Microsoft may yet succeed where Valve failed.
Valve’s Steam Machine initiative was the PC gaming giant’s bid to try and take over the living room- the attempt to push console like gaming PCs that would be ready for living room gaming. The entire initiative hinged on trying to bring PC gaming to the console toting masses, by presenting it in a console like box, and hinged on the success of the Steam Controller and SteamOS.
However, the gambit failed- Steam Machines are an indisputable flop; there are multiple reasons why this happened. SteamOS is Linux based, and while the state of Linux gaming continues to improve, most major AAA game releases remain on Windows. SteamOS also lacked, at least out of the box, compatibility with Origin, Battle.net, and other gaming clients, meaning that the biggest PC games on the market – League of Legends, Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and Battlefield – were all incompatible with it. Then, too, SteamOS lacked any centralized brand identity and push, with Valve doing nothing apart from specifying a set of standards for their hardware partners, who were left to flounder on the market against the marketing might of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.
However, even though the idea may have failed, it was still sound- PC gaming remains the best avenue for gaming, all else being equal, and making it more palatable or accessible to the masses is a noble push. Which is why Microsoft’s Play Anywhere concept, in conjunction with the Xbox One Scorpio, as well as Microsoft’s new development tools, that essentially have games developed in the Scorpio development environment, before they are scaled up or down for Xbox One or PCs, is so interesting- it’s almost as if Microsoft themselves are trying to bring PC gaming into the living room, under the guise of a friendly console that most people are familiar with.
Consider the fact that Microsoft are making attempts to unify the Windows Store and the Xbox Stores; consider the fact that games (limited to their games at this point) bought on one run on the other, and even have Cross Play and Cross Save capabilities. Consider the fact that Microsoft’s development binaries apparently treat Scorpio as a standard PC configuration that is targeted, that developers then scale up or down from, as necessary. Consider the fact that Microsoft have announced keyboard and mouse support for Xbox One and Scorpio. A picture begins to form- for Microsoft, Scorpio is their equivalent of the Steam Machine, a Trojan Horse to bring Windows based gaming into the living room, without asking the customer to muck around with alternate OSs, or editable registry entries, and the like. All of a sudden, UWP makes far more sense, with all of its limitations- it’s not meant for traditional PC applications, it’s meant to bring traditional PC applications to non PC environments, living room set top boxes among them.
Will this pan out for Microsoft? That remains to be seen. Xbox is no longer the targeted standard for development for most of the gaming industry as it was last generation, UWP and the Windows Store have failed to take off so far, Microsoft’s next generation APIs like DirectX 12 have not yet seen widespread adoption, and the Xbox One itself hasn’t seen customer uptake this generation like Xbox 360 saw the previous one. The success of all of these is intertwined and interlinked- if one of these fails to pan out, the entire structure crumbles.
So while Microsoft may have a vision of the Scorpio becoming a living room gaming PC, the fact of the matter is, this will not pan out without developer support of their backend, and customer adoption on the front end- right now, Microsoft are lagging in both of those regards. But if somehow they can get everything ready and in place ahead of the Scorpio launch? Why, the Scorpio may just end up being the Steam Machine vision that Valve had, actually properly realized this time around.