Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’ve got lots of them. Looking for our other guides? Find them here!
The giving season has arrived, but an ample supply of next-gen consoles has not. Between chip shortages and resellers/bots, the chances of someone getting their hands on a PS5 or Xbox Series X without a whole lot of effort(/luck) are slim to none. It can be done! But you might not want to bet the holiday on it.
If it’s just not gonna happen this year, there’s still plenty of stuff that should make the gamer in your life happy — accessories and nice-to-have extras that any gamer will appreciate and make their current setup a bit comfier while Sony/Microsoft/et al. catch up with demand.
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Every gamer needs a good pair of headphones — skimping on this is a one-way ticket to a headache. In many of today’s most popular games, bad audio is a distinct disadvantage.
Trying to decide between wired and wireless? Wired could be fine if they’re gaming at a desk; for couch gaming, wireless will help ’em be more comfortable and less tangled.
Here are some recommendations for each platform
For Xbox or PlayStation: SteelSeries 7X and 7P
I’ve played pretty much every PS5 game with these. They’re just fantastic and much better than Sony’s own PlayStation-branded headsets. Comfortable, amazing sound, good battery life and quick connecting.
They’re not the cheapest but they’re definitely not the most expensive either — there’s a new version that doesn’t change much, so the (still great) last generation is on sale. Note: The 7X is for Xbox consoles and the 7P is for PlayStation — sadly there isn’t one version that works for both. Fortunately if you want something like that, it’s the next thing on the list.
For Switch, multiple consoles or for a budget: SteelSeries Arctis 1
These aren’t as cushy or expansive-sounding as the 7 series but they’re solid, comfortable and (because they’re wired) are compatible with everything under the sun: all major consoles plus phones, and the price is definitely right. If this list seems SteelSeries heavy, it’s just because they really got it right this generation.
Price: SteelSeries Arctis 1, $50 from Amazon
For PC: Razer BlackShark V2 or V2 Pro
This headset is understated in design, sounds great and plenty comfortable. I’ve had nothing but compliments for the sound of the mic.
To be honest I’m not sure it’s worth the extra cash for the wireless (Pro) version, since PC gamers tend to be within three feet of their computers. If you can get the wireless one on sale go for it, but the wired version is a great option when money is tight.
Maybe a mechanical gaming keyboard?
This is a tough one. I was originally going to do a roundup of a bunch of keyboards … but, like next-gen consoles, many of the best ones are very hard to find right now.
If your PC-gaming loved one has a keyboard they like, you can sneak a look and get them a new one or an upgraded one of the same brand. But if you hear them talking about what “color” of mechanical switch they like or they’re talking about building their own … maybe back down. Once they go down that rabbit hole, the choices are very individual and it’s hard to get right as a gift. Maybe go with a gift card or something.
Maybe your loved one was lucky enough to get a Series X or PS5 already, or they have one coming soon. Maybe they just want to upgrade their current-gen console. Either way, they’ll probably still want a little extra gear.
If someone uses their PlayStation 5 as the primary way of watching Netflix, Plex and so on, it gets old pretty fast using the rather large, heavy, easy-to-bump-off-the-couch DualSense gamepad for it. Snag one of these remote controls and no one has to learn whether “O” or “X” means cancel, or whether to use the bumpers, triggers, D-pad or analog sticks to rewind and fast forward. Honestly, this thing should probably come in the box. Super easy and convenient gift for combination gamers/cord-cutters.
Price: $30 from Amazon
A big hard drive expansion
On a PS4, you can just buy a big ol’ external USB hard drive and plug it in. You can do the same with a PS5, but there are … limitations. For the most part, it’s better to upgrade the internal storage.
Any reasonably tech-confident person should be able to install this expansion drive for PS5s, which they’ll probably want eventually since games these days are flippin’ huge. This is a one-time purchase and install that will extend the life of the console and make things simpler, especially if they have the “digital” version without a disc drive. The major brands (Samsung, PNY, Kingston) all have PS5-compatible options; just make sure it’s one of those and you’re good. One detail that’s easy to miss: Some models note that they need a heatsink to work with a PS5 but don’t actually include one in the box. THANKS.
This is a bit of a splurge since the vanilla Xbox controllers are pretty excellent … but if the Xbox has been your loved one’s main gaming platform for years, you might be able to help them up their game a bit. The improved ergonomics, sweet D-pad, rear paddle triggers and other improvements can be game changers — no joke. You can do things with those rear paddles that would require ridiculous hand contortions to pull off otherwise. Xbox One-era controllers are compatible with Xbox Series X consoles, so this one is an investment that should work for years regardless of what gen they’re on right now.
