03-20-2015, 10:21 AM
Quote:Let’s clear something up from the start here. One common refrain I’ve heard during the discussion of Steam Machines is that no, they’re not really competing with existing home consoles. They’re trying to expand the space on their own terms, and simply offer a way for PC gaming into the living room. They’re an alternative without being a competitor.
I don’t care what phrasing you want to use, but there’s simply no way to get around the fact that whatever their intentions, in practice, Steam Machines are very much in competition with consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One. You cannot build a box that is meant to play video games on a TV in a living room and say that it does not compete with video game consoles. You just can’t.
And can they? Compete, that is? No, and I don’t even know where to begin.
We’ll start with your average console player. This type of person is likely going to choose between and Xbox One and PS4 in this new generation, considering 80% of their favorite franchises have fled Nintendo at this point, so the Wii U will often not even be on the table unless it’s a supplementary system. They want a unit with good performance, good exclusives, a good price, and above all else, ease of use. You buy a video game console for a set price, it plays all video games made for that console, period.
Sure, they may say they care about things like resolution. In fact, according to Nielsen data, most existing PS4 owners say they purchased the system because of the resolution differences between the consoles. And yet in practice, if consumers really cared about resolution and top-of-the-line performance above all else, they would already have invested in a gaming PC. But the barrier of entry to that scene? Complexity and price.
Steam Machines do literally nothing to change that.
Sure, some of them are premade units which takes a bit of the struggle out of building your own machine if that isn’t your thing, but I have to believe most console players are going to look at this list of fifteen different Steam Machines ranging from $500 to $5,000 and not have the faintest idea where to even begin. All the barriers to getting a gaming PC are still there, with few of the benefits of a console.
Past this, console players will lose their much-beloved ability to buy and trade-in used games. This console generation launched with outright panic that the Xbox One and PS4 would go fully digital and erase the used games market. The Xbox One almost did until it was beaten into submission by fans. Yes, Steam has some of the best sales in the business, but used games offer similar discounts to console players, and the market is part of a way of life for many in the space, and they’ve expressed that they can’t live without it.
And finally, there are very few games that are truly going to be “Steam exclusive” that console players care about. Microsoft has Halo, Gears of War, Crackdown and others. Sony has Uncharted, God of War, Bloodborne and The Ord—nevermind. But Steam? It has a wide smattering of smaller games you might not be able to find on consoles and a million half-finished Early Access titles, but most of the heavy hitters will be cross-platform outside of maybe DOTA. The ones that aren’t? I’m guessing you can get all these machines to play World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, League of Legends and so on, despite their existence outside of Steam, but good luck playing many of those effectively with a controller.
So if Steam Machines aren’t for console players, will existing PC gamers bite? I really don’t see a reason for them to do so. PC gamers like their mouse and keyboard, their ability to sit close to their monitor, and the probably multi-thousand-dollar rig they already have. The avid PC gamers I’ve seen look at Steam Machines as “good for people who want to check out PC gaming,” but almost none of them seem to be considering it for themselves. And why would they? It’s just a pre-built gaming rig that hooks up to their TV and runs Steam Big Picture, something all the do-it-yourself-ers out there could have made themselves for years now if they really wanted to. With the release of the new store, many veterans of the scene are looking over some of the machines and laughing about the price, knowing they could get the exact same level of performance for much, much cheaper if they did it on their own. Other than the ability to express their endless love and devotion for Valve’s Gabe Newell, patron saint of PC gaming, I don’t know what PC gamers get out of Steam Machines.
I was surprised to discover that in my mass dismissal of nearly all potential demographics that might consider picking up a Steam Machine, that I was probably their target market more than anyone else.
I’m someone who has been an avid console player for my entire life. I’ve dabbled in PC gaming with games like Diablo, Starcraft, League of Legends and recently Hearthstone, but I’ve never been a true PC gamer. Anything that’s crossplatform I’ll pick up for a console, and if you gave me the parts to assemble my own gaming PC, I’d stare at them blanky and call Forbes PC gaming god Jason Evangelho to come put it together for me. I’ve been interested in trying to get more into PC gaming with a good rig, and I have the disposable income to buy one. A Steam Machine would presumably be a nice middleground for me, combining the living room appeal of consoles with the customization and power of gaming PCs.
And yet, when it came time to experiment with a rig of my own, why did I buy a new desktop from Digital Storm rather than wait for one of these fifteen Steam Machines? Why didn’t I even think twice about it?
Most of my reasons can be summed up in the previous paragraphs about all console players, as I meet many of those criteria. But the simple fact is that if I’m going to spend big bucks on a gaming rig, I want to make damn sure I can still use it for regular computer duties as well. While sure, playing my Steam library on my TV in the next room sounds fun, there’s no way I want to move my entire office there. I use my desktop for all of my work related activities, be it web browsing, answering email, Photoshop, writing articles, or working on my books. I am not going to buy a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and sit on my couch doing work while staring at my TV from 12 feet away. Nor despite having some amount of money to spend on gaming, I am not going shell out for one desktop in my office and then also for another one in my living room.
So despite being the very tiny sliver of the market that seems prime to potentially want a Steam Machine, I haven’t even considered it. Existing console players have little reason to want one, PC gamers don’t think it’s for them, and first time gamers looking to buy a new system? Just show them this new fifteen-console-deep store page and watch their eyes glaze over.
In short, I hope Valve’s Vive VR is the gift from God it’s supposed to be, because it’s hard to imagine Steam Machines going anywhere at all in their current form(s).
Valve hater, Nintendo hater, Microsoft defender, AMD hater, Google Fiber hater, 4K lover, net neutrality lover.