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Valve's answer to game consoles: Steam Machines
Valve's answer to game consoles: Steam Machines
September 25, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

September 25, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
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    51 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online



Continuing its series of reveals, today Valve announced a new line of living room hardware built for its upcoming Linux-based SteamOS, due out in 2014.

The announcements this week mark Valve's move into the living room, a space that for decades has been dominated by a select handful of proprietary video game consoles. With Valve's 50 million-strong Steam distribution platform and plans for an open ecosystem, the company is poised to spearhead big changes in living room video gaming.

Details on the actual hardware specs for Steam Machines are, for the moment, close to nonexistent. However, Valve says in the course of its announcement that "there will ultimately be several boxes to choose from, with an array of specifications, price and performance."

Furthermore, in order to home in on those specs, Valve has announced a hardware beta test for 300 selected users.

"We have designed a high-performance prototype that's optimized for gaming, for the living room, and for Steam," Valve explained in its announcement. "A small number of users (30 or less) will be chosen [from beta tester applicants] based on their past community contributions and beta participation. The remainder will be chosen at random from the eligible pool."

Beta testers who are ultimately selected for prototypes are encouraged to share their impressions from the kits online, which reflects Valve's confidence in its new hardware. However, it also represents a clever marketing strategy, similar to what Google has been doing with early units of Google Glass.

You can learn how to sign up here. The prototypes are expected to ship later this year.

Shortly after the Steam Machines unveiling, Valve also went live with its closed beta for the recently announced Family Sharing service, which will allow users to share content libraries across multiple devices.


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Comments


John Paduch
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I'm glad they specified how many games are already running natively on SteamOS, with more to come. Hopefully they'll provide more specifics soon about how they managed that, and how difficult it'll be to port existing games.

E Zachary Knight
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It all depends on the engine they are running. If the engine doesn't support Linux then there is a low probability that the game will get native Steam OS support.

Ron Dippold
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Many Windows games run pretty well in WINE. It helps if you tweak, of course, but that's much less effort than an engine redo.

Mike Griffin
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"Hopefully they'll provide more specifics soon about how they managed that..."

Valve's "Hundreds already running natively on SteamOS" figure aligns rather perfectly with the 303 existing Linux games currently available on Steam.

It would seem logical for Valve to tap into this established library, asking those studios to ensure that their Linux clients run well on both the prototype Steam machine dev kits and the current WIP SteamOS code base.

Seems like a safe bet for the earliest SteamOS titles, anyway: Use what's already available on the service.

E Zachary Knight
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Sure. Wine could work for a lot of games, but Native support is better all around.

Dane MacMahon
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A lot of those Linux games might not translate well to the TV, keep in mind. Hard to imagine playing DosBox or old games through Wine on a television.

Alex Covic
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You should check WINE 1.6. It has come a long way. Tons of code features which makes it more than just a "not-emulator"?

People play "classic games" through XBox or PSN already on their "big screens"?

Phil Maxey
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Microsoft has a lot to think about.

Ian Fisch
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Right now Microsoft isn't devoting many resources to making the Windows Store a viable Steam competitor. If SteamOS starts to poach customers, they might step it up.

I don't think this is a war Valve needs to get into, and I think they realize this, hence these half-assed announcements.

Bob Johnson
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Meh. I don't see this going anywhere, but maybe the variables are more attractive than I think they will be.

I don't see the appeal as a consumer in an array of machines at various pricepoints. I only see confusion in the marketplace.

I see the usual problems developing for a wide array of hardware.

Where I think a Steam Machine could have success is having one machine at a $200-$300 pricepoint with a digital-only store (Steam) and enough power to soundly beat a 360 at least. It doesn't have to be as powerful as a Ps4 or nextbox. But not sure the math works unless you take a loss on the hardware up front.

