Valve recently revealed the in-house prototype of Steam Machines, and with it, the news that, though they will be joining the ranks of living-room gaming, they have no plans to release games exclusively for SteamOS.
This is an unsurprising move for Valve, a prophetically open company whose very hardware line is based on open-source infrastructure (in this case, Linux). However, the move, while refreshingly pro-consumer, is also all but required of Valve. The company could, of course, alienate its primary demographic of Steam users by releasing titles for Steam Machines alone, thereby precluding the millions of PCs already running Steam and forcing their owners to purchase what is ultimately a corner-cutting gaming PC, but logic has stacked the odds against such a move. This is to say nothing of the fact that the primary cause of software exclusivity—competing manufacturers (e.g. Sony and Microsoft bickering with one another)—is absent from Valve’s monopolistic hold on PC gaming.
I'm reminded of David and Goliath.
The lack of Steam Machine-only titles has also struck yet another reason for purchasing one of the things in the first place from Valve’s already dwindling list of incentives. I and many others have previously said that, fundamentally, the Steam Machine is needless in that it won’t be able to compete with traditional consoles and is hindered by a redundancy that goes against the general mindset of PC gamers. However, the fact that, beyond games, Valve has no plans to “launch something that’s exclusive to SteamOS or Steam Machines,” suggests that they aren’t expecting Steam Boxes to shake the very foundation of the console market, as their entry to the living-room game initially suggested.
This is Valve we’re talking about here, so I’ll employ a fitting simile. The problem with Steam Machines is strikingly similar to the hardships of Portal 2: innately being compared to an unassailable predecessor. In the case of Portal 2, it was forced to walk the shadow of Portal’s runaway success; for Steam Machines, the problem is how it compares to other platforms, namely the PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Because you just can't argue with Shuhei Yoshida.
Unfortunately, Steam Boxes aren’t as quirky, entertaining or innovative as Portal 2. They’re more expensive, boast a software library too unfamiliar to sell to console gamers, and have already had their ostensible upgradeability obviated by traditional PC gaming. Regardless, the little devils will sell because they offer just enough something to appeal to a handful of niche demographics.
Then again, what could stand up to this lot?
The ability to stream PC games to the big screen, for example, is a godsend for many a PC gamers; it’s a far cry above enormous HDMI cables, and significantly easier to maintain. As such, on convenience alone, Steam Boxes have a target market, albeit a small one. And, I suppose, there is a market in the small portion of gamers who would rather settle for a flat-rate PC-lite console, so to speak, than come to understand the arcane, unfathomable intricacies of conventional PCs. At least, that’s what I assume their notion of PC gaming must be. Still, it’s a small market at best, and a handful of reclusive curmudgeons at worst.
Small truly is the key word when discussing Steam Machines. They simply lack the stopping power to impact the console market to any appreciable degree; their release likely won’t even ripple the surface. However, they give hardware nuts another box to obsess over and overclock to high heaven, and the everyman PC gamer a reason to while away their time on the couch instead of in an armchair. I’m just fine with that.