For over a decade, there have been three big console juggernauts. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony have been nigh-unchallenged, until now. With the announcement of the Steam Machines and a flood of information regarding the future of Steam, PC titan Valve is looking to enter the market as the dominant gaming service for both PC and consoles.
There are numerous differences between the current consoles and what Valve has planned. First, Steam Machines will be available from a variety of retailers and will vary significantly in their specs, whereas one Xbox or Playstation can be expected to have the same console specs as another.
In fact, there are over a dozen different types of Steam Machines that will be available for purchase in November of this year. They range in price from a reasonably competitive $479.99 to a bank-shattering $4999.99. The only difference will be the extent of the power of each machine, although even the cheapest machine will have the power to run modern games with good performance.
Valve’s goal in making this new machine and several services that will support it is fairly obvious. Having achieved a dominant position on the PC, Valve is looking to make Steam a staple of the living room, the way other console manufacturers have managed. It remains clear, however, that Valve is about PC gaming first, console gaming a distant second. The lack of physical discs to use in any Steam Machine, the announcement of Steam Link, which allows gamers to stream games from their computers to their Steam Machine, and the serious price tag all indicate that Valve is still appealing to PC gamers.
That’s the biggest flaw, frankly, in Valve’s plan for the Steam Machine. PC gamers already have perfectly functional computers that they can use to play games. Most will also opt to use a controller for certain games rather than a mouse and keyboard, because in the 21st century that’s a thing gamers can do. Thus, there’s no reason for gamers to shell out anywhere between five hundred and five thousand dollars for a computer disguised as a console.
Steam Link may have been conceived as a convenient way for PC gamers to use their heavily upgraded machines while having the convenience of a television and couch. Looking at it now, however, I can only see Valve clinging to computer gaming even as it tries to expand, ultimately stretching the entire idea too thin to be commercially successful.
Valve may have forgotten the reason consoles became so popular in the late 20th century compared to PC’s, and that’s their ease of use. Every console from the Atari 2600 to the Xbox One has held the advantage of convenience over PC’s. Yes, there have been exceptions, such as the fact that the Xbox One was originally planned to require an internet connection at all times, but just being able to pick up a controller and play the game retains significant appeal amongst gamers.
Whether it’s the varying console specifications, the high price tag or the lack of exclusives, console gamers will not flock to buy Steam Machines regardless of how spectacularly they perform as pseudo-consoles. I suspect Valve stuck with what they knew throughout the development process, that is to say, PCs, but there’s a good reason many gamers don’t want to deal with hardware upgrades, connectivity issues or the sheer difficulty of dealing with a brand new console just as it’s coming out and working through the growing pains.
So, no, I’m not that impressed with the Steam Machine, because I have a perfectly functional laptop that I can enjoy any game on Steam with. Trying to beat consoles with computers on their home turf may sting badly for Valve, no matter how powerful these computers may be.
Oh, and I think the Steam Controller looks dumb. Putting trackpads on a controller that already has over a dozen buttons? Come on.