SteamOS, Steam Machines and Steam controllers: Valve innovation, or just hot air?



Peter Parish: As PC users around the world will no doubt know, Valve has a lot going on this week. We had three announcements: SteamOS, living room Steam machines slated for release in 2014 (and 300 of Valve’s own to be tested in the Community Beta), and a fancy dual trackpad controller that looks like an owl .

It’s pretty clear that Valve is keen on bringing some of us PC gamers behind our desks into the living room (or indeed pulling some console users over to a PC-based box instead), but will it work? There’s a lot to discuss here, but let’s start with something simple before trying to address a broader context. Can you see any of these announcements changing the way you play PC games?

Paul Younger: As for me, it won’t change the way I play PC games. I actually don’t like playing games in the living room simply because my PC is away from other distractions like TV and (dare I say it) other people. I find nothing more boring than watching someone else play when I could do it myself.

Tim McDonald: That’s because you’re a hideous, antisocial troll, Paul, while social high achievers like me need to be seen. Playing games with other people – sitting on a couch, sharing the controller, joking and laughing and screaming – is fun. you weirdo

Anyway, I really want a steam engine (which would be a wonderful name if I didn’t immediately think of Amnesia), but I’m not sure why. I honestly can’t see it changing my habits all that much, and if I want to play Steam games on a TV I can already do that with Big Picture mode and a 360 controller. Which is actually what I’ve been up to for a while, except I’m phenomenally lazy.

However, this might make this a little easier. There are a lot of things I “plan” to do with my PC and a TV, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I think that might alleviate the problem.

Peter: Yes, I would love to have some Steam games on the main TV in the living room too, if only for the fact that I could actually see my wife on the weekends when I have to review a game. Right now, my options are “buy a pretty long HDMI cable and pull it through messy” or “move my desktop tower every time”; neither are particularly attractive. I might be interested in some kind of Steam Machine, although I don’t really want to shell out just a second powerful PC.

The types of machines are still up in the air at the moment, but since SteamOS can handle game streaming, if there were an inexpensive box that I could use to stream (with low enough latency) from my desktop at the office, then I would would interest me. I might be pretty keen on the controller too, if only to just try it out and see how those trackpads feel. Like a lot of this stuff, I’m in the “well, I like the idea of ​​it” phase, but I need more concrete details to decide if any of this is really for me.

Okay, so that’s us, but what about the broader game-playing public? What do we think Valve is targeting with these ideas? Are they hoping to lure in some console exclusives? Do you want PC gamers who currently have a console in the living room (like me) to let that go and just make a Steam Machine instead?

Tim: It depends on what the steam engine actually is, because like you said, there’s still a lot of stuff we don’t know. I mean, most of the questions in the actual Steam Machine announcement were answered with “we’ll tell you more about that soon”.

Paul: Yes, it all seemed a little vague, so I’m not too excited about the hardware, but messing around with a new OS could be fun.

Tim: I assume there will actually be a box that does basically nothing other than streaming (I’d like to say that it could also do some calculations itself to reduce latency and improve performance, but it probably would Games require writing specifically with that in mind, so I doubt it will happen). I also anticipate there will be different boxes that are custom made to run specific levels of games. I imagine a machine that can walk FTL and defense grid will be cheaper than a running box sleeping dogsAt long last.

So I think the target market is as broad as possible. Bored hobbyists like me will find it an interesting novelty that we can use to play games curled up on the bed; People like you who actually want to spend time with their family will likely find it a useful way to actually share your life with the people you care about. There will likely be cheaper boxes for those who want to play relatively low-end stuff but don’t have a PC, and absurdly expensive boxes for those who want to game crysis 3 with everything at max but don’t have a pc.

As I said, we don’t know enough. We don’t know how customizable the hardware will be or what options there will be. But that seems the most likely to me. I think there’s certainly a market for something like this, but the dangerous question is how much will it cost.

Peter: I think we hit the main issue with the second announcement here. Not enough specific information to make any really meaningful judgments. It certainly sounds like there will be a steam engine for every taste (just like you can build a PC to pretty much any specification), but crucial things like price are still unknown. I think that’s partly because there are third-party manufacturers involved in this part of the process.

Paul: I think the fact that multiple manufacturers are involved is a good indication that specs will vary widely. Price is key though, I wouldn’t pay big bucks for something that could effectively be a receiver for a signal being sent from your PC to my TV where I don’t want to be playing games anyway. I will never leave the man cave!

Peter: Come on, Paul, join us on the sofa. It’s beautiful and comfortable. More options for people is fine, and I like the idea of ​​an open platform with the power of a top-end PC (since it’s a PC) that can sit in the living room. I’m just not sure yet how many people will use this option over what they’re already familiar with, be it a console or a decent desktop.

Anyhow, we should probably move away from the most vague part of the announcement and look at a little SteamOS. Is this Valve giving Microsoft and specifically Windows 8 an official “Fuck you”?

I know very, very little about Linux, but at least it seems like a positive step for those who want to play games on this architecture. Both AMD and Nvidia have made noise about supporting this, which is probably a whole lot more support than Linux games had from them prior to last week.

Tim: Actually, you’re addressing several interesting points right away – twice with the mention of “price” and “Microsoft”. Maybe three times, with “open platform”.

As far as we know, the box will be hackable to the point where you can install whatever operating system you want on it. Secondly, it already has some advantages in terms of price. For one, Steam accounts are free, while Xbox LIVE Gold (and, assuming Sony sneaks through, PlayStation Network) both cost money to play online. Secondly, SteamOS is also 100% free with even the source code being made available to everyone. They’re already beating the current console champions there, making it very easy for the more tech-savvy to try out, if they’re at all curious.

To answer your question, this is all a pretty big middle finger for Microsoft, although I don’t know if that’s intentional on purpose. I mean, doing good isn’t exactly an obvious attempt to poke some shit. It’s just… not being shit.

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