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Letting Off Steam

Letting Off Steam

Tue 07 Jan 2014 11:05pm GMT / 6:05pm EST / 3:05pm PST
BusinessHardware

The pressure is on Valve to show why Steam Machines and SteamOS will be a viable game market

At least now we know Steam Machines aren't vaporware. Valve had what must be one of the briefest press conferences on record at CES yesterday, showing some prototypes of Steam Machines from 13 different manufacturers. Valve's leader Gabe Newell unveiled the devices, made a few remarks, answered a couple of questions, then exited, all in about seven minutes. "Rather than talking to me, go talk to the hardware manufacturers. Thanks for attending," Newell said as he turned off the mic.

It really was one of the more peculiar press events in memory. You would think that after drawing together representatives from major media outlets, who were obviously expecting a great deal of information and enthusiasm (why else announce a liveblog of the press event, as some sites did?) a company would spend some time feeding the media beast. What does this mean?

Let's break down what was actually announced, first. There's a list of manufacturers of Steam Machines and some partial specs given, along with some preliminary pricing (though no solid release dates). It looks like, from a cursory glance at the specs and prices presented, that Steam Machines will start at around the same price performance as next-gen consoles and move up from there, ranging from $399 up to $6000 (!). Many of the machines will apparently be flexible in configuration, with the buyer selecting the components before purchase (so the pricing will depend on the components selected).

Valve did not announce any particular games for these Steam Machines, other than to say that there are about 250 titles already running under SteamOS. Oh, and Steam has 65 million accounts now. Valve will produce its own Steam controllers, and others will as well, though no pricing was given. Further information and promotion is apparently up to the hardware manufacturers.

1

A $6000 Steam Machine

The conclusion to be drawn from this abbreviated press conference is that Valve either really isn't all that anxious about how this Steam Machine business turns out, or the serious advent of Steam Machines is still quite a ways out... or both. Valve's got a large, stable Steam business with no immediate threats, so some complacency is understandable.

The big, unanswered question: Who is the target market for Steam Machines, and why would they buy a Steam Machine instead of a PC or a next-gen console? Either it's the current Steam audience of PC gamers, or Valve is hoping to get new gamers to choose a Steam Machine instead of an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4.

Fundamentally, Steam Machines give you PC performance with the ability to hook into a TV. You can avoid the use of a keyboard and a mouse (awkward in a living room setting) by using Valve's Steam controller, but you'll have to learn a new set of reflexes. It's not clear how well this controller will work compared to the classic keyboard/mouse combo. Perhaps current Steam customers will be able to just play their current games on Steam Machines, though that will either require streaming (which may have some lag issues) or adapting to the different Steam controller interface. That's assuming the game you like has a SteamOS version, which right now isn't likely - but Valve is working to make that number grow.

"Ultimately, the entire Steam Machine/SteamOS initiative is a long-term hedge against what Microsoft may do in the future, freeing Valve from vulnerability to whatever moves Microsoft may make"

If you already have a game-playing PC, you're probably not eager to spend another $400 and up to be able to play your games on a TV - especially when you'd have to learn a new control interface. Valve needs to make this process easy, and the end result compelling enough that gamers will be eager to spend money on new hardware to make it happen.

As for new game players, you'd think the smoothly integrated experience provided by the Xbox One or the PS4, along with an impressive and growing roster of games (including a number of system exclusives) would be much more compelling than a similarly priced but rather opaque (at this point) Steam Machine. Still, the big advantage of Steam is the ability to get games at prices far below the usual $60 price point of new console games, if you are willing to wait for Steam sales (or just happy to play older games).

Valve has already gone on record to say that it won't be producing SteamOS-exclusive games, and therefore it's highly unlikely any publisher would do so. This removes another reason someone might buy a Steam Machine - sorry, no Half-Life 3 coming only on SteamOS.

Why is Valve putting in this enormous effort? First of all, while it's a lot of work, Valve isn't taking a big financial risk. They aren't manufacturing hardware, after all. For that matter, these PC makers who have signed up to make Steam Machines aren't facing the same sort of enormous investments that Sony and Microsoft made in next-gen consoles. Steam Machines are built using industry standard components; the only custom bit is the case, which these manufacturers are used to doing. They don't have to invest huge amounts of money in designing custom chips or exclusive software titles the Sony and Microsoft have had to do.

Ultimately, the entire Steam Machine/SteamOS initiative is a long-term hedge against what Microsoft may do in the future, freeing Valve from vulnerability to whatever moves Microsoft may make. For instance, Microsoft may want to someday force most Windows software to be sold through a Windows online store, and take a nice 30 percent cut of those sales. This could seriously damage Valve's Steam business, so the entire SteamOS project is a way to deal with that or other situations that may arise. It's always a risk to have your business heavily dependent on what a single other company may or may not do without warning (remember when Facebook suddenly decided to take 30 percent of all game revenue from Facebook games?).

