Can Steam Machines compete with console big guns?

half life 2

Over a dozen PC building firms have so far unveiled their Steam Machines, but have they got what it takes to upstage Xbox and Sony?

Take Valve's SteamOS Linux based operating system, run it on a convenient console-sized box that hooks up directly to your HDTV and you have a Steam Machine, a PC/Console hybrid bent on bringing PC gaming from the desktop to the living room.

Despite SteamOS currently being the plaything of Linux hackers, big PC brands the likes of Dell are conspicuously bringing out machines to run it. Up against closed architecture consoles  where reworked 'safe' game titles are commonplace, a truly open source OS stands to offer more innovation and variety.

Undoubtedly the majority of Valve's Steam user base currently run Windows, itself becoming more the Apple style closed OS and with Xbox waving Microsoft's gaming flag, Valve sense enough of a threat to strike out and back their own hardware.

Bolstering Valve's offensive are their own snazzy new controllers which may well gain favour with console gamers. Tracking movement with high-res touchpads they set out to emulate the mouse and keyboard gaming experience. PC gamers who are turned off by the idea will be pleased to hear they'll still be able to hook up their uber gaming mouses.

Indeed more than just fancy gamepads will be needed to persuade gamers from either side of the PC/Console divide to move over. VR peripherals are easily much cooler game toys for PC gamers and eliminate the need to game in front of your flat-screen. 

Console gamers who are used to the all in one fixed price game/media box may be put off by the price breaks in the emerging Steam Machine market. Current prices range from £300 ($500) to £3.600 ($6,000), only the lower priced boxes will have a chance of competing with console and who wants the budget model when they can have the real deal for the same price or less? Likewise the top end machines may struggle to attract elite gamers used to newb-slaying on overclocked frag boxes. 

For the Steam Machines  to really compete they'll need to generate enough sales to warrant developers writing directly for SteamOS. There are only a few hundred titles currently available in Steam for Linux; users wishing to play other Steam or Windows titles will currently need to stream them from another PC. This may be a further obstacle to both console fans, keen for plug-and-play simplicity and PC users who already have a good enough gaming PC.

This said both AMD and Nvidia have put work into Linux support for their components and the initial rush from PC makers to partner up with Valve show optimism for future growth. Steam, well known for their special offer games sales can be more attractive on prices and of course will offer free server access. 

It's accepted Valve still have a long way to go but their venture, however foolhardy has the potential to catch on very quickly. With 65 million users and counting on Steam the numbers are certainly there and Valve have a solid reputation for gaming excellence, though they may wish to spend less time getting SteamOS tweaked and ready than they did on bringing out Half Life 2.


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