To say that Valve is ambitious is an understatement. Their Steam service dominates the PC-gaming landscape, but now Gabe and co. are looking to expand into the living room. Now, let’s be honest, PC and console gaming are pretty different. A high-quality PC costs much more than a gaming console, but for good reason. We expect more out of our PCs than to only play games. We use it to watch videos, download music, chat with friends, and run multiple programs at once. Though consoles are now starting to tread into this territory, the more costly PC is also better for multitasking, and that’s not a bad thing. When I’m playing a console from the couch, I am totally immersed in that experience. Games such as Mass Effect or Uncharted really work well from a console perspective. Still, Valve is convinced that they will successfully bring the PC experience to the couch. We’ll be able to play Papers, Please or our favourite RTS with as much enjoyment as we would get from a traditional set-up. While there are plenty of questions and arguments for or against the steps Valve is making, the question remains, do we really need a Steam Machine?
I mentioned price earlier, and I think this needs a bit more discussion. The cheapest Steam Machine so far comes in at $499. Not a bad price for a console, and considering how open these boxes are to modification, this initial investment could last for many years. Sadly, the prices jump A LOT after this. Digital Storm’s Steam Machine will run you $2,585. Most of the Machines are at the higher end of $1,500, with some being a bit cheaper. While the more expensive units are somewhat standard for a high-quality PC, most gamers who want a console will not be looking to spend this much cash on one box.
I am one who does believe that PC gaming and console gaming are two heads of the same beast, and that it can often be hard to transpose them. When I’m gaming on my PC, I generally feel completely immersed. It could be because I’m a lot closer to the screen, as are the controls, but PC gaming seems somehow more controlled and immediate. While console gaming is certainly an equally valid way to enjoy amazing games, it is pretty different.
If some sort of analogy is appropriate, then please indulge me. If you are the type to grow tiresome of such tropes, then I’ll see you on the next paragraph. I would equate PC gaming to that one friend you have that makes you a better person. They challenge you intellectually and, though they can sometimes seem like too much, you get a lot out of your conversations with them. In this scenario, console gaming is like your friend you have wild nights out with. No, not your stereotypical drunk-and-fratty type, but the one who changed your life forever. Maybe you’ve known them since childhood, maybe they’re newer to you, but just like your analytical friend, they’ve had a profound impact on you. See, console gaming is where I go to have new and over-the-top experiences. That time you stayed out all night and watched the sunrise on the beach smelling like campfire and booze? That was with him. While my analytical friend might change my gaming paradigm, this party animal here is going to blow it open. It’s gonna get wild! The console experience is full of crazy explosions, and it is where good times go to get mastered. In sum, the PC is where new ideas come from, and the console makes them bigger.
Did any of that make sense? Maybe not, but I hope my general opinion came across: PC gaming and console gaming are very different things, and at the price points Valve is citing, it will be even harder to make this transition. There are plenty of cheaper options out there to stream your PC to your TV. The controller could be an issue too. So far feedback seems to suggest that this is actually one of the console’s brightest features, and that’s a good thing. RTS games as well as most FPS games really feel better with a mouse and keyboard. If Valve can really push the controller aspect, offer some cheaper models, they might be on to something.
I do, however, think their biggest hurdle is the idea of an upgradable console. While I do indeed see why a higher price point with the packed-in equipment is indeed worth the price, and the ability to upgrade as you see fit is amazing, this is a hard sell to most others. I could be off, but I do think the majority of console gamers are happy to buy the system, use it for a few years, and then buy the next one. If Valve can shift this attitude, they could dominate the coming years. They certainly did it with how we buy games, so this idea might not be too far fetched.
The Steam Machine could do well, but with the big three already doing everything they can to stay relevant, Valve really needs to work hard if they want to win this game. I don’t think they’ll be able to do it by hardware or games alone, I think they’ll have to start changing how we look at the dichotomy of gaming I mentioned above, and get people like me to be a bit more lucid in their definition.
At the end of the day, it’s really up to you to enjoy the games you want the way you want. Far be it from me to tell you how you ought to enjoy something you already love. Isn’t it great how many amazing options there are out there for us? You can play some of the best games in the world on virtually any device you want! There will surely be those who pick up a Steam Machine at whatever price they choose, and will love it to bits. Just like any console, new or old, you get out of it what you put in. The future of gaming can only be said to be a future of change, of evolution. Let’s make sure we change it for the better, however we game.