Valve can take time to refine the OS, convince developers to make SteamOS versions of their games (and port older games, too), and work to get people buying Steam Machines. This is going to be a lengthy process, and there is a lot of work left for Valve to do. Perhaps most importantly, we'll have to see a much more serious, comprehensive marketing effort for Steam Machines to have a significant impact on gaming. Valve needs to turn up the heat to make Steam a powerful game presence.

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36 Comments

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
Valve has already gone on record to say that it won't be producing SteamOS-exclusive games, and therefore it's highly unlikely any publisher would do so. This removes another reason someone might buy a Steam Machine - sorry, no Half-Life 3 coming only on SteamOS
SteamOS already exists as a separate entity to the Steam Machine, so making a SteamOS exclusive wouldn't necessarily sell Steam Machines. This, and the fact that exclusives are antithetical to Valve's current open approach, is why all talk of exclusives is pointless.

Over and above that, well, as I note in the other thread, this is a first-reveal of hardware, at a consumer electronics show. No doubt selling the Machines is going to be tricky, but it's like seeing the first reveal of the XOne or PS4. In fact, of the two, I'd say it's closer to the XOne in terms of people trying to gauge who the hardware is marketed at. Just like the initial reveals of that focused on media (and thus implied an entirely different demographic to the 360's), so the (implied) market for Steam Machines is one that, up to now, has not cared particularly for PC gaming.

Whilst I get lots of the criticisms of the Machines, I don't understand the whole "How is this relevant to me?" argument. The simple fact is, if you're even reading this website, these first-reveal Machines themselves aren't relevant to you. You either have a decent PC already, or can build one easy enough. The Machines are (I would've thought obviously) aimed at markets that are too scared to build (we were all like that at one point); are fed-up of trying to work out what a decent gaming spec is (and essentially want something that says "This is a good/great/amazing spec"); or just want a branded gaming PC in the same way that a Dell-branded laptop is acknowledged/assumed to be good for typing up essays and doing homework.

There's more markets, just as there'll be more Machines, but (almost) all talk of the demographic being aimed at requires people to look outside the traditional PC box. And this is another reason for the Machines existence. 65 million Steam accounts, 6/7 million of those log in every day. Valve has reached (or will very quickly reach) the maximum number of pure PC gamers. What then? Considering that consoles are just PCs designed specifically for a set of tasks (gaming, watching media, streaming) with a hand-holding UI on-top, a PC with the ease-of-use and UI of a console, but with the library of a PC makes perfect sense, if you have the influence and finances to lead the way.

It strikes me as odd that people are accepting of multi-platform house-holds with some combination of 360/PS3/Wii/XOne/PS4, but can't understand the point of a PC sat alongside those consoles under the TV. If a gamer wants to play both Halo and Uncharted, that's fine, but a company that offers the option of that same gamer playing Dawn of War 2 is weird?

(The "almost" I refer to above is the still-unannounced-but-obviously-coming sub-$200 streaming machine, that uses the heft of a gamer's PC to do all the grunt-work.)

Which is not to say that none of this is relevant to the people reading this website. There seems to be a lot of conflating of multiple products into one big product, which is really not useful at all. SteamOS will be installable on any computer, so any leaps in quality/performance in gaming can be got by simply installing onto a partition or second drive. Since the OS is Linux based, it will drive the number of Linux ports up (Rome 2 and Metro: LL are already confirmed). The relevance of this, though, is down to developer/publisher take-up. The Steam Controller can be plugged into any PC, and will work with any game, regardless of if it was designed to (though I gather it's better if designed to). This is very relevant - no longer should the standard config for pads be the 360-for-PC one. A more tailored approach to PC control schemes has been needed for a long, long, time.

(Oddly enough, I do get a bit bored of talking about Steam, but... :p )

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th January 2014 10:17am

Posted:9 months ago

#1
I think approaching this as another console-maker doing a console will just lead to confusing conclusions. I think of this much more as a PC intended for your television, in the openness and specialization sense. It's not really Valve who targets an audience themselves, but rather give the hardware configurators a framework of sorts, and say "we'll bring the software, you'll bring the gamer".

One such gamer can be the 20-something gamers coming out in the work force. After all, some (I don't know how many, it could just be me) are starting to build quite a library of Steam games and software, but moving to "your cave" to play these seem more asocial the older you get. And the day you have a day job, a TV and a couch, you might as well wish to relax there without leaving the knowledge and ideas accumulated (not to mention, all those games) in PC-land behind.

