This year the makers of Steam, a digital distribution platform, will release the Steam Machine, a PC-based console that hopes to bring Steam compatible games from your office into your living room.
If you’ve played PC games in the past decade, you’ve probably had to install the Steam client. The Steam service was created by the Valve Corporation in 2003 and has become the most prominent platform for buying PC games since physical disks stopped being the standard for distributing programs and media.
The downloadable Steam client is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It allows a user to purchase, download and play games on their computer. The service is very similar to iTunes, but for software instead of music.
In December 2013, Valve released its own Linux-based operating system, SteamOS.
The Steam Machine is a game console that will run the SteamOS. It will be made by different vendors at different price points. This differs from the Xbox One, which is only made by Microsoft, or the Wii U made by Nintendo. Steam has already announced 14 different manufacturers for the first generation of Steam Machines, including computer hardware makers, Alienware.
Critics have questioned if the Steam Machine will actually solve any problems or just perpetuate them in a different space. PC gaming has been avoided by some because there are few standards in price point and compatibility.
You can make your own PC gaming rig for the same price of a console (about $500), but I find that the high-end games won’t run as well as they would on a $1,500 system. Because the Steam Machine isn’t a standard box, users may have that same “upgrade envy” when the newest game comes out and their system lacks the horsepower to run it.
The beauty of a console system is that any game labeled Xbox One will work on an Xbox One for the lifespan of the console (not taking into account required peripherals or other features that may come down the line). The initial selection of 14 different companies making different boxes with different hardware means your grandma will have difficulty at Christmas time deciding what to buy you and may forgo the expensive system for $500 worth of socks.
If your system lacks the simplicity of purchasing a console, it may ward off new users. People who are familiar with PC gaming and upgrading will already know how to download SteamOS and hook their PC up to a TV. If the current user base is already able to achieve the benefits of a Steam Machine without a new purchase, and there is little hope of attracting new customers, then is the product necessary?
The Steam Machine may be an exciting prospect to those who have been looking to purchase a new PC, but we will have to wait and see if the rift between console gaming and PC gaming can truly meet in the middle.
Published in Volume 68, Number 18 of The Uniter (January 29, 2014)