It is interesting though. I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Andy Cahalan
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I'm seeing this as antihype and really more of a dribble than an announcement. I'm one of the people trapped wondering do I buy a PS4 or do I wait for Valve? This weeks announcements could have all been done without the hullabaloo and should have set a definitive date for a unified announcement on partners and games. More console-esque messaging would have helped. I'm not going to bother being excited next time they announce something - this really deflated the momentum they had when it was only rumour. I've noticed a lot of people seem confused about the point. Also, will the hardware be competitive in pricing? They won't make a dent in the market if XBO or PS4 is offering better performance at a lower price point.

Luis Guimaraes
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No trackball controller :(

I can make my own using a keyboard chip and a mouse led but, I also want to play splitscreen with my friends on weekends... what PC game will support splitscreen with four KB/M players?

Mike Griffin
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They're not done with announcements yet. Years of controller research internally at Valve is about to yield a new approach to input "very soon".

Q. Am I going to be using a mouse and a keyboard in the living-room?

A. If you want. But Steam and SteamOS work well with gamepads, too. Stay tuned, though - we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input.

Luis Guimaraes
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Don't raise my hopes! I'm gonna be hurt again :(

Alexander Tomkins
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http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/12/10/why-valves-steam-
box-pc-console-will-be-a-game-changer/

Scroll down to the patents and comments made by Gabe. Your mind will be blown as mine was. Its not trackball however I could see that being offered aftermarket. Hell, maybe you could even start up a side business for it haha.

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Dane MacMahon
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Rumor on the street is that Left 4 Dead 3 is being announced Friday along with a special controller that will accompany it.

I hope I am not alone in fearing what this TV focus will do to PC gaming as far as mouse control is concerned. We already suffer from cross-platform games, but at least publishers have to include mouse control on some level. I wonder if that will remain true if Steam and Valve push for 100% controller adoption.

Luis Guimaraes
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@Dane

I'm afraid too of what might happen if this doesn't have a controller able to compete with KBM. As the platform has to potential to bring many new player and take some others to the living room, we might see the design of PC games shifting to fit the increased amount of gamepad users. For the worst of course.

Scott Lavigne
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My HOPE is that their controller offers unique things to seem appealing but is ultimately still just aimed at 1) a few specific games that really utilize its unique features and 2) being a nice gamepad for players making the transition, as they slowly realize they'd be better off using a mouse in multiplayer games where they're at a disadvantage. I don't know how likely it is, but that's what I'd like to see.

Phil Maxey
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The only thing that matters is the games, that's where it begins and ends. And that of course is Steams strong point, I can see this doing well because it's being Steam to the living room, not because of anything to do with hardware.

Ian Fisch
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But developers still have to make linux-compatible games. Most Steam games only run in Windows.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I can't help but wonder if this is actually going to work for them. Most people to get these devices are "hardcore gamers" for lack of a better term, and although as a Gamer, I have a lot Steam games, I also have many games that are not available on steam but all of them are available on my pc which I very easily hook up to my tv. So.. I don't see exactly how this would be a sufficient advantage.
Seems like releasing a variety of linux pcs could be a pretty expensive effort, with a seemingly rather limited audience, and considering how fractured the offer of hardware is becoming, I fear it might not be a very smart solution..

Who knows though, Valve always seem to do weird things but then manage to twist the status-quo and making it become the new standard.

As it is now, these valve announcements are not really convincing me, but I'm sure time will tell.

Rui Mota
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I was hopping for a little more meat.
I hope Friday they can show the actual input device because so far they just announced an OS wish will run on a living-room PC. No specs no video/ picture no nothing.

PS: Apparently since i´m " a first time poster, my comment will be queued for approval. Expect to see it appear in the next 24 hours ". So by the time you read this it may not make mush sense anymore, but I need(ed) to get this first one out anyway.

Sjoerd Bergman
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It seems like I'm in the minority, but I'm really excited about these announcements. I've been looking for a way to comfortably play on the couch with friends without having to give up my games or drag my PC down the stairs every time. It seems like this was made for me.
I just hope that the third announcement will somehow convince the rest of the world too.

Ian Fisch
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If only there was a way to build a small PC that could hook up to your TV. A man can dream.