However, using that point to start the analysis start to break down when Steam OS is built on Linux. I'm not sure how positive developers will be to port games from Windows to Steam OS, especially if it includes transferring from Direct X to Open GL standards. And if they do, I don't know if a customer's Windows purchase translates to access on Linux (I guess I can google it to find out, though).

Posted:9 months ago

#2

Anthony Gowland Lead Designer, Outplay Entertainment

198 659 3.3
As for new game players, you'd think the smoothly integrated experience provided by the Xbox One or the PS4, along with an impressive and growing roster of games (including a number of system exclusives) would be much more compelling than a similarly priced but rather opaque (at this point) Steam Machine.
Well surely SteamOS is (at this point) not finished? The end goal is to make an appliance-style experience, the same as you get with a console. Because that's the target, consoles. Not PCs. (That's why complaints of "but it doesn't run MS Office" are missing the entire point of the machine by a huge distance.)

As for games, isn't a roster of 250 titles compelling? At prices way below those of the other next gen consoles? I would imagine there are also some titles in there that aren't available on other consoles, and possibly never will be.

Posted:9 months ago

#3

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
@ Johannes
And if they do, I don't know if a customer's Windows purchase translates to access on Linux (I guess I can google it to find out, though).
Most do. There's what's called Steamplay - buy a game for one OS, and you get a free copy for the other OSs. It started life as just Windows/Mac, but is now extended to Linux as well. :) It appears to be down to the publisher whether games are Steamplay or not, though.

Posted:9 months ago

#4

Chris Lewin Software Engineer, EA

20 67 3.4
The likely initial market for these devices will be the intersection of Steam users (who are used to paying very little for games) and Linux users (who are used to paying nothing for software of all kinds). I don't think the very substantial effort required to port, say, the Frostbite engine to Linux will be worth it until the platform has a critical mass of proven users (i.e. more than the Wii U).

Posted:9 months ago

#5

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
@ Chris (apologies, still early. :( )
the Frostbite engine
Mention of Frostbite raises an interesting question: Where will EA be in all this? If it doesn't take off (or doesn't move past the intersection you mention), then they've lost nothing. But if it does? The lack of most EA software on Steam is really going to sting, I would've thought. No doubt people will be able to install Origin (and navigate to the Origin website) easy enough, but not having games on the Steam storefront is going to hurt no matter how many current installed instances of Origin there are.

Edit: Just realised there is currently no Linux version of Origin. And I assume none in development, though that is an assumption.

(Note: This is a genuine question, not random-attack on EA. Much the same could be said of indies not currently on Steam, but with them there's a willingness on both sides to get more games on Steam... Regardless of who you take sides with, Valve are going to hold all the power in any discussions with EA if this venture succeeds.)

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th January 2014 12:20pm

Posted:9 months ago

#6

Chris Lewin Software Engineer, EA

20 67 3.4
Morville - Of course my opinions are my own and not those of my employer. Having said that, I don't see how the advent of steam machines changes the current status quo at all. To play the vast majority of steam games, you need to install windows; once you've done that then you just have a normal PC. If Valve manages to get a critical mass of people using Linux only then at some point it will be economical to serve those customers directly. Perhaps that time may come sooner or later due to outside factors. But until then I don't see much value in investing in this platform for any mass-market company, not just EA. Indies are different, of course - Linux versions are almost always demanded on kickstarter these days so those get made anyway. I doubt the existence of steam machines will have any effect on this.

Posted:9 months ago

#7

Christopher Ingram Editor-at-Large, Digitally Downloaded

52 45 0.9
I'm a Linux Mint 16 and Windows 7 user. I enjoy the freedom and the ability to build my own desktop (UI) to my personal preferences, as well as the option to run Windows in a virtual sandbox through Linux when needed. I access Steam through both systems as well, but I do spend the majority of time there through Windows, as the graphics drivers for Intel graphics aren't fully updated in Linux yet.

I say that to say this - I'm also in the market to upgrade to a new gaming rig and the SteamBox has caught my interest, seeing that I'm already accustomed to running Linux. If the SteamOS becomes dual-boot compatible with another OS in or around release, the price for some of these boxes is quite good, especially the iBuyPower box.

Even if it isn't though, I can always simply purchase a SteamBox, wipe it and install my Mint 16/Windows 7 combo that I already currently enjoy. The way I see it, these manufacturers are creating compatible gaming rigs for a good price - who is to say that we have to keep SteamOS on them?

It's caught my eye, that's for sure.

