A short while ago, Valve announced the Steam OS. “Thousands of games, millions of users. Everything you love about Steam. Available soon as a free operating system designed for the TV and the living room” was their hook, and people including myself sat up and paid attention. They are focusing on the living room, where most people primarily have their games consoles. But this was just the beginning.
A mere couple of days later came their next announcement: the Steam Machines – “a powerful new category of living room hardware.” Yet another good hook that made people sit up and pay attention. Valve have officially thrown their hat into the ring for dominance of the living room. They have been taking sign ups from the Steam community for beta testing of these machines, and every single person that I know with Steam has already signed up to get their hands on one.
They have recently anounced the specs of the beta machine, and it is crazy powerful. They have shunned the usual AMD in favour of Nvidia, 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU) and 3GB DDR5 GPU, up to 1TB SSHD, and a choice of I3, 15 and 17 processors. Pretty impressive stuff.
The machines will, of course, run on Steam’s Linux-built Steam OS, but you will be able to change the software should you choose to. A console that comes with freedom to pick and change things and upgrade parts should you choose is indeed an exciting prospect. You can also, if you so choose to, use a mouse and a keyboard. But they are going to be including a gamepad as standard, and the beta console will come with access to the nearly 3,000 games available on Steam, with more to come.
For many years now, the only contenders for dominance of the living room have, of course, been Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. There have been new innovations such as mobile gaming and the Ouya, but there has never been a serious challenge towards the main three. These new pieces of hardware may be just the thing to shake things up. The gaming console market has always been a little bit stagnant, and whilst the PS4 and Xbox One and Wii U are technically great machines, it is nice for Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo to be challenged. Ideas and originality in the market have been rather lacking of late, and imagine if you could technically get a gaming console that you could upgrade the parts in every few years or so. That would certainly make for a much longer lifespan for the machines.
Valve’s prior target audience has always been PC gamers. Which makes this an odd but at the same time natural side-step for them. PC gaming and console gaming have always felt like two separate entities. PCs are technologically more capable of greater graphics, have a greater catalogue of games including a lot more things like MMORPGs, and you can upgrade your PC as the games get more technologically advanced. Having these machines on the market will serve to make the line between PC and gonsole gaming grow a lot thinner, and that can, in my opinion, only be a good thing both for consumers and developers.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Steam Machines will, of course, be price. With the amount of impressive hardware that they are going to be cramming into each machine, this will come at a price. But will Valve be playing the smart game and selling the machines at a large loss, knowing that if they do, they are going to sell a lot more machines? It is possible. But when you consider that the average good spec gaming PC comes at upwards of £800, these would indeed be substantial losses, as the PS4 will cost £350/$399, and the Xbox One will cost £429/$499. If they were to price them anywhere near that, then Valve aren’t going to be making a profit on them anytime soon. But perhaps they are playing the game with their mindset on the long run?
Whatever happens, and whatever the consumers choose, I am willing to bet that there are a lot of interested gamers keeping an eye on the Steam Machines. I certainly count myself among them, and it looks like the battle for the living room has just gotten interesting.
The Steam Machines are set to release at an as yet unspecified date during 2014.