It’s not about where Valve’s been but where it could possibly be going with its living room PC approach.
It’s hard to believe that Valve Software’s announcement of SteamOS, initial reveal of the Steam Controller and promise of living room PCs in the form of Steam Machines was in mid-2013. Microsoft was drowning in negative publicity due to the draconian digital policies introduced with the Xbox One, the PS4 was much loved for its price and focus on games and the PC was…well, outdoing both consoles in the graphics department.
Throughout it all, it was patently obvious that PSN and Xbox Live couldn’t measure up to the juggernaut that was Steam. The last reported number was more than 100 million registered users with the recent record of concurrent players online being 8.5 million. Taking the Steam experience into the living room for players to enjoy higher grade sound systems and TVs was an unorthodox decision by Valve but one that seemed like it could work.
Fast forward to 2014 and many of us are still wondering if the Steam Machine is alive.
"Valve has been going back to the drawing board for its Steam Controller and promises to showcase Steam Machines front and centre at the upcoming Game Developers Conference 2014."
This isn’t to say that the culture of living room PCs is dead or dying. In fact, several different types of configurations released throughout 2014, some tied to the Steam moniker and others existing on their own. It’s not as if the success of Steam was declining either. So what happened?
Valve has been going back to the drawing board for its Steam Controller and promises to showcase Steam Machines front and centre at the upcoming Game Developers Conference 2014. However, there’s far less hype now than there was before. Much of that could be attributed to the blockbuster success of the PS4, followed by a strong showing from the Xbox One and Nintendo Wii U.
The past year saw a variety of different games and shockingly enough, the adoption rate for the new hardware was exponentially higher than past iterations of both the PlayStation and Xbox. Perhaps this was due to the many revolutionary features that the PS4 and Xbox One brought about, namely the power of the former and the all-in-one media solution of the latter. It should also be noted that many cross-generational games leaned much further towards the current gen consoles in terms of visual superiority.
Sure, you could still play Destiny on the PS3 and Xbox 360 but the visual quality on the PS4 and Xbox One showcased a far bigger leap than, say, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag did.
Nintendo’s case in 2014 was different with Super Smash Bros., Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8 and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker proving that consumers will invest in new hardware if the games are up to scratch.
"Till now, Valve has yet to deliver a compelling reason to warrant the Steam Machine’s existence – which is fascinating because the developer has a history of always delivering, consequences and delays be damned."
What does a Steam Machine bring to the table then? How does it differentiate from the latest round of consoles in terms of the living room experience? For that matter, how is it better than a normal living room PC or a desktop PC? How is it superior to a gaming notebook or even a hybrid ultrabook like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 which delivers a high resolution display and enough power to handle the majority of available Steam games (with better avenues for portability)?
Does a Steam Machine cater to the hardcore Dota 2 or Counter-Strike player? If this is indeed supposed to be Steam in the living room, what other benefits does it provide other than the ability to play one’s HDTV?
Till now, Valve has yet to deliver a compelling reason to warrant the Steam Machine’s existence – which is fascinating because the developer has a history of always delivering, consequences and delays be damned. Some of the greatest aspects of PC gaming came from this philosophy, from Steam to Half Life 2.
The “solution” for PC gaming doesn’t seem to be taking it into the living room though. Fitting the PC experience into a setting that a console player would feel more comfortable with isn’t the right choice either. So rather than asking what’s happened to Valve’s Steam Machines, the more important question right now seems to be, “What could possibly happen?”
Those answers still elude us as the popularity of the PS4 and Xbox One continues to grow. Valve may eventually throw a curve ball into the mix and convince us that we’ve wanted a Steam Machine all this time but just didn’t know it. Until then though, the “wait and watch” approach continues.