steam machines article

Food For Thought: The Steam Machine – Consoles, Beware

Author’s Note: Due to how recent this news was announced, this article contains speculation about the Steam Machine.

Just recently, Gabe Newell threw the tech and gaming worlds into a frenzy when he introduced thirteen – yes, thirteen – different Steam Machines at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. These Steam Machines, all made by different companies, would allow for the PC player to have the best of both worlds; these systems would allow somebody to play games on what is essentially a high-end PC in the comfort of their own living room. Additionally, it was announced that players would be able to play games they purchased via Steam on the Steam Machine, essentially making your game library enormous even before you get the system:

f you want a rough equivalent to, say, the PlayStation 4 but with the Steam library (to start, Valve said, there would be roughly 250 compatible games) at your fingertips, that’s available.

Valve announces first round of Steam Machines ranging from $500 to $6,000” – by Yannick LeJacq, NBC News

You may be asking yourselves this question: “Why on earth are there so many different types of Steam Machine? Don’t they all have the same basic functions?” You would be correct in believing that each Steam Machine essentially allows you to play games you purchased via Steam on your TV, but the reason for there being thirteen of them is because they come at different prices, ranging from $500 to $6000. This means that if you care about your graphics looking super detailed, then you can get the more expensive unit. However, if you just want to play your Steam games and don’t care about how good the game looks, or you’re financially in a pinch, then you can always afford the cheaper alternatives. With models coming in the future that are smaller than a sandwich and lighter than a pound, $500 may be far from the least expensive pricetag for a Steam Machine.

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The Steam Machine smaller than a sandwich

So where does this leave the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One? Well, here’s one discussion point that might cause the console giants to wee themselves: for years, PC players have been touting how much more power gaming computers have than home consoles that they compete with. Take for instance the moment in history where the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were more powerful than any PC around at the time. That is from an article that was published in 2005. As we are all well aware, the PC quickly overtook the home consoles in terms of power over the course of last generation, so it’s fair to say that with such a malleable platform, the PC will eventually outperform the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One. With that said, for the consumer who cares about their device amassing a huge amount of power, the higher-end Steam Machines might easily out-muscle the two home consoles currently dominating the market, especially when you consider that the Digital Storm Bolt II model alone touts a ridiculous amount of power (and a ridiculous pricetag to match).

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The Bolt II

Additionally, even if you have a Steam Machine that is not the most powerful out there, hold on to your hats because there might be customizable machines that will allow you to make your console more graphically impressive, such as with the Scan 3XS Steam NC10 model or the aforementioned Bolt II. In short, Microsoft and Sony might once again see their consoles easily out-powered in a short amount of time, especially when you consider that this is actually the goal of some of the third-party manufacturers like Alienware:

Our goal for the Alienware Steam Machine is to meet or exceed the performance and gaming experience of next generation consoles.

The official Alienware website

Outside of graphical fidelity, what makes the Steam Machines more advantageous over the Xbox One and Playstation 4? Two words: good will. With PC gaming coming to the living room, Microsoft and Sony may be facing a very real threat that might mean their dethroning as kings of the gaming world. See, good will goes a very long way in the gaming industry, and the Big Three (mainly Microsoft and Sony) are losing said good will as this new generation continues. Plagued by huge controversies over the last couple of years, gamers are starting to lose faith in the companies that used to sit on top of the world. Sony, for starters, suffered the security breach in its PSN service where personal information from up to 77 million users’ accounts was stolen. This controversy wowed the gaming world and left a lasting impact on gamers’ trust for Sony, leading to a long bow of apology from its top execs. Last year’s E3 conference didn’t help matters either, as although Sony’s conference presentation even wowed me and my peers with their promises of allowing used games and no constant online connectivity, this move was less about showing the consumers that Sony cares about them and more about one-upping Microsoft and stealing potential customers away from buying an Xbox One. See, I suspect this because prior to the E3 conference, Sony was unusually silent in the face of gamers’ concerns about whether the Playstation 4 would have a lot of the same unattractive features that caused people to go up in arms about the Xbox One. While I may be wrong about this and Shuhei Yoshida will probably call me an idiot on Twitter, Sony’s silence about these features (while not indicative of actual wrongdoing) is somewhat suspicious.

