By Sam McCabe
The gaming world has been divided between PC and console gaming for years. The console market has been dominated by Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony and the gaming PC market being dominated by Microsoft Windows-based computers. There’s one company however that’s attempting to occupy the middle ground between consoles and computers, brazenly trying to buck the trend established by the big guns of gaming.
Valve announced in 2014 that several different companies were producing new consoles called Steam Machines, which would be available by the end of that year. However recently, at the 2015 Game Developers Conference it revealed what the various Steam Machines will look like, what they will cost and told us again that they should be available by the end of the year.
Steam is a game download service that was created by Valve Corporation (the people responsible for the Half-Life, Counterstrike and Portal series of games.) It’s extremely popular, with over 75 million accounts registered with the service. They are therefore in a perfect position to expand their business into other areas of the gaming world.
But what actually is the Steam Machine? It was decided that Steam would create its own operating system (SteamOS) and would allow a few different PC manufacturers, such as Alienware and Asus, to create some hardware to support it. Each company produces a console with a different look and specifications, only sharing the operating system and the steam controller.
The Steam Machine has several pros and cons in relation to the other gaming options. The main benefit is Steam itself, which should allow current PC gamers who already have compatible steam games to use them on the Steam Machine. The idea that PC gamers could play all the games they had downloaded is a great one, but the reality is not quite as straight forward. SteamOS is based on Linux. This means that many games are not actually compatible. Only games that run on Linux can run on the Steam Machine, so the library of games is surprisingly limited. The Xbox One is also a problem as they are releasing an update which will give it backwards compatibility, a feature that will eventually allow you to play Xbox 360 games. This ever expanding game library provides a significant challenge to the Steam Machine library.
The price of the consoles is potential positive of the Steam Machine. Most people will be happy with the Alienware Steam Machine for example, which costs $449, (roughly £290). This price is competitive with the other next gen consoles which are around the £300 mark. Even this has the power to run all the games that the average gamer will require. The cheapest is a competitive price but the rest are very expensive. This means that you could buy a modern console for a similar price to the cheapest Steam Machine or get a good gaming PC for the price of the most expensive (and the PC would have a larger library of games).
The fact that Valve has created a new console bucks the recent trend in gaming. If the PC/console gap is closed by the Steam Machine, it would change the established structure of the gaming world. The chances of this happening aren’t great however. The library of games isn’t impressive, the price isn’t much cheaper than consoles, and you can get gaming PCs with just as much power and with a larger library of games. There will have to be major improvements before it becomes a first choice for the world’s gamers.
I don’t think that the Steam Machine will mount a successful challenge to the current players any time soon, but there is huge potential, with an ever-expanding library of Linux compatible games, competitive prices and computing power, backed up by a very successful gaming company. I hope the Steam Machine eventually bucks the trend, becoming a viable competitor to the established gaming platforms. The Steam Machine is a fantastic step in the right direction, with this PC/console mix having the potential to steal gamers away from the limitations of consoles and the complexities of computers.