The problems with Steam Machines that Gabe Newell doesn’t talk about

Did you folks read Develop’s interview with Gabe Newell, talking about Steam Machines?

One quote:

“At console price points, we’re going to have machines like Alienware’s, which are faster than today’s consoles,” said Newell. “So the same price point as today, except you get better performance and you’re connected to everything you like about the PC and the internet.”

I’ll take at face value his assertion that the AlienWare Steam Machine is faster than the Xbox One and PS4 (would love to hear opinions on that) but Newell is playing fast and loose with “console price points.” The Alienware starts at $450. The Xbox One and PS4 both start at $350. If my math is correct, that means that Alienware is about 29% more expensive than the consoles. My wallet, at least, says that’s not the same price point.

Of course there’s a lot more to costs here. Maybe you already have a big library of Steam Games, or you’re rubbing your hands greedily thinking of the Steam Holiday Sale. Truth is over the course of a few years a Steam Machine + software will probably end up being cheaper than a console + games (this depends on a lot of personal variables, and how patient you are about waiting for sales).

Newell goes on to talk about “knock(ing) down the barriers that keep PC gaming out of the living room” which is something I heartily approve of. The relatively low cost of Steam Machines should help with that, and the Steam Controller is supposed to help, too. More and more PC games also support traditional gamepads.

But there are still problems. Many Steam games have user interfaces intended to be used from 2 feet away, and trying to use them at typical TV-to-viewer distances (say 8-10′) is tough. If Steam Machines catch on we can hope more developers keep couch-gaming in mind and offer UI options that work from a distance, but we’re not there yet. I think it would help if Steam added some kind of “couch friendly” indicator to its game pages. You know, in the section where it indicates controller support and whether the game has Steam Achievements.

The other big limitation to Steam Machines is Steam. These are Steam Machines, not PC gaming machines. Sure we all love Steam but you’re not going to play World of Warcraft or League of Legends on a Steam Machine since (as far as I can tell anyway, correct me if I’m wrong) those games don’t run on SteamOS or Steam. And it goes without saying you’re not going to play Halo 5 or Destiny on a Steam Machine.

If you’re a PC gamer who just wants to be able to go play some of your game collection on the sofa, a Steam Machine might be a fine solution, but I don’t see Valve convincing many console gamers to exchanging their PS4s or XBox Ones for Steam Machines. The ecosystem just isn’t there yet, in my opinion.

Disclosure: I don’t have a Steam Machine. I went for the bastardized route of the Steam Link and Steam Controller, so I’m streaming games from my PC to the Steam Link. Streaming, I have to admit, injects yet another set of issues into the process. On the other hand going this route means I can (in theory) play games on Steam that only run on Windows, not SteamOS. In practice whenever I try to use the Steam Link, after spending 20-30 minutes of fiddling with Steam Controller settings and trying to find a UI I can see, I just shut everything down and fire up a no-hassle console.

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