For the tech-savvy and financially stable gamer, the PC has no shortage of benefits to earn its users the title of gaming’s “Master Race”. These are the arrogant bastards who jeer at the squabbling between us filthy console peasants whenever they deem to gaze down upon us in our squalor. The ones who heard Valve’s announcement that they were releasing a “Steam Box” that would act as an online download-only gaming console fueled by their revolutionary Steam game download service and broke into hysterical laughter at the very notion as the ordered yet more upgrades for their suped-up desktops so that they could play the latest and greatest games at maximum resolution.
For those not in the know, the beauty of Steam is that it allows gamers to download old games and new without worrying about going to Gamestop to see what’s available, standing in line at those midnight releases, or any other issues that arise from physical media. Older games go out of print and rise in price as physical availability decreases. Downloads don’t have that problem. Steam’s sales are legendary for kicking off gamer feeding frenzies by slashing prices on popular games to negligible amounts.
But those of us who are working with cheap laptops from Target and Wal-Mart primarily for online browsing purposes and don’t want to deal with headaches of installation, upgrades, and various other issues, this could be a great way for Valve to bring more gamers into their fold. It’s a win-win.
I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing what kind of price point Valve comes up with. If it’s comparable to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, they could definitely pose a threat in my household to both Sony and Microsoft. With so many games at my fingertips and such exceptional price points, it could almost make other consoles seem outdated. Boasting benefits of both console and PC gaming, price could be the only possible downside.
Now let’s get back to those exclusives. If they were to pull support away from their new business rivals (and it would be silly not to) then we are talking about several system-selling gaming franchises right off the bat. Left 4 Dead is one of the better multiplayer games of all time, as is Team Fortress. Portal is one of the most legendary puzzle games out there, and then there’s Half Life 3, a title so eagerly and long awaited that its inevitable confirmation has become a meme unto itself. How many gamers would choose these franchises over God of War or Halo? Plenty, I reckon. And with strong third-party support all around I can see the Steam Machine grabbing a decent share of gaming enthusiasts jaded with existing consoles.
And on top of the potential strength of the concept itself, Valve has decided to further innovate with a whole new type of controller that does away with the traditional mouse/cursor keys/analog sticks in favor of dual trackpads along with other features that make it seem like the true next generation of console gaming. I really, really like this idea. It will take some getting used to, and it will be interesting to see how they use the touchscreen in the center to get around the lack of a keyboard but this definitely has my attention. You can read about the full range of features here.
Valve has also designed its own operating system, SteamOS, to work with its gaming PC/console. Its focus is not only on gaming, but on general media performance without the interference from other programs you can get on PC. And all features, of course, will support consumer modding. You can even install Windows or any other operating system if you’d rather.
Further details are fairly sparse at the moment, which has led to a lot of skepticism from the PC enthusiasts who either doubt that the Steam Machine can be pulled off effectively or flat out don’t understand the point of the concept. It’s possible I’m an idiot who knows nothing about computers and Valve is trying to take advantage of my ignorance to juice me and my ilk. Or maybe there is not a significant market for such a device and Valve will crash and burn for their arrogance. But it’s also possible that one of the best game companies in existence knows what they are doing and are creatively carving out a market share for themselves in an extremely competitive arena. Time will tell which.