Price: $160 from Amazon
Series X storage expansion card
Same deal with the PlayStation: External USB drives work well enough on the last-gen Xboxes, but there are limitations when using them with the next-gen consoles.
Not that installing the PS5’s expansion card is particularly hard, but with the Xbox Series X you literally just plug it into the back. That’s it. $220 for 1 TB seems a bit expensive to me, but it’s up to you.
The only thing better than having a Pro Controller is having two Pro Controllers. These things are excellent and the best way to play most games if you’re on the couch. With the Switch’s focus on multiplayer it can lead to bitterness when one person gets a sweet ergonomic Pro and everyone else is on the tiny Joy-Cons.
Pro tip: While they’re not quite as hard to get as next-gen consoles, first-party controllers are also in short supply this year! Order early to make it happen.
Price: $70 from Nintendo
8BitDo SN30 Pro SNES-style controller
Nintendo has an ever-expanding library of retro games on its console (if you pay the monthly fee for them) and it just feels better to play them on the original controllers. However, Nintendo seemingly only makes about 50 of those per year and they’re constantly out of stock. Grab an SN30 — they’re wireless, they work with other platforms and they add analog sticks to the SNES layout so you can play any game with ’90s flair. By “you” I mean your loved one, obviously.
Price: $49 from Amazon
A monster microSD card
The Switch can run out of space fast if you’re not careful, and it’s pretty much mandatory to grab a microSD card to expand its storage. Fortunately, expanding the Switch’s storage is easy and relatively cheap! Grab a 256 GB or 512 GB microSD card and banish storage worries once and for all.
Don’t bother paying any markups for a microSD card with Mario on it or whatever — once it’s in the console you never see it anyway.
Price: Varies by capacity/speed. 512 GB microSDXC, as pictured above, is $75 from Amazon
Subscriptions and digital goods
These days most gamers need to subscribe to one thing or another — on the consoles, for example, most of the online multiplayer requires a subscription. Figure out what their subscription of choice is and get ’em set up with a few more months, and you know it’s a gift that’ll go to good use.
Xbox: Game Pass or Live Gold
You’ve got options here. If they just want to play online, Xbox Live Gold starts at around $10 a month. If you also want to give them all-you-can-eat access to a surprisingly solid collection of games, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate costs around $15 a month and includes Xbox Live Gold.
PlayStation: PS Plus or PS Now
Sony also has two different plans: PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now. Plus ($10 a month, or $5 per month if you pay by the year) is what you need for online multiplayer; Now (same pricing) gets you access to hundreds of games. Know that these are two separate subscriptions.
Switch: Nintendo Switch Online
Nintendo Switch Online is pretty bare bones, but if they want online play in Smash Bros or Mario Kart it’s a must. And, as an added little bonus, it comes with access to a bunch of NES and SNES games.
Wondering what the more expensive “Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack” is? The short version: For more than double the price, they’ll throw in access to a bunch of N64 and Sega Genesis games, plus the Animal Crossing Happy Home Paradise expansion. Maybe worth it if Animal Crossing is their thing, maybe not otherwise.
If you’ve got a bunch of family members who want online access, the Family plan lets you add up to eight users to one $35-per-year account, which works out to about $5 per user per year. That’s cheap!
Paid battle pass/in-game currency
Are they super into a specific game? Fortnite? Apex? Halo Infinite?
This is kind of hard to explain, but maaaany games these days have a system — generally called a “battle pass” — that rewards you with in-game things (think character skins or dances you can do to taunt your enemies) for logging in and playing. Some of those systems have paid tiers that offer more rewards. Buying those premium upgrades can feel like a bit of a luxury — making it, potentially, a solid gift for the person who can’t/won’t splurge on themselves.
One catch? Depending on the game, gifting the battle pass can be tough! The trick, in most cases, is to gift them some of the game’s respective in-game currency (you want to buy it as a code or card from a trustworthy retailer, generally; there are scams aplenty in these waters), which can generally be used to buy the premium battle pass. In most cases battle passes expire with each in-game “season” — so if they’ve already got that season’s pass, they can save it for the next one or just use the currency on in-game skins or something else they’ve been eyeing.