5 reasons why Steam Machines might fail

5 reasons why Steam Machines might fail

Summary: Here we take a look at five reasons why Steam Machines might trip over their own shoelaces while walking along the precarious tightrope towards potential success.

TOPICS: Hardware

You can tell that the PC industry is in trouble by the way companies are enthusiastically embracing outlandish, oddball ideas that are essentially solutions to problems that people don't have.

Linux-based game console (Gallery)

Meet the Steamboxes (Gallery)

Meet the Steamboxes (Gallery)

A device that falls squarely into this category is the Steam Machine. Here we have gaming PCs made to look like consoles that run Valve's new Linux-based SteamOS platform. Despite there being no proven market for such a device, Valve announced at CES 2014 that it already has 13 hardware partners on board -- Alienware, Falcon Northwest, Digital Storm, iBuyPower, CyberPowerPC, Origin PC, Gigabyte, Materiel.net, Webhallen, Alternate, Next, Zotac, and Scan Computers.

Surely Valve, with its 65 million Steam subscribers, along with 13 big hardware makers can't be wrong? Steam Machines are a guaranteed success, right?

Maybe not.

Let's take a look at five reasons why Steam Machines might trip over their own shoelaces while walking along the precarious tightrope towards potential success.


As I ran my eye down the prices of steam Machines unveiled at CES 2014, I was dismayed by how high they were. Sure, there was a couple listed as "$499 and up," and a few are still to be announced, but most were in the thousands of dollars price bracket. In fact, Falcon Northwest admitted that its most expensive Steam Machine would set you back an eye watering $6,000.

Anything over $1,000 prices these systems way beyond what a new Xbox One or PlayStation 4 will cost you, and puts these systems in a very small niche category.

Remember how only a few weeks ago people balked at the price of Apple's new Mac Pro? That's a work system. This is a gaming platform.

Valve might have 65 million Steam users, but these are made up of PC users who are free to pick and choose what hardware and download service they want to use. In fact, most PC gamers I know subscribe to multiple download services and buy games from whichever one is cheapest.

How is a price-conscious user base going to take to these prices?

All of which begs the obvious question – what was Valve's intended audience for these devices in the first place?

Lack of uniformity

With prices ranging from $500 to $6,000, it's no surprise to find that the hardware spec of these Steam machines varies considerably. And that, in turn, is going to result in a very varied experience for both game developer and end users.

One of the big advantages that consoles such as the Xbox and PlayStation bring to the market is long-term uniformity. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were both around for best part of a decade, but over that time the base hardware spec didn't change. The first batches of Xbox 360s or PlayStation 3s to roll off the production line are functionally identical to the latest batch in terms of the games they can play or the quality of the graphics. Game developers like this because the hardware base has a long lifespan, and end users love it because it removes all the guesswork from choosing games.

How are Steam Boxes going to be sold? It seems that we are back to the way that PCs were being sold back in the first few year of the millennium, with consumers having to decipher a sea of numbers on a spec sheet with no clear idea what this means in the real world.

Remind me again how that worked for the PC industry?

Ferocious competition from established consoles

Do you think that Microsoft and Sony are going to roll over and allow Valve's Steam Machines to take over living rooms around the world without a fight?

In a word – No.

Microsoft and Sony have deep pockets and a massive user base tied to their platforms. Expect them to make use of that money to aggressively push their new consoles into living rooms. Also, if Steam machines do start to gain traction, I'd expect to see console prices fall fast than for previous generation hardware in order to keep the buzz alive.

I admire Valve's courage in going up against the big boys, but I don't think if fully appreciates what it is going up against.

Why not a PC?

What advantages does a Steam Machine have over, say, a PC/console, which I could also afford?

This is a pretty important question, and so far Valve hasn't addressed it.

All the problems of PC gaming and Linux in one device

From what I can tell, a Steam Machine is essentially a Linux-powered gaming PC, and this to me seems like the platform will be susceptible to two types of problem.

The first type is the problems that plague PC gaming in general – drivers, performance, compatibility, and so on. These are the sorts of problems that made games consoles popular in the first place.

Then we have Linux problems, ranging from driver issues to any obscure, impenetrable or unfathomable error that Linux can throw up. I know that PC gamers are a cleaver bunch, but so far they've not had much contact with Linux.

