Valve has announced it’s developing a new console called the Steam Machine – actually implemented on different hardware brands with different specifications and completely customizable. They will run in a linux distro known as Steam OS, which will be available for free download if you want to try it in your own machine. Valve is also working on a game controller supposed to emulate the capabilities of both keyboard and mouse while still providing gamepad functionality.
Saying it’s an uphill battle is a complete understatement. Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox own the market. Valve is counting on a lot of its regular Steam store customers and the game libraries they already own with one massive catch. Only Linux compatible games plus new games develop specifically for the console will be able to run on a Steam Machine. Windows and OS X games will be able to run through a streaming mechanism, meaning they ran on your Windows / Mac workstation and display through the Steam Machine.
In other words, you need TWO machines to run your Windows and OS X library of Steam games. I know what most people are going to say to that: Wrong. I don’t need two machines. I just need one – the one I already have.
Or at least that’s what’s being said so far. If all of a sudden Steam makes 50% of my already purchased game library Steam OS-playable on their Steam Machine without needing another piece of hardware, Valve literally wins everything.
I’m biased. I like Steam. I like Valve. I want them to have something I like. But I will not like something just because they have it (and purchase is a long way further ahead). Technically I don’t need the machine, the OS X or the experimental controller to play my games – I already have everything I need. I’d be spending money to play my games and my PC/Mac still has to be turned on and in use. What have I gained? Why am I throwing in more resources to play the same game?
The big argument in favor is that you can “centralize your gaming experience” (I’m glad I’m not in marketing) which could work if someone has their PC in their bedroom and wants to play games on the big TV in the living room. In my case, my computer is already connected to the big screen TV so I don’t really need a thing. This could be a nice perk if you have the Steam Machine already, but I’m not so sure it works as a selling point. Families might like this, and that’s what Valve is counting on as an audience.
Let’s talk about creating new games purely for the Steam OS and the Steam Machine. In this aspect, you no longer have a library of games but a big question mark. Are we going to see large game franchises on the Steam OS? Valve’s big names should step up to the plate but what about everyone else? Will they invest in creating a version for a new console… one that can be customized and (gasp) hacked?
It’s not that I’m not tempted. I think my Steam library has a couple of linux-playable games due to Steamplay. But can you really turn curiosity and loyalty into profit? Feel free to insert your favorite Apple joke here.
The controller is an experiment. Replacing the keyboard and mouse with a controller is a bold and a bit suicidal move. I know this makes me sound like a twelve year old, but what if I just don’t like it? You can get over the way something looks, but the way something feels is going to be crucial. If you don’t like it, it just won’t fly.
Thankfully the Steam OS and the Steam Machine will allow you to hook up a keyboard and mouse or a regular gamepad as well.
Valve, I think you’re crazy but I’m also hoping you deliver. Hurry up, standing on this fence is getting tiresome.
That will do for now.