Jackson scenes involving Elijah Wood, a gold ring and a flaming eyeball, the feeling passed and the Elvish scroll on my flash-burnt credit card returned to normal squared-off numeration. Sights firmly set on the PS4 as it were.

And while I have been second guessing my reluctance to pick up either of the Playstation 4 bundles mentioned above (yet), I am noticing supplies for either have consistently diminished in a hurry. I get the distinct feeling that failing to capitalize on these good deals before the holidays will leave me (and any other gamers on the fence) out in the proverbial cold come January as a result of “the snooze, you lose” school of reason.

Which means it was probably a good thing Target had already sold out of the $250 Wii U bundle today by the time I got there. It’s not that I’m totally against adding a second one to my quiver for purpose of playing with friends so much as I’m not sure how well calling it “my precious” would go over with the cashier.

Contributor

Jason Russell has been working in video game journalism since the early 1990s before the internet existed, the term "fanzine" had meaning and sailors still debated as to whether or not the earth was flat. More recently he has been the guy responsible for Thunderbolt Games' Under the Radar column. He's somehow managed to author seven novels, writes The Astounding Amoeba Armada comic book series for Coast Comics and runs the blog CG Movie Reviews in his spare time: https://cgmoviereview.wordpress.com/ And sometimes, when the planets align and the caffeine has fully left his system, it's rumored he sleeps.

Published Dec. 26th 2014

Cached - article_comments_article_18604
Related