Jan 9 2014 2:00pm

Gaming Roundup: A Challenger Appears in the Console Wars

Steam Machine

Valve CEO Gabe Newell kicked off the New Year with a bang this week, as news broke across the gaming world of the impending launch of a range of Steam Machines—Valve’s entry into the console wars, with a distinctly PC-oriented twist. While Microsoft and Sony have a significant early advantage on any competitors that eventually emerge in the console marketplace, Valve’s Steam Machines manage to differentiate themselves from the two established industry giants by melding PC functionality and the power of millions of existing Steam accounts into a single new console concept.

But what hope does Valve have against the two current gaming superpowers? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Steam, the popular PC-based digital gaming platform, has accumulated 65 million user accounts since its inception. Further, Valve isn’t on the hook for any actual hardware manufacturing—that’s all turned over to the several PC manufacturers lining up to offer a diverse range of Steam Machines for a varied group of consumers, ranging from high-end to low-end hardware based on budget. Valve has no plans to create their own hardware in the near future, but that could change going forward.

Valve’s SteamOS is a Linux-based OS that enables you to connect and play your library of Steam games easily on your television, while additionally acting as a fully-featured OS. But if you’re not a Linux fan, never fear—Steam Machines come in both Windows and Linux flavors (and perhaps Mac as well down the road). Steam Machines will have the added benefit of acting as both PCs and entertainment units.

Perhaps the biggest development to come out of Valve’s venture is the attempted mainstreaming of PC gaming. Traditionally, PC gaming has been for a fairly niche group of gamers, who frequently modded their own equipment and routinely upgraded their hardware in order to keep up with the rigorous graphical demands of cutting-edge games. The Steam Machine simplifies this process for end users with the intention of making PC gaming a living room activity for the masses. Factor in the exponentially more affordable prices of games on Steam, and Valve’s console has the potential to make some serious waves in the gaming landscape.

The first Steam Machines are set to hit the market by the end of this month, with various other Steam Machines from different manufacturers launching throughout the year. We’ll be sure to check in on Valve’s progress as the year goes on.

In other gaming news this week, Telltale targets Bond, the Witcher goes tabletop, and Sony announced PlayStation Now. Read on!

  • The Uncharted series almost wasn’t called Uncharted, which initially resulted in rather unflattering community-given title, Dude Raider. Fortunately, Naughty Dog managed to nip this unfortunate moniker in the bud.
  • China’s ban on gaming consoles appears to have been lifted—temporarily, at least.
  • If you’ve been hankering to catch up on the Far Cry series, now’s your chance. Ubisoft is releasing a Far Cry compilation for PS3 on February 11 which contains Far Cry 1-3, as well as the excellent standalone title Blood Dragon.
  • Telltale Games, the studio behind the hit Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us episodic games, is reportedly interested in obtaining the James Bond license in the hopes of adjusting his character via the gaming medium. The Bond license would be quite the haul for the studio, who managed to acquire the license for Game of Thrones episodic adventures late last year.
  • In today’s gaming climate, unfinished games appear to be becoming viable business models for studios. Is this good for the gamer?
  • If you’re a fan of the highly recommended (by us and pretty much everyone else) Witcher series, you may want to check out the tabletop game, coming later this year.
  • Finally, Sony’s big news of the New Year so far is all about PlayStation Now—a streaming service that will enable gamers to access PS3 games on a variety of Sony devices, including the PS3, PS4, Vita, and next-gen Bravia TVs.


If there are games you’d like us to cover or blogs you think we should be following for more news, please let us know @tdelucci or @pritpaulbains.

Christopher Morgan
1. cmorgan
See I don't think that the cost is there for the Steam Machine. The models revealed so far are all pretty pricey (most $700+) with I think one around the Xbone level ($500) and when you compare the hardware v that of nextgen/homebrew machines, it's just not worth it. You get more for you money with just a console or building your own.

As to the library, I'm unsure about. With as big a fit as people threw over Xbox DRM, I can't see console players being ok with Steam DRM. And with the steam machine are you locked into only Steam service? Would that mean no access to things like Origin or GOG? That would then mean no EA games and no really awesome, very affordable old games.

I can see this as trying to introduce console gamers to PC. But then, there is no incentive to switch beyond the indie game scene, which console gamers don't buy into as heavily as PC folks. And in terms of brining PC/Steam gamers to the living room, I think that they still have a ways to go hardware wise.
Pritpaul Bains
2. Kickpuncher
@1 Valid points. FWIW, the cheapest Steam Machines available now are right at that $500 pricepoint and I have a feeling that a $399 one will be hitting the marketplace as well, soon-ish. But your point about the hardware is a salient one, for those who aren't about to shell out the cost of a full-blown gaming PC. The budget builds would be fine for those cheaper indie games (and older higher-end games) you mentioned, but would be hard pressed to handle anything beyond that.

