Valve unveils the Steam Machines
The console wars (god I hate that term) just got complicated. Software giant Valve Corporation officially unveiled their Steam Machines at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Tuesday. Managing Director Gabe Newell walked on stage and announced several variations on Valve’s new gaming console, each planned for release later this year. Valve is partnered with 14 other companies (that’s right 14), most notably Alienware, each offering their own model of Steam Machine. Each model will vary in size, technical specifications and cover a range of prices from $500 all the way up to $6,000.
The Steam Machine, for those unfamiliar, is a new gaming console that plans to bring the PC gaming experience into the living room. The console will run on its own operating system called Steam OS, which is based on Valve’s digital store of the same name. Unlike it’s competitors, the Steam Machine isn’t capable of playing movies and browsing the internet, if even possible, will be limited. This puts the Steam Machine in a similar category to the Wii U, which is still selling terribly by the way.
Valve has an odd goal with the Steam Machine. They’re throwing their weight around by offering a console with a lucrative price in an attempt to gain a wider audience. Newell himself has stated on Valve’s official blog that the Steam Machine “offers something for every gamer, which is a critical part of extending Steam into the living room.” Valve is making their move into the home console market but there are many unanswered questions in wake of this news.
The big question is just who exactly is this new console targeting? It can’t be casual gamers because out of the 14 models revealed, only three of them have prices that are competing with other home consoles. Most of the models cost over $1,000, which seems an absurdly high price for a device that can do nothing but play games. It’s not targeting hardcore PC gamers either. It’s much more efficient to build a gaming PC (via ordering separate parts online) than to buy a pre-built one; every passionate PC gamer is aware of that. If your television is close enough to your computer, you don’t even need a Steam Machine. One can simply connect a computer to a TV.
The only sizable audience remaining are gamers like myself who grew up on Nintendo and Playstation and who simply haven’t made the jump to PC gaming. The Steam Machines are appealing to the kind of person who sees gaming as sitting on a couch with a controller in hand and not hunched over a mouse and keyboard. Actually, you need to narrow that demographic down to console gamers who haven’t bought a next-gen console; this demographic is shrinking every day.
Even though I’m a dedicated console gamer, I’m not blind to the many benefits of PC gaming. Multi-platform games are almost always better on PC than on home consoles. The idea of playing some of my favourite games with even better graphics, load times and the ability to add mods has plenty of appeal. I’m uncertain whether I feel that privilege is worth $1,000, or even half that price. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great idea but with every benefit of the Steam Machine there’s an associated risk. The PS4 and XB1 pose a legitimate threat to the Steam Machines.
Sony was also present at CES and Group CEO Andrew House announced that the PS4 has sold 4.2 million units as of Dec. 28. This news comes right after Microsoft revealed on their website the Xbox One having sold over 3 million units before the year’s end. Those numbers are very impressive but there’s still plenty of people who haven’t bought a next-gen console. There’s a substantial number of gamers who are holding onto their money and waiting for better games to come out for either system.
Unlike Sony or Microsoft, Valve doesn’t have a strong dedicated consumer-base to fall back on. As pointed out earlier, the most passionate PC gamers are more likely to build their own PC. The Steam Machine is capable of streaming content from a PC, so people with powerful gaming rigs can take advantage of their hardware. This feature has potential, unfortunately none of the 14 models announced are practically priced to exclusively serve this purpose. I seriously doubt anyone would pay $500 (the price of the cheapest Steam Machine) for what would essentially be a wireless extension cable.
There’s so much uncertainty now and not knowing how each model performs doesn’t help. Valve has 65 million Steam users to work with and in the coming months Valve is sure the questions that linger around their console. The Steam Machine is a gamble, but then again so were the PS4 and XB1. The idea has appeal and I might be playing on a Steam Machine in six months time. Valve knows what they’re doing but for now I can’t say with full confidence that the Steam Machine will be a success or a failure. Hopefully the picture will become clearer over the next few months.