Posted:9 months ago

#8

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
@ Chris

Mmm, I definitely see your point. it's all down to uptake, I suppose, which is a chicken-and-egg scenario. If more people use Linux, more big companies will develop for it. But big companies have to develop for it before more people (or more mainstream people) use it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th January 2014 12:46pm

Posted:9 months ago

#9

Felix Leyendecker Senior 3D Artist, Crytek

182 202 1.1
As others have suggested, it won't be easy for them to grow a substantial userbase, and before that happens, there will be little support.
But assuming that the scenario they are hedging against (Windows going app-store only) comes to pass, what then? Will Valve shut down steam and tell everyone to get SteamOS? Will they eat the 30% loss? Or will they raise all prices by 30%, basically displaying it as "windows tax" on the bill?

I am skeptical that this thing will be gaining steam anytime soon. The timing is also odd, had they released one year ago, the value proposition towards console gamers would have been immediately obvious (much better graphics). As it stands now, just as it's a bad time to build a new PC at the start of a console generation, it might also be a bad time to launch a console that is basically a PC.

Posted:9 months ago

#10

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,135 1,171 1.0
Look at it this way:

If Android can go after iOS, then SteamOS can be similarly positioned in relation to current console operating systems. It is the same bunch of frisked PC parts anyway, with the added bonus of Intel and nVidia having no stake in current consoles, which directly translates to the desire to compete. Valve does not need to be the only person on the market to make a profit, they trust in the nature of 3rd party publishing and focus on providing a sales platform and community. As the article pointed out, they need a full established Plan B in case Windows will close itself off in the future.

Posted:9 months ago

#11

Justin Biddle Software Developer

159 484 3.0
For me (and I suspect most people) the big question is what does it add for me as a consumer that the current state of play doesn't. As an average consumer, at present it doesn't feel like it does. In fact, at present, it feels like it offers a lesser experience being expensive and not compatible with a large amount of its own catalogue. I'm not saying that can't and won't change but I'm just be honest about how I view it at the moment and how I imagine most consumers will view it as it stands.

Posted:9 months ago

#12

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

888 1,324 1.5
Q: "Why is steam O/S a thing?"
A: "So you can install it on a Steam Machine, silly"

Am I missing something here?

Posted:9 months ago

#13

matthew bennion Web Development

32 33 1.0
The whole concept of steamOS and steam machines remind me too much of the 3DO, where the company licensed other manufacturers to produce the hardware. Without a central core manufacturer for consumers to latch onto I can't help thinking this concept may have the same fate. . .

Posted:9 months ago

#14

Al Nelson Producer, Tripwire Interactive

34 56 1.6
Most of our games sold through Steam already have Win, Linux and Mac versions. We've been able to run on the new boxes/controllers on basically the first try.

Posted:9 months ago

#15

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

576 318 0.6
Microsoft is going to wake up after the debacle of Win8... which will make Steam OS/Machines irrelevant....

(Okay... MAYBE Microsoft is going to...)

Posted:9 months ago

#16

Aleksi Ranta Product Manager - Hardware

276 127 0.5
i still dont understand how steam machines are any different from standard pc's being sold today, other than with the exception of coming preinstalled with an OS that mainly is for gaming?

Posted:9 months ago

#17

Axel Cushing Writer / Blogger

104 130 1.3
Let's look at this from the perspective of somebody who lacks our normal skill set. There's probably somebody in our immediate families or circle of friends who, much as we might love them, is hopelessly inept when it comes to computers. The kind of folks who make a hash out of their Windows machine even following the Help file that they opened completely by accident. Mention Linux to them and you're likely to get either a blank stare or the sort of terror filled look normally reserved for people who discover creatively killed bit characters in horror movies.

Now, put them in front of a Steam Machine. They may not know how to compile the kernel, gain root, mount a drive, or set up a sandbox, but they will be running a Linux distro. Admittedly, a highly tailored and customized Linux distro, but still. There will probably be all manner of articles and YouTube tutorials on how to personalize SteamOS coming out of this. Sure, the PS4 might be running FreeBSD, but there's not exactly a lot of opportunities to tinker with it. If nothing else, it will provide the sort of impetus to get hardware manufacturers to devote more resources to towards improving drivers that work under Linux ("Hey, this works under SteamOS, let's check Mint and Ubuntu!")

I don't think this is a hedge against Windows. I think this is a gauntlet being thrown down against Microsoft, and one I don't think Ballmer's replacement (whoever that might be) will be in any position to take up.

Posted:9 months ago

#18
The console manufacturers for all of their ills create a highly professional, polished and marketable product - for all their faults and failings.

Valve has been very successful in a very small pond - in going main stream, they now have to play in a shark infested environment, with the dangers of publisher, and console supported media backlash. Any chinks in Valves' presentation, execution and application will be magnified and attacked.

