Ahhh, Steam Machines. Year after year there were rumours of Valve creating a Steambox, some sort of all powerful, console-like device capable of obliterating the competition and playing all and sundry on Steam. Then, in September 2013, Valve finally made a move.
The Steam Machine concept was unveiled, as was the SteamOS, and the embryonic design of the Steam Controller. Fast forward 20 months and not one of these three pieces of the puzzle have arrived yet. We’ve seen bits and pieces, and Valve has at last begun talking the talk, but the very idea of a Steam Machine is still a strange one.
Rather than Valve adopting a one-size fits all approach for Steam Machines, it decided to give hardware manufacturers free rein to build what they want. I expect the word restrain didn't even enter their heads, judging from what's cropped up.
But what is a Steam Machine? It turns out it’s an ethereal term. It means almost nothing. Alienware’s Alpha has been marketed as a Steam machine, despite coming with a modified Windows 8 OS and an Xbox 360 controller. It runs Steam at least, but so does every PC on the planet.
Valve’s vision appears to be a Steam Machine will be any gaming box to come with SteamOS, a Steam Controller, and bearing the Steam logo. This will come to fruition later this year, with all sorts of pre-builds coming, but this is the only loose tether tying them all together.
In a strange turn of events, Alienware’s Alpha is actually set to be one of the cheaper Steam Machines on the market, priced at roughly $550. It comes packing a modified GTX 860 and some interchangeable components, but its performance is roughly equal to that of a PlayStation 4. At that price, it just about makes sense, but then you’ve got the other end; hulking great boxes with Titans in, costing thousands of dollars. No one asked Darth Vader to invade their living, just a nice, tidy box to put on the cabinet.
The ultimate aim of Valve’s move is to entice console gamers over to its Steam ecosystem. Console gamers crave ease-of-use and immediacy, something not readily associated with PC gamer (at least not until recently). At the moment Steam Machines aren’t really any of these things. For the most part we’re still picking components, fiddling around with control settings and graphics options, using Windows or, eventually, the Linux-based Steam OS, which incidentally won’t support Origin or Uplay. Steam Machine owners won’t be able to play Star Wars: Battlefront. Not exactly an enticing purchase is it? When you factor in the difficulty of upgrading these proprietary machines, then going for the high-end seems even more absurd.
Anyway, over to you. What do you make of Steam Machines? Do they have a purpose, a future in PC gaming? Have you picked one up already? Let us know your thoughts!