From Steam Machines to whatever the hell Xi3 is trying to sell, it's an interesting time in the hardware business.
The idea of what a gaming PC can and should be is in question, and Razer's latest innovation may change how you'll pay for your system. Are we ready to subscribe to a gaming PC?
You will know her name
Project Christine is a modular concept PC that offers a sort of backbone that supports the addition or subtraction of different plug-ins that can add power or features to the gaming rig. Do you want a faster CPU? Remove your current module and slide in a new one. Do the same for your GPU if you want better performance in games.
Hell, add a second GPU if you want to really push things. More storage is as easy as sliding in additional or upgraded hard drive modules, and of course you'll likely be able to switch over to an SSD for faster loading. Or add an SSD for your games and a roomier, less expensive standard hard drive for media storage. The idea is that the module design makes it easier for customers to decide what they do and don't want in their system, and to change that configuration on the fly.
This means no more opening up a case and dealing with naked components. Upgrading components in a gaming PC is a process that we take for granted, but many less tech-savvy players find it intimidating. Or maybe they just don't want to take the time. Project Christine basically offers a template for a gaming PC, and players can fill that template with any number of options, or skip the things they don't care about entirely. Who needs a disc drive these days?
This is where it gets interesting: Razer is looking at the possibility that players can "subscribe" to a service that offers regular upgrades for Christine. The pricing for such a system has yet to be worked out, or at least made public, but this presents a new way to look at how we upgrade and use our PC.
"Say a new GPU comes out. We could ship them the new GPU, they take out the old GPU and ship it back to us, and they just plug in the new GPU," Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan told Polygon. "And at any point in time, the gamer will always have a tier 1 PC without having to worry about all of that."
Why this is different
"Subscription" may not be the most appropriate word here, or at least not how we normally use it. It's likely that you could subscribe to this program and in fact not receive anything most months; PC gamers simply don't upgrade their system that often. This isn't a jelly of the month club where one would receive a package every 30 days.
But imagine you'd be willing to subscribe to the system for around $60 a month, which would be about the maximum I'd be willing to spend for this sort of service after an upfront cost of buying the first components and base system. This money isn't spent in the expectation of getting a new upgrade every month; instead, you could see it as paying into a bucket against future upgrades.
$60 a month is $720 a year, which buys a pretty solid amount of power. You could almost see this as a payment plan against future upgrades, which could be attractive if you know you'll be dedicated to PC gaming for the next few years. That's an easy call for many people reading this article.
The subscription model is attractive for a few different reasons. It seems easier to digest the idea of a monthly payment than to pay for each major upgrade as a lump sum, and pragmatically I can see selling my wife on the idea of a subscription service that would always make sure I have an able gaming PC much more easily than the conversation that would come from spending $720 on a new CPU, GPU and RAM to keep my system current. The buying decision is removed with a subscription; you merely upgrade when it's appropriate.
This also depends on Razer being able to sell the concept to AMD and Nvidia. While many PC enthusiasts love the freedom to build their own system, there are just as many who would rather spend that time gaming, and the fact that Razer is offering a proprietary system is just as much of a strength for one audience as it is a negative for the other. But it does mean that there will be another company that rests between you and the price of the components.
That also means curation: knowing that an upgraded video card is a good fit for the system, and requires only a module exchange to install, is powerful. Like many things in life, you'd be put in a position to trade money and freedom for time and ease of use.
All you have to do is swap out components and send back the old modules, and you're ready to play the latest games. Since you're paying a smaller amount each month, the buying decision is completely removed. Your gaming PC is now a continually updated system that is always ready to play the games you care about.
This won't be attractive to everyone, but as someone with a large family who has limited time for gaming or hardware updates, I'm waving cash at the screen just as hard as I possibly can.
I don't want to have to think about budgeting for a new system; I just want to set up my subscription level and forget about it. I don't want to wrestle with the innards of a system; I just want to slide in a new module. I don't want to have to sit down and make a large buying decision every few years; I just want to have working, high-quality equipment that's ready to go whenever I want to play a game.
Razer, I'm on board. Make this happen.