There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding Steam Machines that will likely be answered closer to launch, but my suspicion/educated guess would be something along the lines of the following, re: the games library. Logging into your own Steam Account from a different Steam Machine should be (in theory) faster and more responsive than switching out of an XBL account - although you're right, it's still more of a hassle than there would be with a physical disc. Steam's upcoming lending/gamesharing feature could potentially help alleviate some of these issues, as well. Regarding the Machines themselves, I doubt (but cannot yet say with certainty) that they will be locked to Steam and Steam alone (except perhaps some of the lower end extreme budget builds, due to hardware limitations). Many Steam Machines will ship with fully-functioning Windows or Linux OSes (probably allowing users to run SteamOS either via VM or a dual boot), and accordingly would be GOG or Origin-friendly. The only issue would be that these games would mandate a wireless kb/mouse or a separate PC controller, rather than running via the funky new Steam controller.

Additionally, as I understand it, down the road Valve may just make SteamOS available for download on any system, essentially meaning you can convert your own existing computer into a Steam Machine (assuming your video card has HDMI-out, and most do these days) - so this could be a viable solution for users with decent existing rigs who want to give this a whirl.

Personally, as a gamer, I don't know that the Steam Machine is for me - if I want to PC game in the living room, I'm happy enough with my existing system, an HDMI cable, and a wireless kb/mouse/controller. But I think there's some potential casual user appeal here, and the fact that Steam's library going forward will be a) still way cheaper than console pricing and b) universally optimized for the Steam controller are both pluses.
Chris Meadows
3. Robotech_Master
SteamOS already is available for download and installation on any system, though it's still in beta and a bit rough around the edges. Ars Technica has a series going into setting it up and gaming with it.

I'm not sure how Steam's DRM could be seen as any more of a limitation to console gamers than the DRM that Microsoft and Sony have on their games, or even the simple fact that you can only play Xbox games on Xboxes and PS games on PSes. Given how many people have bought games through Steam or Steam's sale partners in the past, it's hard to imagine console gamers will fuss over DRM where PC gamers haven't.

And with Steam, you can play pretty much any game you get for your console on your computer, too—essentially as many Steam Machines and computers as you want, as long as you're just using one at a time. And a lot of games you got for your computer will already work, and be yours for the playing, with a Steambox.

The big chicken-or-the-egg question that will decide the platform's success in my eyes is how many "AAA" games they can entice their publishers to port over to SteamOS. They at least have a chance; in making SteamOS the sole target, they eliminate the fragmentation issues that have plagued Linux as a gaming platform in the past. Just as with Windows or OS X, it gives developers a single target with very specific hardware and software requirements to make the job easier.

Right now, Valve has a lot more eggs (games) than most consoles have at their launch—but many of them (indie games) are tiny and not very appealing to large audiences. It really needs to attract more chickens (developers...or players, or something. It's not a perfect metaphor).

I will say that right now it's a bit premature to predict either Valve's success or its failure. We may not have seen everything Valve has up its sleeve just yet.
Christopher Morgan
4. cmorgan
Oh I don't doubt that Valve is better than M$ or Sony in terms of handeling gamers. And their sales are something to marvel at. It's something that I am looking forward to from both Microsoft and Playstation, seeing Playstation 4 titles being sold on Amazon is a step in the right direction.

The reason that Valve has such great sales is because of the competition in the PC Market. Origin, GOG, etc, all must keep pace with them, but they are essentially the Amazon of the PC Gaming market.

@2 when I mention the DRM I'm talking about the outrage centering around Microsoft's intial plan around a no used game, no optical drive system. Initially they presented an idea that looked like they were heading towards the Valve model but where shut out by console gamers at large. People didn't want a console that had to connect to the internet, they wanted something that took a disk that they could sell back for a pittance to Gamestop after they beat it.

I enjoy PC gaming, I'm hesitant about the valve controller just because I'm a bit of a crummudgeon when it comes to changing my gamepad, but I don't think the Steam Machines, as presented so far, will be what converts Console gamers.
Chris Nelly
5. Aeryl
@4, they wanted something that took a disk that they could sell back for a pittance to Gamestop after they beat it.

Look into local shops, for real. My local store, called Book & Music Exchange, will give you half what they will sell it for as trade in value.

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