Late last year PC gaming giant Valve in their usual vague and mysterious fashion announced their new project for 2014. In the past few years the game developer Valve has become increasingly popular with its video game digital distribution software Steam, known for its incredibly frequent and cheap sales of downloadable games. Valve’s near monopolization of PC game digital distribution has given them the confidence (and revenue) to expand their proverbial gaming empire into console gaming territory. Their new project is called the Steam Machines; consoles not built but licensed by Valve and running the Linux operating system and Valves own SteamOS gaming software. Valve has even developed their own controller, a sort of mix between the comfort and compactness of a console controller with the response and controllability of a PC mouse, as shown in this video:
It is still uncertain if this design will be effective or successful, however Valve has shown more attempts at innovation than the other console manufacturers this generation, excluding maybe Nintendo (however a massive controller with a touchscreen doesn’t seem all that comfortable, and their normal controller is just an Xbox clone).
At this point I must sound like a massive Valve fan boy, so to try balance this post out a bit I will discuss the potential issues related to the Steam Machine. Firstly, who is going to buy these machines? Is there a market? It seems Valve is trying to entice both the PC gaming audience as well as the console audience into a sort of middle ground of gaming. Most console gamers will most likely stick with their chosen console and have never heard of Steam or Valve because they are better known in the PC gaming industry. Conversely PC gamers who do know about the Steam Machine may not buy into it simply because they have already invested in a gaming PC which plays the same games perfectly fine. Upon discussing this issue with a couple PC gamer friends they pointed out that the Steam Machines will support streaming of games from another system in the house. This means that someone who already invested in a decent PC can buy one of the cheaper licensed built machines entirely for the purpose of streaming, giving them the ability to use their original PCs power but be able to relax on a couch with a big screen television in another room. Many PC gamers I have discussed this with say this is something they would pay for.
Coming from the console point of view it is unlikely that Steam Machines will have as massive a debut in the console market as PlayStation had in the mid-nineties, however it is possible Valve could entice a few console gamers with the inherent advantages of the Steam Machine. One of these main advantages is the customizability and choice provided by the licensed manufacturers of the machine. Initial pricing figures range from 600 NZD to a massive 7000 NZD for some systems. The Steam Machine lets the user decide how powerful they want their console to be depending on their budget. Not only this but a new machine doesn’t need to be purchased again every generation, individual pieces of hardware like the graphics card can be switched out at any time making the machine constantly upgradable. That said many gamers may not be interested or may find all this customizability daunting, a common issue that has caused many gamers to choose consoles over PCs as they have usually required some knowledge of hardware to purchase a purpose built gaming PC. This is where the Steam machines bridges the gap by providing purpose built consoles with the ability to be used like a gaming PC.
There are many more advantages to the Steam Machine, such as backwards compatibility (something that has gone out of fashion recently for some reason), and issues such as what would happen to your games if Valve shuts down. However I cannot hide the fact that I see a lot of potential for success in the Steam Machines (that horrible blog title says it all). So to avoid sounding like a corporate shill, I implore click on the links provided above and decide for yourself if this new venture by Valve is the future of console gaming, or another failed attempt such as the Ouya.