Slowly gathering steam...

Steam Machines are finally out in the open. And while they may not be the gaming traditional gaming consoles we all imagined, they're still a re-incarnation of the good ol' PC we just don't want to get over with.

By Jayesh Shinde Published Date
31 - Jan - 2014
| Last Updated
31 - Jan - 2014
Slowly gathering steam...

This year’s CES wasn’t without its share of highly-awaited revelations. Apart from all the hoopla surrounding wearable devices’ coming of age, 4K displays gaining more traction, cars that drive you, 3D printing, connected homes and more devices waking up to the Internet of Things, there was an unveiling of a different kind. Probably it didn’t grab as many eyeballs as one would’ve thought, situated in a dimly lit Vegas hotel suite, devoid of much razzmatazz, conducted by a speaker not really known for his speaking prowess or charisma that’s expected at big-ticket CES keynotes.

After a lot of hype and expectations, Valve’s Steam Machines finally came out in the open, and one of the first things that struck me was the diversity of Steam boxes on offer, their yet unconfirmed and myriad hardware specifications, all available for purchase at several price ranges – spanning from $500 to a whopping $6000 – depending on your budget. Wait for AMD’s Kaveri APU-based Steam Machines to pop up, and the prices will sink even lower – around the $250 mark. Not bad for a dedicated gaming machine, right? This shows that Valve’s offering something to everyone, letting customers pick and choose their gaming experience. This is an excellent feature of Steam machines, in my opinion. What’s even more exciting is that Steam Machines are re-branded PCs; which means you can say no to all these Steam Boxes, format your Windows PC, install Steam OS (the final build some time in the future), stick a Steam logo on it, and voilà – your trusty gaming rig is now a Steam Machine. And Valve will hold no grudges against you for doing that.

Would you look at that? This alien... she sure is dainty, isn't she?

Which brings me to SteamOS. It’s basically a Steam client installed on Debian – one of the most stable Linux distros you could find – configured to open into “Big Picture” mode by default. SteamOS is critical to Valve’s plans, something they want us to adopt as customers and are trying hard to entice game devs with. Steam’s bare collection of Linux-only games obviously is a big dent right now, but it’s something that Valve will have to fix if this whole proposition has to succeed. Since Valve began as a software developer, I’m less worried about them not cracking that puzzle. Given Valve’s track record, it’s a problem that they will solve better than anyone, but it won’t happen overnight. Will it be enough? Only time will tell. But as things stand right now, PC gaming is monopolized by Microsoft (and Windows), which has lost the plot for quite some time. At least with Valve, as a company that has built gaming software and understands how PC gaming works, engages with and indulges the gaming community better than any other, one can hope with a fair amount of certainty that they’ll not let PC gamers down. 
If Valve deliberately tried flying under the radar at CES, they brought out the big guns within days of CES’ conclusion, at Valve’s very own Steam Dev Day. Biggest revelations at the 1200 strong developer conclave included a redesigned Steam Controller with a new layout for the ABCD buttons. Plus there’s also Steam VR, a virtual reality headset that Valve’s building by itself, which various first-hand non-Valve devs are claiming is a superior VR HMD than Oculus Rift Crystal Cove. Not just gaming machines, Valve’s working on devices and tech that have far-reaching effects and it’s doing all that from publishing and distributing PC games online like no other; its primary source of income and unabashed fan loyalty. That’s a healthy sign as far as PC gaming (in general) and PCs (in particular) are concerned, don’t you think?

A sneak peek at the new leaked Steam controller

The significance of Gabe Newell’s unveiling of the 13 Steam Machines wasn’t lost from the PC’s perspective. Steam Machines are nothing short of a second coming of the glorious PC that we’ve all grown up using and it stands to affect so many more industries: personal computers, gaming, entertainment, and digital interaction, to name a few. 

As things stand, Steam Machines aren’t likely to challenge Microsoft and Sony’s duopoly on the console gaming market anytime soon, not for the next couple of years. That’s alright, I’m in no hurry, and neither is Valve – who like to do things nice and slow. From chip manufacturers like Intel, AMD and NVIDIA to OEMs like Dell, Gigabyte, ZOTAC (and many others) hopping on the Steam Machines bandwagon, it’s clear that the good ol’ PC hasn’t run out of steam just yet.
Jayesh ShindeJayesh Shinde

Cower, puny human, for I am Big Daddy! The ground rumbles beneath my feet, the very air you breathe resonates to my primal roar. Mere mortals, I am the scourge of the n00bs, destroyer of worlds. Fear my might, tremble in my presence.