At CES 2014 Valve unveiled a whole new bunch of Steam Machines associated with a number of different hardware manufacturers. Some of these machines are absolute monsters, while almost all are more powerful then PS4/XB1. So why am I slightly concerned?
Well when Valve first announced that they wanted to push Gaming PCs into the living room, one of the things you expect is a similar price to consoles. With the Xbox at £449 and the PS4 around the sub £400 mark, most people expected Valve to push low end (for PC, but still console beating specs) and on the side offer high spec options. If you own a PC and are a heavy gamer, chances are you will want a PC customised to you and you will build yourself to your specification, whether you have a £400 budget or a £2000. These type of people are not who Steambox is aimed at. At CES, Most of the companies were showing PCs at the top end, including up to $6,000! Anyone with $6,000 to spend on a PC will build it themselves. On top of this, the companies aren’t building anything you cant do at home. This is a worrying trend, as although PC gaming is cheaper in the long run (cheaper games, no online fees, backward compatibility etc.), it would of been nice to show console gamers PC gaming doesn’t have to be expensive to be superb, which is doesnt. If you just want 1080p (Something the majority of XB1 launch games have massively struggled to do) you dont need more than a £120 graphics card, nevermind dual GTX Titans like Origin PC Chronos is offering in their Steambox.
So What Would We Like To See?
It needs to be a simplified PC experience. Give consumers a couple of option levels, like Normal, High, Ultra. And have two options (AMD and Intel/Nvidia based) for each tier to keep the main component manufacturers happy.
Normal costing a console matching £4-500. Featuring something like R9 270.
High costing £600-700 Featuring a R9 280x/ 760 GTX
Ultra being £800+ with Minimum R9 290X/780 GTX
This can easily be achieved if you buy the components yourself, so with manufacturer discount to offset the warranty/build time something around these numbers is feasible. Obviously you will need to add in the cost of a Steam Controller to these, but with even the bottom end beating consoles graphically, it should be easily achievable.
Standardisation is the best thing about consoles. If there were a couple of options which took off sales wise, it would mean game publishers could optimise for these, which would in turn bring performance bonuses for any PC with these main graphics cards in the same way consoles got better overtime as publishers got used to the hardware.
One of the major hurdles is Steam OS itself. Back catalogues will mostly never be converted to Linux, and it will take a huge effort on Valve’s and other publishers to start releasing every new game as Linux compatible at launch, otherwise a Windows license is going to have to be added to that price..
So What About the Streaming Steambox?
When they were first announced, one of the major features of Steambox is the ability to use one as a streamer for your main PC in a different room. The Steambox Streamer could just be a low power device, which something like an AMD APU which can process the streamed data fast enough and come in at a very reasonable price (sub £150). This would be attractive to people who already have their PCs, but they dont want the noise/size in their lounge all the time. This would also get over the whole Linux issue while most games are not compatible.
It is an exciting time for PC gamers. With more ad more people using Steam (over 65 million users now), and all these Steamboxes have created new smaller factor cases which you can buy or build your own living room gaming PC. Competition is always a good thing. While 1440p and UHD monitors are rapidly coming down in price, most people while only have 1080p TVs for a number of years yet. This means living room gaming PCs will become VERY cheap for even maximum settings. This is where Steam Machines could make consoles look very old indeed.