TheBigBow

For those of you wondering, no, Microsoft isn’t innocent, either. Good will towards Microsoft and the Xbox brand has been on the decline since before E3 2013 before the announcement of the new Xbox One. Oi vey, where have these guys not gone wrong? From their initial plans to screw paying customers over with constant online connectivity (see their remarks about users with no internet connections simply having to buy an Xbox 360 to play games) to their forced inclusion of the Kinect that would originally never turn off (which they smartly backtracked on considering that the NSA has been found to be spying on the entire globe), Microsoft has been making one mistake after another that has been costing them gamer good will. These points mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg with Microsoft, other offenses including designing the console with advertising in mind (despite another flimsy backtrack claiming the contrary), rushing games out the door and creating systems that force gamers to pay more money to complete their gaming experiences (Forza 5 being the most conspicuous offender with making the player sit through sixty hours of playing before being able to buy their first vehicle with the in-game currency, effectively ensuring that all but the most patient will take the easy way out and use real money to pay for their vehicles), forcing gamers to buy a failed peripheral and thus making the Xbox One cost twice as much, and even going back on their word by ensuring that people can’t play their [digital] games without authenticating via the internet:


Relevant footage starting at 6:20

While Sony is not completely blameless, Microsoft is by far the biggest offender of the Big Three when it comes to losing any good will that they have previously accumulated with their previous consoles. On the other side of the token, if we are seeing an alternative to console gaming that is not crippled by this mounting distrust of the gaming industry, then the average consumers might consider the Steam Machines as their next hardware purchase over the Xbox One and Playstation 4. If anything, the good will that Gabe Newell and Valve have amassed over the last couple of years could potentially help the Steam Machine sell. For those who may not be in the loop with Gabe Newell’s accomplishments, he not only provided a free platform with Steam (so that anyone with a PC, Mac, or Linux can play their games without dropping several hundred dollars on a platform), but he also ensured that games whose quality rivals that of Nintendo’s are available for all to enjoy (such as the Half-Life series, Team Fortress 2, or the Portal series). Although we don’t have nearly enough information to make any definite predictions, I’m far more excited to see where the Steam Machine is headed than where Microsoft and Sony are.

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Now don’t get me wrong, this is not the preaching of a PC fanboy or the espousing of the whole “glorious PC Master Race” rhetoric; while I own some games on Steam and my computer like League of Legends, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or The Binding of Isaac, I have always been, first and foremost, a console gamer with the Xbox 360 and WiiU being my primary consoles of choice. What I am espousing, however, is a neat alternative to either being constrained by the somewhat oppressive confinements of console gaming, and the sometimes highly self-important world of PC gaming. What the Steam Machine offers is a neat fusion of both. While many PC gamers may prefer being at their computers with their mouse and keyboard as their weapons of choice, there may be other individuals who want to instead play their Steam games in the comfort of their own living room with a pseudo-console controller in hand. While, again, the exact specifics of what the Steam Machine will offer are not yet available, the promise of playing Amnesia or Team Fortress 2 on my couch is almost too good to pass up. Of course, there may be potential obstacles in the way of the Steam Machine competing with the major consoles, such as a potential lack of features like Netflix or other multimedia functions (although Steam has confirmed that it is working with many multimedia companies to allow music, TV and movie streaming on SteamOS), or a lack of many Steam games available on the machine (as of now, it is reported that only 250 of 3000 titles are compatible), but it’s too early to tell if the Steam Machine will run into these problems.

On the other hand, if the Steam Machine catches on (which it may due to the price range that allows for more flexibility and choices available to the consumer), then developers may not only develop games for the Xbox One and Playstation 4, but will also develop PC versions of these titles that could then be available for the Steam Machine. Assuming that the Steam Machine also boasts multimedia capabilities, what will stop the Steam Machine from being preferable to own over the Xbox One and Playstation 4, especially if there could be models that are far cheaper than either of these consoles? There are far too few exclusives that Microsoft and Sony have to offer that would encourage people to buy their console, so why would I have to put up with their anti-consumer policies when I could just play Titanfall or other major blockbuster titles on the PC and Steam Machine instead?

So at the end of the day, while there aren’t any definite details following the announcement of the Steam Machine that would give people a clear idea on whether it is worth their time, the promise of a better alternative to console gaming is what makes the Steam Machine enticing. With the newest generation beginning to pick up momentum now that the Big Three’s consoles are available, things might take an interesting turn once more details about the Steam Machine are revealed. If you want my opinion, while there may be some challenges for Valve to overcome, I am excited to see what the future brings for Gabe Newell’s latest brainchild.

