Valve’s Steam Consoles Have Little Appeal
Multiple Consoles Defeats the purpose of a Steam Console.
The rumors circulating around the Steam Console have become a reality. Valve is making a console and it will be running a version of Steam on Linux. As exciting as this news is, the announcement of other hardware partners makes me ponder the question even more, why would anyone buy a Steam Console over a PC?
Steam has become the platform for PC gamers, and it is safe to assume that if you play PC games then you have a Steam account. Unless you are forced to use other services, like Origin, for certain games like Battlefield 3, you are using Steam to purchase your games. Even big companies like Bethesda use Steam to distribute their boxed titles, like Rage.
Rumors of a Steam Console began to surface in 2012, and they quickly turned it into the hottest piece of gaming news in quite some time. It made a lot of sense for Valve to make a Steam Console or Steam Box. With a massive audience of 50 million, and the introduction of Big Picture Mode, it was quite clear that this rumor was going to be confirmed sometime in the future.
The rumor was confirmed at CES 2013, but speculations weren’t entirely correct. Valve is indeed making a console that will run Steam. It is intended to be easy to use and hook up to your TV with ease. The catch is that Valve will not be the only company making a Steam Console.
The announcement of different hardware partners working with Valve to bring a larger variety of hardware to the market defeats the purpose of the Steam Console concept entirely.
When the rumors of a Steam Console hit the web, the 4LOG crew began discussing the big change it could bring to the industry. The biggest benefit of a console is that every console has the same hardware. When the Steam Console was rumored the idea of having a PC based console with all the same hardware sounded fantastic. There are tons of games on Steam which are cheap and fun to play, but Steam is also home to some of the biggest titles in the industry. The Steam Console could have been the device to bridge that gap between PC and console.
So, now that we have confirmation that there are multiple developers making Steam Consoles, each with their hardware specifications, I am having trouble finding a consumer that would be willing to purchase a Steam Console over a laptop or desktop.
The Piston is the first official piece of hardware that we know of, and Valve is helping with the funding directly. We know the specs and possible price point of Piston. Many people were able to get their hands on the hardware at CES 2013 and get some system specifications. The Piston runs a 3.2 GHZ AMD R-464l APU, with a 384 core Radeon HD 7660G. The Piston can be equipped with an SSD that contains anywhere from 32GB to 1 TB of storage, HDMI, Display Port, wireless card, Optical out, and USB. While that all sounds cool; the price is around $1,000.
Now this is just only one of the many consoles that will be available in the future, and we know Valve is working on their own Valve branded box, but there a many things about the Piston that raise red flags.
For a console that is only equipped with hardware that can run modern PC games at low to medium settings, the astonishing price of one thousand dollars is extremely high. With that kind of money you can make an amazing PC Gaming rig that could run games much more efficiently. The biggest benefit of having a dedicated gaming rig is the benefit of better performance, and it makes sense to pay more for a better experience. Strip away the benefit of paying more for superior performance, and you lose the point of PC gaming.
The question is what will be the specs and price of Valve’s own Steam Console be? At this point, I honestly feel like it doesn’t matter. Why would anybody purchase any Steam Console over an Xbox 720, Playstation 4, Wii U, or PC? What would the Steam console offer that would be better than the competition, but also better than a traditional PC?
Again, it would be different if a single Steam Console was in production, but that’s not the case. By funding many different Steam Consoles, Valve is essentially defeating the benefits of making a console. Dedicated hardware is the reason the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 have survived for so long. Developers have been able to squeeze more out of this generation then what was once thought possible.
Imagine if Microsoft released two version of the Xbox 360 at launch. One with double the RAM and a hexacore processor. Games on the basic Xbox 360 wouldn’t have looked nearly as good as they could today since developers would have to optimize the game for two drastically different pieces of hardware. If Valve was the sole creator of a Steam Console, it would be an utterly different story. It would give developers a PC platform that is common, but that just isn’t possible anymore following the announcement of the Piston.
Some people have already expressed that the announcement of the Piston doesn’t change the landscape at all. Simply because Valve can still make a really powerful, but still cheap, piece of hardware that will be the definitive Steam Console. The issue is if Valve makes a console that is a much better value than the competition in terms of performance and price, they essentially just alienated every other piece of hardware being developed with Steam as its main appeal. Like the Pistol, which is getting funding from Valve themselves.
Even if Valve makes a great console and makes it affordable, why would anybody buy a Steam Console instead of building or buying a desktop or laptop with a traditional operating system? The recent comments of Gabe Newell bashing Windows 8 make it clear that Windows will never be installed native on their Steam Console. Instead, a lot of them will run Linux which is definitely not the platform of choice in the PC world.
Before somebody cries out that you could just install Windows on your Steam Console, that would once again completely defeat the purpose of having a Steam Console. If I buy a product, I definitely don’t want to spend even more money on putting an operating system I am comfortable with on my console. At that point, you might as well just buy a PC with Windows already installed and just install Steam.
Next Gen consoles are coming, and unless the Xbox 720 and PS4 are not substantial upgrades, I can’t see any reason why someone would pick up a Steam Console. If there was a single console in development Steam, it could easily change the g industry. Sadly, I feel like this official announcement just deflates the excitement that surrounded the rumor.