The danger now is that Valve may not have the best abilities to execute a plan with this many different parties - some of us will remember the problems with the '3DO Interactive Multiplayer'! (could the the SteamBox be the 3DO for the Naughties?)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 8th January 2014 8:57pm

Posted:9 months ago

#19

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
Ha! Kevin, you beat me to it. There were 3DOs from Panasonic, Goldstar, Sanyo and Sharp (I currently own two different models, down from four) all at different price points and packing different games. Also I recall the Philips CD-i got a Magnavox model (or a few of them), so this isn't the first rodeo for this multi-variant build approach. The OBVIOUS differences are power, customization and of course, available games among other key things.

Still as some here note, the casual user WILL be baffled by this thing because yeah, they never learned to set their VCR clock back in the day and have issues working their cell phone when it comes to getting an app and firing it up. I guess a mint can be made by smart entrepreneurs who advertise themselves as Steam Box "experts" who, for a fee (of course) will pop in and set up boxes for people who may want these and have not a tech savvy bone in their head.

That will be a small amount of users, most likely. The ones who get this will have an absolute field day tinkering and showing off, I bet...

Posted:9 months ago

#20

Axel Cushing Writer / Blogger

104 130 1.3
@Kevin

PC gaming is not a small pond. And Valve has a lot of clout which (with a couple of exceptions) they don't tend to use with the same brute force approach that Microsoft or Sony does. I would argue that when it comes to getting buy-in from multiple parties, it's a skill that they've had considerable practice using. Think of how many different publishers and developers are represented on Steam. Consider the amount of money people have spent getting hats in Team Fortress 2 and gear packs in DOTA2. Even if Steam Machines end up like the 3DO, it won't sink Valve. As I recall, 3DO was a relative startup compared to companies like Nintendo, Sega, and Atari. They had a great product which nobody could afford. Valve, on the other hand, has had several great products already. They've got a war chest that 3DO didn't have, they've got considerable influence in the gaming community, and they're not pinning all their hopes on this one product.

As for the possibility of backlash, or some sort of manufactured outrage, one publisher might be stupid enough to try and pick that kind of fight. I wouldn't put any money down on finding two of them. The big publishers know that sooner or later their titles will end up on Steam, even outfits like EA and Ubisoft who have tried so desperately to mimic Steam that they embarrass themselves. Somebody trying to smear Valve or the Steam Machine concept could very likely find themselves blacklisted off of Steam. That's 65 million potential customers which the unfortunate publisher/developer would have to scramble in order to reach through an alternative marketplace like Gamestop's Impulse or GOG.com. The payoff wouldn't even come close to the potential grief it would buy them. Somebody choosing not to use Steam, particularly a startup, isn't necessarily burning any bridges they might need to cross later. A major publisher would deserve all the trouble any sort of smear or whispering campaign would buy them.

Valve isn't exactly a sleeping giant. But they are a giant.

Posted:9 months ago

#21

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
Im not really in favor of or against the steam machines, however I dont see how its much differant than building your own PC. However Im not a fan of the steam controller.

Steam machines would work for me, if the provided an ideal PC gaming enviroment at low cost. But at these prices, its almost worth simply building your own machine.

Posted:9 months ago

#22
@Axel - thank you for your observations. I want to avoid the PC vs. Console war, and agree that the Steam / Valve world is a considerable, and not to be dismissed environment, but the console production/spend/presentation is a feature that is superior to the PC picture (quality not quantity - simple plug and play).

I will avoid getting into the dirt of what happened with 3DO - as someone who lived through the whole Trip Hawkins situation and the issues that are glossed over in the Wikipedia entry - lets just say, they went in big with little foundations or reality and burned a lot of money. SteamBox is not 3DO, but the multiple flavors of SteamBox are very similar - lets leave it at that.

Posted:9 months ago

#23

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing

358 215 0.6
The big problem, outside those mentioned already by others is this:

If yiu say Valve or Steam to the average person, they say"who?" They might have heard of Portal, but other than that, they're oblivious. The fact that these Steamboxes are not standardized configurations means that they sure form the same issues that all PC gaming does for the general public, the upgrade issue. People want a box they plug in, and it works just as well for the first game out for it as the last. The general public is not looking to replace their PC, which BRW they have been able to hook up the the TC for ages. Microsoft even sold Media PCs 10'years ago that worked very well, no dice. If they want a box to hook up to the TV, they already have, and will buy new versions of Xbox or a PlayStation that gives them all the same things, and plays Madden.

Tomput things in perspective, the money Microsoft pulls in fromXbox Live subscriptions alone every year is roughly the total worth of Valve. PC manufacturers are getting desperate to keep their desktop business going, and see this as a way to do it. While SteamOS will likely live on, if for no other reason than spite, Steamboxes will enou a brief surge fueled by fanboys, and then die. And gamers will be buying Xbox one or Dualshock, and not Steampads this time next year. I could be wrong, but I think we've seen this play out a few too many times in the past.