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Kenny

Born in the stomach of a whale in a small fishing town in Antarctica, Kenny knew that his life mission would be to end world hunger, save Tibet, and finally learn how to dougie. Instead, he ended up studying law and writing the "Food For Thought" article series for CheshireCatStudios.com. One day, he hopes to become President of Brazil and blow up the moon.

4 Comments on “Food For Thought: The Steam Machine – Consoles, Beware

  1. It’s kind of nice when you mention that Netflix, etc are in the process of being added to a game machine, versus Microsoft and Sony’s approach of adding games to a video streaming machine. We went on at length about game consoles not being game consoles in several of our shows (e3 vids and “Death of Consoles” After Hours), and it looks like things might finally begin to shift back.

    However, one thought: That Blaze II looks like a standard mid-tower PC, which is a bit of a turnoff compared to smaller-factor systems like “the Sammich”. Something that I can unplug from my TV and take with me is extremely appealing versus the “LAN-party dark ages of the mid 2000’s” where the circle of gaming rigs looked like Stone Henge crammed in a 2 bedroom apartment. Whereas if there’s a PC tower in my living room, why not just build my own, save a few hundred (or thousand) dollars, and slap on XBMC for vids, GameEx for ROMS and MAME, and Steam for… well, Steam?

    I sound like I’m nerding/sperging out, but just raising a few personal concerns that I have about Steam Machines. I applaud competition, especially with the focus on actual GAMING, but compared to the power, flexibility and compact design of, say, an Alienware X51, I’m not seeing the advantage yet. http://www.dell.com/us/p/alienware-x51-r2/pd.aspx

  2. Alright, let me get my own perspective out of the way…

    I haven’t bought a new system since the PS2 days. So I’ve missed the 7th and 8th generations. I’ve been on Steam the entire time but followed the consoles enough to try to keep perspective about the economic issues with them.

    So I’ll go into some issues with each one that Kenny’s article reminded me of.

    Nintendo:

    Let’s face it… They keep getting in their own way. They’ve ALWAYS had an issue with their third party support as Neogaf has found out: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=628616

    And now, they decide to ride with the Wii U and didn’t follow marketing trends: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303465004579325760899958956

    I’m calling BS here though… Here’s what Iwata had to say:

    “Nintendo President Satoru Iwata admitted he had misread the markets and hadn’t issued “the appropriate instructions.” He said the company needed to change and “propose something that surprises our customers.”

    Iwata didn’t misread the markets. He ignored them. When people were clamoring against their Let’s Play policies, their draconian DRM on the online network, and small things like bringing over Earthbound and Mother 3, Nintendo kept on trucking just like their Third Party support drying up. That’s Nintendo’s story. You have one guy at the helm of the ship and it moves slower than the Titanic to move around and even though everyone sees the iceberg, Nintendo ignores it.

    “The way people use their time, their lifestyles [and] who they are have changed,” Mr. Iwata said. “If we stay in one place, we will become outdated.”

    Yeah, it has. And Nintendo ignored all that data until it came to bite them in the ass. No Pokemon MMO for some bankable revenue, opting only to support the DS. Now, people have a smartphone for the same price. So now they’re competing against the Android. Two, they had a year long lead in the Wii U and squandered that with no games and no marketing support. Three, even if they have about 8 different teams, they opt for only a few titles at a time with no Wii support. Compare this to the support for the PS2. That was seven years.

    I put this as akin to the update from Windows XP to Windows Vista. Fuck Vista because it had less features than the update before it. Same thing happened here.

    So, let’s move to Microsoft since I started talking about them…

    I don’t know who the hell is in control here, but they’re seriously just punching themselves in the face… Seriously, the Kinect as a spy device, their inability to figure out why people are pissed off at DRM, the fact that they gave Sony the upper hand… I don’t know what the hell to say about them. I doubt they’ll get their shit together and bribing people to play their games on Youtube may help but it may ultimately hurt them in the end by making them look weak. Don’t get me wrong. Some of the games I actually like watching but I don’t find the system all that appealing.