If Steam Machines were closed-box system that the end user could upgrade, then this would mitigate some of these issues, but they're not. Users will be able to upgrade them, and this means that everyone involved – from the system makers and Valve, to graphics card makers – need to be prepared. Given how ill-prepared the hardware maker is for dealing with Windows at times, throwing a Linux variant into the mix sounds to me like a terrible idea.

Topic: Hardware

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  • ridiculos article

    1. market will solve price problem. Valve is not microsoft, they will lower the price if story starts failing.
    2. no reason at all. gamers will know. you can't compare that with general pc market
    3. with such an attitude, no one would ever start business. IT doesn't work that way, and Adrian should know it.
    4. this is the only reason that is worth mentioning. However, gaming consoles thrive, so i guess general population sees things differently than Adrian or me.
    5. pure lies, not understanding linux world and outdated rumors.
    • ridiculos response

      1. the problem with what your stating is that valve doesn't make steamboxes, they are made by oem's, so is valve going to somehow reimburse oems to make cheaper streamboxes?
      2. if its using off the shelf components I think you can, since we know that we can build our own steambox, yes you can compare the two. if there is such a gulf is price and spec this is going to be problematic at best.
      3. your response make no sense in context of the discussion; IT is a very general topic; what in IT doesn't work that way. because in the context of videogames it does. someone release a competing product that threatens your product you adjust; in this case reducing the price of the console. which once again comes back to the model that steambox oem are using. they make there money of hardware sale not software. so they have to price it to make a profit. where a sony or MS can low the price and take a lose and make it up in game and service sales.
      4. Steambox isn't a console model; its competes with console and pc's. And because all of steams games and services are available on windows pc's it doesn't do anything a pc cant do. while failing to embrace the simplicity of the console.
      5. drivers and Linux has always been a problem so this is some new theory it fact. pc's windows or Linux have driver issues
      • " essentially solutions to problems that people don't have"

        And now you are likely claiming that Windows-users don't have problems like:

        1. Malware?
        2. Spyware?
        3. Crapware?
        4. Updating fiascos?
        5. hardware&software conflicts?
        6. being more expensive than Linux/FLOSS?
        7. rebootings and Win-computers becoming slower and slower?

        Microsoft is in panic and their ZDNET M$ cheerladers have the same feelings.
        • Err...

          You Linux users are complaining about Windows users listening to outdated rumours on the platform, but most of the bullshit you just spewed hasn't been true of Windows since Vista!

          Antivirus is built into Windows 8. I haven't had a piece of malware, spyware or crapware since XP. No updating fiascos, no system slowdowns, no hardware conflicts. It's pathetic Linux users roll out all this nonsense because Linux itself just isn't good enough vs. Windows.
          Matthew Ferguson2222
          • Then you are just lucky.

            Even Microsoft says their anti-virus software isn't complete... you should get a third party AV solution in ADDITION.

            You didn't read about the bricking of some Windows based systems???

            And Linux "itself just isn't good enough vs. Windows" for what?
        • where

          where did I claim that hmmmmmm let me quote myself "5. drivers and Linux has always been a problem so this is some new theory it fact. pc's windows or Linux have driver issues" but here is the great thing about steambox and stream, most of the game will be streamed from your windows box so all things you mentioned plus whatever problem that might arise with Linux.
        • Mac, are you so fearful of MS that you've reduced yourself

          to that of a simple troll?. Seems all you do anymore.

          Look, we get that you're scared, you're in a panic, MS was to be long dead and that didn't happen. Then they started producing a great many billion dollar business units, and it was over for you.

          Well, you did have that "ace up your sleeve" - "Xbox!.

          But then a funny thing happened on the way to the cemetery - Xbox surpassed Wii, it surpassed Playstation. and Now Steam, for all it's talk by the like of SJVN and SJVN, looks to become nothing more then a footnote in history.

          Not to mention the issues it'll have that consoles don't. like -

          1. Malware?
          2. Spyware?
          3. Crapware?
          4. Updating fiascos?
          5. hardware & software conflicts?
          6. being more expensive than Xbox one
          7. rebootings and suffering the Linux bloat, becoming slower and slower?