Posted:9 months ago

#24

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
If they want a box to hook up to the TV, they already have, and will buy new versions of Xbox or a PlayStation that gives them all the same things, and plays Madden.
And, again, we come back to what I said in my first post
If a gamer wants to play both Halo and Uncharted, that's fine, but a company that offers the option of that same gamer playing Dawn of War 2 is weird?
To be sure, the market for couch-gamers who want to play DoW2/DOTA 2/TF2/Total War series/Any RTS or strategy game or hardcore RPG (almost all of which are PC exclusive) is a total unknown. But that does not mean it doesn't exist.

In everything else you say, I find myself nodding in agreement, either vaguely or enthusiastically. On first release, the Steam Machines will play most things perfectly fine (at a better resolution than consoles, no doubt), but give it 3/4/5 years, and upgrades will indeed be needed. But then, haven't 3+ million people upgraded to a PS4, which is entirely unable to play PS3 games? And I quite agree Valve is not a big name amongst non-gamers/non-PC gamers. I am hoping that there will be a big marketing push by Valve, and all the Steam Machines will carry an easily identifiable Steam logo, in order to push the brand. But, that is an unknown, too.

Edit:
The general public is not looking to replace their PC,
Avoiding the slightly snarky "And you know this how?" (couldn't resist, sorry). Who is to say it's a replacement? Little Johnny has a hulking great Dell that can run Word and Youtube, and his parents insist is to be used for homework, and kept in the living room. What's wrong with a sleek Steam Machine to be used only for games? Placed under the TV so that his parents can keep an eye on what he plays? With, btw, a parental-lock system so that he can't spend money or buy things without his parents knowing. (That parental lock is already in-place in the Steam Client Beta, btw).

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 9th January 2014 11:43am

Posted:9 months ago

#25

Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst

88 67 0.8
Steam will eventually become the dominant platform.

Although the idea that they're under duress to become so is amusing. I guess they'll have to limp along on 5% of half of the PC market for the time being. I can hear the gnashing of teeth from here.

Posted:9 months ago

#26

Axel Cushing Writer / Blogger

104 130 1.3
@Kevin

I'm all for avoiding the PC-Console Wars. A lot of it comes down to preference and bias. I like my shooters on PC, my action adventure on console. Call me crazy.

I can see the similarity between Steam Machines and 3DO with respect to the different manufacturers. Even I'm a bit puzzled over why they got a dozen manufacturers on the bandwagon, and so very publicly, to create a dozen (or potentially more) different form factors when they could have inked a deal with one of them and had that same level of polish people expect out of Microsoft or Sony. The two names that stand out for me are Alienware and Falcon Northwest, and of the two, Falcon's got the better reputation for high performance and high quality. But by the same token, it'd probably put any potential console they'd produce for Valve out of the range of most consumers. Falcon is to computers what Rolls-Royce is to cars. Alienware would probably be more scalable, due to their relationship to Dell, but their brand has suffered somewhat because of that same relationship.

If it was just about increasing the footprint of Linux among non-technical computer users, Valve's going about it in a decidedly roundabout and expensive fashion. If it was a case of wanting made-to-spec hardware the same way Google builds their own routers in-house, it's going in completely the opposite direction. On the other hand, this is Valve, and they're not known for caprice or whimsy when it comes to their business operations. They have to have a strategy, but to what end is the big question.

Posted:9 months ago

#27

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing

358 215 0.6
Little Johnnynwants an Xbx, PlayStation or iPad, with a. Laptop coming in way way way below on Christmas lists. as long a s Johnnyncan still write his book report, people are good.

It's been a general trend for close to a decade now. People bought laptops to surf in front of the TV. Laptops, not being designed to be used like a desktop, nor to have their vents smothered in couches break eaily. Tablets are easier and lighter to use, and don't suffer those problems. People just don't do heavy lifting with their computers as a rule, and their existing machines do the job. You can check the decline of desktops trend rather easily. There is no big marketing push by Valve, nor can they afford one. If you haven't noticed, they're basically letting their partners sink or swim.