    So Sony…

    I still like them, but damn… What the hell is with this 8th generation in general? As stated, it seems that this was more to try to lock people into certain things that are sure to bite all three in the ass: DRM, game rentals (paid subscription to their service and games), and other issues that could make PC gaming more viable ala the Steam Machine. Sony I’m still docking points because of the HUGE DRM BS they’re pulling in regards to upgrading PS3 games to the PS4. Basically, you pay a few dollars less, but things like Square’s recent ass pull ala Tomb Raider: Fraud Edition makes me wonder why I would even want to buy a new system: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk5tyVKBt1k

    Full disclosure: I have the game on PC, I haven’t played it yet and probably won’t for some time until I get some other projects cleared up and Square has been doing some ass pulls for YEARS which pisses me off, but I digress…

    So we get to Steam…

    I’m all for this, but it probably really isn’t to compete with the other consoles, the Steam Machine(s) is more to make the PC much more viable and easier to work on as Kenny stated.

    Giving consumers choices, along with a service that does everything the major consoles won’t do (It’s not that they can’t. It’s just that it makes more money for them to lock people up), and even working on allowing EA to work with the Steam service gives them more credibility in their gaming platforms. Now I’m not against criticizing Steam and the giant hairy nipples of The Gaben but right now, compared to Nintendo shooting off their own foot, Microsoft’s inability to function, and Sony’s “Me Too!” response to everything Microsoft does, I’ve kind of taken to ignoring everything out of those camps after following all the big stuff for years. And the way that Steam just comes in to undercut everyone like having an unconventional controller (even though they changed it recently), allowing family sharing, and other sweet features, what can I really criticize? I don’t like the Steam OS? I can keep my laptop. But damned if the $600 version isn’t looking mighty nice right now as I look to move forward with gaming outside of the major three.

  3. I think were Steam hold the advantage is they are based solely on software, they’re not even technically making the steam box, just allowing others to do so. What Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo don’t realise is they all built their reputation on good games, good software; but now it’s about who can make the better console. In comparison it’s stopped being about what team is better, but instead arguing about who has the better pitch. Steam has always been a basic, free piece of software that allowed people to experience gaming without having to fork out for expensive hardware, hell my £400 laptop I brought for doing university work can play most games at Xbox 360/ PS3 quality.

    Now I know it’s contradictory to say Steam is great because of their software then praise the Steambox but if you really think about it all they are doing is expanding their experience to the sofa, it’s not just a cash grab to justify a huge income as the Steambox 2 will likely not be released in a few yeas as the original will be upgradable. Unlike what Microsoft and Sony are pulling making you buy a new console that can’t support all the old games, the steam library will be transferred over to the console and hopefully since some games have cloud or external storage you may even be able to transfer save data.

    That is why I think Steam will win the console wars, because they swapped stupid peripherals and add-ons for the hardware, and instead built a solid piece of practical software.

  4. I’m just getting into gaming (I had a PS2, Wii, DS but never really got into them much) and then a friend gave me his old 360 with batman and AS3, which kinda got me into all this. After mainlining your guys entire youtube archive and catching up on the state of gaming I have to say…this steam machine actually is attracting me more than the others.

    The complaints everyone has about the “Big 3” as serious gamers is also some of the complaints I have getting into this.Maybe I’m old school, but if I buy a game…that’s it. I want to own the game and not have to worry about it. DLC to me is kinda a turn off, because most DLC isn’t like expansion packs were back in the day, where you’re pretty much buying a 1/3 to 1/2 of a new game to add on to an old one. This micro-transaction stuff is BS (like the Forza 5 thing above, making you buy all the cars…after you bought the game for the cars is bs). When I was doing some MMORPGs I did LOTRO and the biggest thing about that game was you had to buy everything, including the ability to ride a horse, with real money…for every single character you had. Not per account…per character. I don’t want to mess with that.

    If the steam machine means I get my games ouright, without all the spyware and stuff that Sony and Microsoft are doing for the same price, I really don’t care if it only starts with 250 games. That’s 250 games you can rely on, of decent to great quality, right out the box. The fact that you can then use your xbox or other controllers, for something that’s smaller and more user friendly (since I don’t know much about performance) means that if I have the 500 bucks for a console…I’m gonna go for the one that isn’t going to screw me, even if it doesn’t play netflix or youtube.

    You guys at CCS have talked about the death of the consoles a bit and I think, ultimately, the Steam Machine and the Wii U really are the only consoles left. the PS4 (which I heard was bricking out of the box) and the Xb1 are more “home entertainment systems” now. You run the entire entertainment system out of the One…and occasionally you can play a game on it, if you don’t mind 60 for the disk and then Gods’ know how much for all the stuff to play what’s on that disk.

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