Monday, January 10, 2022

Can PC Gaming Survive the Great GPU Crysis of 2020-2022?

 I am writing this in early January 2022 and it is almost two years since we first heard about SARS Covid 19,  the virus which caused a pandemic that has wracked the globe in multiple waves since then. Notwithstanding the fact that there are far more serious implications of a life threatening pandemic than its impact on a hobby I still think it would be appropriate to write a few words about how the last couple of years have affected PC gaming. 

To misquote Dickens it has been the best of times and the worst of times to be a PC gamer. Virus halting lockdowns forced many to look to digital entertainment and gaming of all types thrived. Of course we all headed outdoors as soon as restrictions lifted but I think the bounce in new players and the increased respectability of gaming as a leisure activity brought about will have lasting consequences. Despite a number of Covid related delays we have also been lucky enough to enjoy many fantastic game releases over the last two years and not having to commute to work has allowed us more time to explore the great titles of the past. The PC gaming space has been particularly favoured by developments in the game distribution.  Epic continues to hand out free games to everyone and Microsoft game pass for PC remains an incredible deal including hundreds of games including day one releases for a tenner a month. I am somewhat suspicious of what the end game of these moves is but nevertheless I am determined to enjoy the benefits while they last. Another significant development is that Sony has started to release some PlayStation Exclusives for PC. It is only a trickle as yet but this is surely a great sign for the future. So we have had lots of great games to play on PC and lots of people with the desire and the time to play them. What could go wrong? 

Unfortunately at the very moment when it should have been the best time in history to get into PC games it has been virtually impossible to build or buy a gaming PC for a decent price. Almost all gaming hardware has been in critically short supply at various times over the pandemic but the shortage that has hit hardest and lasted the longest is the desperate lack of GPU availability.  Covid has hit the global supply chain for almost all technology products but the GPU market has  experienced an increased demand both for gaming and for cryptocurrency mining. Miners are prepared to pay high prices knowing they will earn their money back so the only way for gamers to get a new GPU is to buy one on the grey market for as much as three times the recommended retail price. Even six year old cards like the GTX1060 are selling second hand for more than their original price. 

I am lucky enough that the GTX 1080 I bought in 2017 is still able to deliver mid range gaming performance today. I can afford to wait out the shortage a while yet but I am worried about the longer term affect these ongoing shortages will have. PC gaming has always been as much about the hardware as the games themselves. Even though very few of us can afford to drop €1000s on the latest greatest hardware we still get great pleasure from carefully choosing parts that fit our own budget.  Multiply all those costs by three however and the hobby no longer makes sense. Bad and all though the situation is for existing gamers at least we have some hardware to game on. The situation is completely impossible for anyone trying to get into PC gaming. I regularly see posts on reddit from newcomers looking for advice on building their first gaming PC. In the past such a post would have warmed my heart and I and many others would happily have given advice based on our experience. Today unfortunately the best advice I can give is: "Unless you are very rich or very lucky don't bother."  This situation has persisted for almost two years and there is no sign of it letting up in the near future. Can a hobby survive if it actively deters new entrants from joining for more than two years? 

Of course if someone wants to game  they will also struggle to get to get a next gen gaming console which have also been hit by pandemic related shortages but that doesn't give me any solace. The more games and the more gamers the better in my opinion. In fact I would happily advise a budding gamer to buy a PlayStation 5 or Xbox series X available today at 50% markup on the grey market rather than pay twice that price for a GPU that could deliver comparable gaming performance (not including the cost of the rest of the PC). Perhaps I can take some solace from the fact that gaming laptops are still available with modern GPUs at relatively uninflated prices, probably because they are no use for crypto mining.  I know that many PC gamers enjoy gaming on a laptop for portability and convenience but laptops are not suitable for those who enjoy the building and upgrading side of the hobby. They also give significantly lower performance than comparably specified desktops. Another avenue is to buy a pre-built machine from the likes of Dell or HP. Those giants have used their buying power to ensure that they can still offer machines with high end GPUs at somewhat sensible prices. Unfortunately those machines often have proprietary features which make future upgrades difficult. The final route is to build a machine  machine without a gpu or with an older gpu in the hopes of upgrading it later when prices return to normality. This is actually the best route for someone who wants to get into the PC building side of the hobby but it must be frustrating to put together  a new machine knowing that its  performance will be terribly limited due to integrated graphics or an obsolete GPU. 

So how will this all turn out? While the pandemic persists all normal rules are set aside but I am optimistic that 2022 will make a big difference. Covid is unlikely to go away but the world will  hopefully learn to live with it and supply chains be restored. I am also somewhat selfishly hoping for the crypto currency bubble to burst because I know from 2017/2018 experience that that would lead to a flood of cheap second hand graphics cards hitting the market. Sensible miners don't over overclock their cards because that costs them money in electricity bills. I would happily buy an ex mining card. The fans are the most likely component to fail from 24/7 operation but fans can be replaced fairly cheaply. On the other hand if some normality doesn't return to the GPU pricing market this year I am very worried about the future of PC gaming or at least the "build your own" part of it. 

1 comment:

Wilhelm Arcturus said...

I hope they get this sorted. I bought a 1060 back in 2018 when I build my current system, with the idea that I would upgrade the GPU... and that has gone out the window. I was looking around for an upgrade last month and it turned out I could sell my 1060 on the used market for more than I paid for it originally. Not a good sign.

RX 550 How a bad value gpu might just be my all time favourite

Quick recap about my cunning plan to overcome the GPU apocalypse last year: We bought a prebuilt Dell with an RTX 3060ti for my wife who is ...