I agree with you that Windows store has 5% of the market now. Just remember what happened to Netscape. It's pretty obvious Gabe Newell does, and Microsoft can outspend his entire company's net worth from the petty cash fund if they so choose. They've done it before, no reason they won't again. I'll tell you flat out. If I can use live, and get real achievements that grow my e-penis, and I have a choice between Windows and Steam, that's where I'm going. Cross platform play and unified PC/Xbox servers are coming, for free to developers I might add. This will be very attractive, and as long as they have something like a ultraviolet, where your serial will work on a provider of choice, steam is not going to win it with the general public

They already have a game console to,watch what they play, and the kids are on Phones and tablets, and before that it was laptops. Kids chatting on a desktop is so 1995 :)

Posted:9 months ago

#28

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing

358 215 0.6
Their end is pretty obvious

@AxelSteam is hitting a growth wall where PC gaming is concerned. They own the market, and it's not getting much bigger. Since 90% of yiur cross platform titles are purchased on console!! they want in. Why do you think Gabe went from bashing to praising Siny? Because they let Valve sell on console in exchange for putting effort into their ports. They are deeply frightened of getting Netscaped, and they know that they can get crushed at any time if MS chooses to do so. MS seems more content to let it happen gradually as more people who are interested in desktop computing are forced into Win8 or buy a Surface Pro. This isn't about a Valve now. It's about ten years from now, when a Half-a life 3 still isn't out

The fact that they won't make an exclusive game for their own platform pretty much tells us everything we need to know

Posted:9 months ago

#29

Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst

88 67 0.8
Consoles are just flavour of the month PCs for consumers. Steam is a platform and revenue stream for a wide variety of creative talent. If Steam wasn't the future of gaming, then why are so many publishers spending so much money to do exactly the same thing (EA and Blizzard specifically)?

Hardware is a means, not an end. Despite the incredible customer experience that Apple offers, Android is still popular. There is scope for both a consumer tailored and a customisable end to the hardware market, but ultimately, customers want functionality. Steam has almost a decade's head start on its content locked competitors. Unless Valve's sales department are comprised entirely of spoilt scions' of executives (not totally inconceivable, given the industry), they would have to be appalling at their jobs to give up the knowledge and implementation lead they have.

Origin is still trying to catch up with what Steam was like in the second year of operation (2006, if you weren't still at school). Ultimately, this is going to end up like Games for Windows Live - an irritation that adds little except comfort to shareholders. Origin will eventually be closed down and at best will have paid for itself through not having to pay Valve a cut. This will happen by 2017 unless everyone in the business is in complete denial.

Blizzard are handicapped by the fact that as great as Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo are, they're increasingly irrelevant. However don't underestimate the ability of Hearthstone to hoover up players in the same way that Warcraft did. Hearthstone will be the big fiscal performer this year. Whether Blizzard can transform this temporary peak audience into sustained players will depend on what they have planned in the next 18 months. The rewrite and postponement of "Project X/Titan/SortofStarcraft online" may well hamper this, but I'm confident that Blizzard can keep people hooked with expansions for a year or two.

By this point Valve will likely own every other part of the PC market and due to their competence and experience will be the de facto publishing middleware provider for games developers.

People never thought cars would catch on, for similar reasons. However, it turns out that people are willing to drive, if it offers clear benefits, regardless of the need for personal investment.

Posted:9 months ago

#30

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
@ Jeff

Most of your points I think we can agree to disagree on. :) One thing I will say is that, when MS had the chance to create a Steam competitor, they not only failed to create something even vaguely workable, but they actually made such a poor effort that they have since decided to kill it.

Games For Windows Live is an horrendous mess, with:

1) Failed network gaming (a fan-fix for Dark Souls network play has been released, since GFWL doesn't do the job properly)
2) A save game system that regularly corrupts user files
3) A patching system that often doesn't work for either the GFWL client, or the game
4) A DRM method that was laughable at the beginning (a single serial could register multiple games, from various publishers, and is the source of hilarity on piracy forums), and was later easily bypassed in some cases but not all (Google Fallout 3 and XLiveless)
5) It has, in the long-run, cost publishers their own time-and-money as they convert games from GFWL to Steamworks. And has also cost them money as they have given away DLC free to those users who bought the GFWL versions, since there's no way to confirm or move DLC purchases away from GFWL. (Bioshock 2 Minerva's Den and Batman: Arkham City DLC).
6) Oh, and, yes, not every game that uses the GFWL DRM has been confirmed to work or be converted to work after GFWL shuts-down in the Summer of this year.

Let's read those last two again and savour them, shall we? Time and money wasted, and legitimately bought games that may not work.

Your point about being Netscaped is a pertinent one, though. The only way publishers, developers, or consumers would ever favour a Microsoft-created PC digital distro client is if there was, literally, no alternative. And even then, it's debatable. :)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 9th January 2014 8:39pm

Posted:9 months ago

#31

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing

358 215 0.6
GFWL sucked and it's dead. But Windows 8 is fully integrated into the Xboxmlive ecosystem. They dumped GFWL and started over by merging it with the existing alive service.

I don't even think the publishers would favor it. But MS will be happy to take 30% from achievement whores just the same.