          You seem to be in a real panic here suddenly, and it really is fun to watch you squirm!

          I say "Someone pass me the popcorn, please"

          LOL! :)
          • Valve is onto something, though

            I routinely game on my PC in part because Steam is easier than xbox, which I keep around for exercising on kinect and for my young son. I do have Windows 8, don't use the Windows store a bit, compared to Steam or even Amazon it just isn't very good.

            Price isn't an issue at $500 (and lots of people spend more than that on their consoles) and we might see even cheaper boxes for locally streaming games and playing indies (which is what I do on Steam anyway). Plus, no hidden subscription fees or Windows license fees. No scratched or lost discs. Steam games are (so far, yes) much cheaper, even the AAA games.

            Variable specs aren't an issue, as pc gaming already shows.

            Plus, if the steambox thing doesn't work out? Just use it as my home pc or server or xbmc box.

            I waited 5 years on my xbox purchase because the ps3 was overpriced and the xboxes were going up in smoke. On the contrary, this time I'll probably get a steambox next holiday season. They need a decent story on media streaming, but it's a compelling offering already, given it's flexibility and Steam's simplicity and the fact that I already own games with linux versions.

            Now, is it perfect? Nope. Is Sony and MS in trouble? Not at all. I think enough people have multiple TVs and want multiple boxes that they don't need to be better in every way out of the blocks. It's already compelling for a sizeable audience (like the original xbox) and Valve still has time to build this out.

            If the next CEO at MS has different priorities, they might even get a boost from the competition. MS is going to be a hardware company but is mostly about business and mobile now. xbox hasn't been very profitable, after all, if Valve does well or Nintendo rebounds xbox might look expendable soon (not likely I think).
    • level playing field

      Is the number one reason online gamers use ps3 and xbox360.
      You're not competing with someone who has triple screen setup that can have more views and data than you or faster and more responsive machine.
      With steambox, you can buy yourself a hardware advantage or disadvantage if you don't keep up with the leaders.
      With playstation and xbox, you can't.
  • I have to agree

    Unless Valve throws out something very unexpected to make the Steam machines much more compelling I can't really see a market for these.
    So what could Valve do?
    * Make them really cheap? Have to get down to $200-300 to make price a competitive point
    * Make them really powerful? Would have to beat the consoles
    * Make really good games available? Who would write for a small market
    I'm a Steam agnostic
    • You missed the subject... Valve doesn't make these.

      Vendors do.

      SteamOS itself is a zero cost item.

      And hardcore gamers already beat the consoles... yet, the solutions the come up with ARE more expensive. But they get the framerates they want, the sound quality they want, and the response rate they want.
      • yes they do

        Of course many of these gamers build their own rigs. And for a hell of a lot cheaper prices than the ones that have so far has been quoted.

        Some of the quoted prices are downright ridiculous. No way any self esteemed hardcore gamer is going to buy these.
  • Great article

    While I would hope for Steam OS to succeed but I don't see it has any future. I would rather buy PS4 or XBone with my money
    • Perhaps your PS/XBONES are just

      mammoths? World goes to mobiles and gaming too. It means - LINUX.
      • nah

        Gaming on mobile is what is called casual gaming. Real gaming is done on real hardware with relevant control mechanisms such as keyboard and mouse or a controller.

        Touch based gaming is nice for simple, casual games, not for real games.
        • exactly. And SteamOS can do that.

          And a whole lot more.
          • Yes it can

            The only problem is the total absence of games. So people currently on Windows won't switch, neither is the console crowd.
      • android games run on Dalvik VM

        android games run on Dalvik VM, unless something new has happen Dalvik isn't native to Linux
        • Thats like saying Python isn't native to Linux...

          And yet, both were developed there...
  • What I am I missing here?

    How does this StreamMachine work? Does it interact with existing console or require new games to be developed for the StreamOS? Based on the article, it seems the primary user based would be Linux users that are hardcore gamers. How large is that user base?

    In any case, gaming is very much like mobile, its all about the ecosystem. However, I think you left out one very big competitor in the gaming space that has yet to show it hand, Apple! It's not going to take much for them to be dominate in this very space, the foundation is there.