steam machine featured image

Valve’s Steam Machine: The Future Looks Steamy

Valve’s Steam Machines are the forthcoming, pre-made PCs being designed for Valve’s titular digital sales platform and running Valve’s proprietary operating system, in case you couldn’t make the connection.  Valve is almost always the flavor of the month for discussions from the PC menu, even without developing games; it’s just that Valve has managed to get its fingers in every pie via Steam and their ridiculous deals.  But 2013 is coming to a close and that means we are drawing ever nearer to the release of these miracle devices that will make us omelets, file our taxes, and ask that cute person on a date that we’ve been semi-stalking because he or she is pretty much (entirely) out of our league and we haven’t gotten a Klondike Bar’s chance in Hell with him or her.

Okay, it won’t do any of that, at all.  Yet.  But it will do some pretty big things for both PCs and consoles, and the games industry in general.  Let’s list off a couple I think notch the top of the “importance pole”TM.

Bridging the Gap between Consoles and PCs

As an aspirant to becoming a citizen of the PC “Master Race”, I’m contractually obligated to state that PCs are the supreme way to experience video games in terms of graphical fidelity and scope/scale of the project.  But, as an unbiased lover of video gaming, I have to say…the same thing.  Computers are objectively better but consoles excel in a number of key areas when it comes to business: they are incredibly more accessible.  The idea of dropping 400-500 dollars every 7-10 years is a much more conscionable to the more casual and more frugal consumer.  As opposed 600-700 dollars every 5-6 years to stay in the middle of the pack for PC parts.

The Steam Machines are delicately poised in between the PC and console markets.  Valve is playing the friendly, neighbourhood middleman between consoles and “big-boy PCs” (if you want to be condescending about it) much like they already are with their Steam distribution platform.  By offering a range of Machines that will likely scale in price from typical, new consoles to a fully-tricked out gaming behemoth, Valve could very well offer a nice alternative to gamers that found the cost of entry to the PC market too prohibitive.  As well as a product that can still go a few rounds with the heavier contenders in the GPU and CPU worlds and deliver a new generation onto the glory that is…all those settings with twelve syllables that basically tells you that your game has nicer shadows and the models don’t look like they have 20 polygons total.

I hope somebody gets that it's a joke.

Disgusting, not a pixel over 15 polys! And those shadows: putrid!!

PC Game Development

Speaking of more vibrant visuals in video games, it is my hope that the Steam Machine will pull-up the average specs of the low-end PC gamers.  In the case of ports brought over from the console, the very visible age of the technology in the consoles was a constant drag on those that wanted a proper PC port.  But ports are an entire post onto themselves.  The more important statistic is that of PC gamers that sit at the lower end of the “graphics processing” and “computing” spectrums.  In the span of a few years, and depending on the success of the Steam Machine, the majority of PC gamers could be doing so via a Steam Machine.  The mere thought of it warms the very cockles of my heart.

“Yes”, that imagery was horrid and “no”, I don’t how to “cockle” a heart because I’m not a sailor but that doesn’t dampen my spirits.  Because I’m buoyed by the sight of a future where developers aren’t stretching resources to scale the performance of their games to mesh with a 8 year old laptop that wasn’t made to do more than stare at a two-tone wallpaper and marvel at the magic of them new-fangled “pixel-majiggits”.  While I don’t think gaming should ever become an exclusive hobby (it doesn’t suit such a communal activity), there is a cost of entry to any level of gaming.  Be it buying the platforms to play the games or buying the games themselves.  And, if the Steam Machine is able to achieve enough success, as to become the primary baseline of gaming on computers than developers will have a higher to work from.  It doesn’t even have to be Valve.  If the Steam Machine starts a trend of affordable, “console-ized” gaming computers then that can only mean good things.

In Finem

Any way you slice it, Valve’s Steam Machine (and all of its possible tiers) are going to have a noticeable impact on the way games are played, and possibly even developed, in the future.  Unless, Valve monstrously mangles the final product and nobody wants to see that.  Until then we can only dream about the future and all its steamy options.