Thanks for reminding me to finish up some of those games before summer :)

Posted:9 months ago

#32

Axel Cushing Writer / Blogger

104 130 1.3
@Jeff

Growth on Steam from a pure games perspective probably is starting to approach a peak level, but over the last year or so, it's been branching out into different areas. Office software, content creation and game development tools, Big Picture taking a stab at the media center. My suspicion is that Valve is playing a long game, though what their eventual endgame might be is still a question mark.

As far as getting Netscaped, that one I might have to disagree with you and Morville on. If this was Microsoft in the bad old days of Emperor Gates and Darth Ballmer, it'd be a very plausible scenario. But look at Microsoft as it is now: no Gates, no Ballmer, the guy Ballmer tapped to spearhead Xbox operations bailed less than a month after the E3 reveal of the Xbone. The Empire is half-paralyzed from the hell they brought upon themselves over the course of last year. What strikes me as important in this is Gabe Newell castigating Win8 when it was released. I can't offhand recall any sort of announcement or press release where Gaben was that combative. Win8 might have crystallized and motivated him to accelerate plans which could have been theoretical at the time, spurred him to try and develop hardware that wouldn't be beholden to Microsoft if they did try to pick a fight with him. Or it might have been a crazy random happenstance. Either way, I'm having a hard time picturing how Microsoft could try to pull a repeat of Netscape on Valve. They're currently leaderless (yeah, Ballmer's still in the chair, but only because he's still cleaning out his desk drawers), they're still being quasi-watched by the US Department of Justice, they're being heavily watched by the EU, and they've lost a lot of their already small reserves of respect over Win8 and Xbone, not to mention potential contamination from the NSA meltdown. Looked at from any perspective outside of a comparison of their liquid assets, it would be criminally stupid for Microsoft to go after Valve like that given the prevailing conditions. Sure, they've got the money to do it, but they don't have the gall, the ruthlessness, or the intestinal fortitude to pull it off. The only question would be who killed Microsoft first: the Board, the DOJ, or the EU.

Posted:9 months ago

#33

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
@ Jeff
I don't even think the publishers would favor it


In fact, should Valve falter, I think many publishers will move to Origin or Uplay. No-one will want MS as gatekeeper to the PC market in both OS and digital games distro. (Including the EU and US DoJ, as Axel says).

Posted:9 months ago

#34

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing

358 215 0.6
@Axel, I think your points are valid, but if I remember Gabes statements at the time correctly, they definitely exhibited concern. Remember, you can't sit back like they do and not release games unless the fruit of other people is paying for it.

@Moreville

Since the game maker produces the keys themselves, were not talking about a lot of money there more than likely. Whatever it's costing them, five, ten grand is well worth it compared to the shitfit they'd have if people's purchases went bye bye. Microsoft really isn't looking to conquer Steam, except by attrition. Xbox Store on Ein8'runs in the same backbone as Xbox One, and developers, given a level sales playing ground will find the cross platform okay that it can allow attractive. It's very much a fire and forget system where you use the same basic code, just allowing for more diverse settings to take advantage of the PC capabilities

And Valve certainly should be getting the hairy eyeball from the DOJ soon enough, given their near monopolistic control of PC gaming. If you aren't on Steam you pretty much have to give up before you start. When the competition is selling Steam keys, yeah. Microsoft is after the casuals who buy a few games a year and have 3 Steam accounts because they can't remember them. That and the app market they'll mown completely because of the "on the desktop" factor. Most big corporate ecosystem software is direct sale, and often requires hardware dongles. They're not selling through Steam

I fully believe the industry should do what UV is doing to Apple. They're slowly phasing out iTunes support on digital copy nin favor if the ecosystem they all own a piece of. To me that's the future of digital, which Steam does cover to a degree with their cross platform purchases. Buy once, redeem and use anywhere.

Posted:9 months ago

#35

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
Since the game maker produces the keys themselves, were not talking about a lot of money there more than likely. Whatever it's costing them, five, ten grand is well worth it compared to the shitfit they'd have if people's purchases went bye bye.
Oh indeed... you couldn't place a price on the goodwill it generated. But it is still lost revenue, and it is still caused by MS. :)
They're slowly phasing out iTunes support on digital copy nin favor if the ecosystem they all own a piece of. To me that's the future of digital, which Steam does cover to a degree with their cross platform purchases. Buy once, redeem and use anywhere.
Yeah... I do wonder if there's a Nuclear Option at Valve HQ, actually. Something along the lines of "Steam will be spun-off from Valve, and every publisher/developer who wants a percentage share of it can have it" (reserving some for the future pubs/devs). It would make sense from a fail-safe point of view (questions of monopoly). It would make sense from a broad PC gaming point of view (65 million Steam accounts is an excellent base from which to launch such a service). And it would make sense in destroying competitors in one-fell swoop.

Posted:9 months ago

#36

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