Two days ago, we found out about the forthcoming SteamOS, the operating system that Valve is currently developing. Now comes the ideal hardware to run this new software on. In a concise but clear announcement, the inventors of Steam have announced that during 2014 they will release a line of machines exclusively aimed at playing videogames and consuming multimedia content: Steam Machines.
Initially, Valve is working on its very own prototype, but in the days ahead what it will put on the market will be a line of machines with different technical specifications to meet any budget. They also confirm that other partners are involved in the project, meaning that ultimately what we’re going to see are actually hardware specifications—a “Steam Quality Seal of Approval” that will be carried by a series of PCs designed to work in conjunction with SteamOS and that several manufacturers will build according to Valve’s standards. Even so, this sounds a good bit better than a sticker stuck to the front of a PC.
This isn’t the first time that the interactive entertainment industry has turned to a project like this. In 1993, the videogames enterprise The 3DO Company developed the hardware specifications to launch a line of videoconsoles. The 3DO had various models developed by Sony, Panasonic, and Sanyo, among others, adjusted to the standards of each company. The result was a total sales disaster that led to the whole setup going bust in 2003. In this case, the outlook seems rather different.
The Steam Machines will not be closed machines, meaning we can use them like a PC to focus on whatever applications we want. In fact, if we thinking about this cool-headedly, the Valve specifications are really no more than a way of saving the end consumers some serious headaches. These are the same consumers who nowadays can do perfectly well building their own small PCs, since there are already countless, high-end options (at slightly prohibitive prices, I’ll grant you that) on the barebone computer market able to run any current or future videogame. Will Valve be able to sell its machines using only its own reputation as a marketing tactic? From what we’ve seen, it’s quite likely, although the crux of the matter (and the whole scheme’s possible success) lies in another, more obvious consideration: the game catalog.
We have to keep in mind the following statement from the official release with regard to the compatibility of Valve’s catalog of games running on SteamOS: “Hundreds [are] already running natively on the SteamOS, with more to come. The rest will work seamlessly via in-home streaming.” There are now 378 Steam games able to run on Linux, and the possible success or failure of this push for the open-source platform will depend on whether third parties get on the wagon and develop compatible versions of their most successful games. Making clear that it will be necessary to run part of the catalog via streaming actually raises more questions than it answers.
Be that as it may, Valve has now offered users the tantalizing possibility of participating in the beta for the project. Throughout this year 300 Steam Machines will be distributed to those who have subscribed to the test process: You have to subscribe to the “Steam Universe” community, have more than 10 Steam friends, and have played in Big Picture mode with a gamepad.
There’s still one more big announcement due from Valve this week, which will happen this Friday the 27th. We already have the operating system and the custom machine. What could possibly be next if it’s not the obvious: GAMES!