Sjoerd Bergman
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I know it's already possible, and when the SteamOS is released I might do that, but right now I have neither the knowledge nor the money necessary to do so. I want a console for the convenience, and if the streaming is decent then a lower-end SteamBox still sounds pretty awesome to me.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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There is a wide selection of mini-PCs that you can buy pre-set up... just wire them up and you are golden.

Now, none of them are going to touch your $3k gaming rig, but neither is the Steam box unless it has a similar price tag.

Duong Nguyen
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This is 2 years too late imo. If they had come out with the "Steam Box" 2 years ago it might have filled a niche before the next gen consoles, but coming out next year they will be going head on with the next gen consoles and I don't think Valve wants to spend the billion in advertising needed to keep the Steam Box relevant to the average consumer. To the hardcore, they might sell but that isn't going to attract broad enough of an audience to get the big name developers onboard..

Scott Lavigne
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Releasing then would have been Dreamcast all over.

Mike Griffin
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Earlier this year Valve suggested that its hardware partners would generally be offering "Good, Better, and Best" configurations, which seems to be confirmed by the "Other boxes will optimize for size, price, quietness, or other factors" statement today.

Considering you can simply dual boot any contemporary PC with both Windows and SteamOS onboard, I wouldn't be adverse to picking up a "Better" Steam machine to use as a living room HTPC + Steambox, if the price and form factors are attractive.

Q. Can I hack this box? Run another OS? Change the hardware? Install my own software?
A. Sure.

^ That's probably the M.O. for all the Steam machines from hardware partners as well. Here's your upgradeable Good, Better, or Best configuration in various form factors, optimized for SteamOS, but feel free to install that extra copy of Windows you have as well, if streaming isn't your thing or your existing rig is underpowered.

And that's certainly an advantage over other living room/big screen game devices: A single gaming unit that can field both a semi-"walled garden" OS ecosystem, and a new open-free OS aiming to disrupt the norm.

Now we'll have to see how compelling Valve's new input device is. Presumably this is the "controller" that Steam machine hardware partners will get to pack into their SKUs. Simultaneously, Valve will make the controller available separately for existing Steam customers to use in the living room via Windows gaming PCs and/or machines with SteamOS installed.

There's clearly a well thought out vision here; we just need to see more of the pieces come into play.

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Scott Lavigne
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I don't think very many people could support that on their machines, technical issues aside. If they want 4-player splitscreen on Windows games, they need to talk to developers.

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Bob Fox
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This is going to fail, not because it's a bad idea but because not enough thought has gone into it. They need to get THE GAMES FIRST AND KILLER APPS. You need killer apps to drive adoption, and I don't just mean the games/software.

I've had many ideas over the years to improve the PC itself. Why for instance can we not switch operating systems without having to reboot? (i.e. channel 1, channel 2). The same way we change channels on a TV instantaneously? without having to dual boot. It's certainly possible to construct PC bios's in such a way that the BIOS itself sits as a hypervizor mediating between two operating systems that exist on either the same hard drives or two different hard drives. So it's PAINLESS to switch between one and the other so you don't have to spend huge amounts of software on backwards compatability because you're running the best of both worlds in parallel.

I'd love for us to be able to switch "operating systems" the same way I switch between two computers with a KVM. Ever since I've got my KVM switch and have many PC's I've never had to dual boot, if I want to run the linux box I just input the basic keys to switch. The linux stuff and windows stuff is kept seperate and I don't need to screw around with technical stuff and waste my time.

The problem with the PC is time and energy for the end user, if there's anything I've learned from why console gaming beat back PC gaming in the 2000's was because of 1) expense and 2) time. People DONT WANT TO LEARN and have to screw around and setup things. They want it to be as painless an experience as possible.

If you create hurdles and time sinks that's going to make people question "Why should I do this, I have a job, family, limited time and energy".

You need to show the customer why he should not just plunk down cash but whether you're BURDENING his life or ALLEVIATING the burdens of his life.

The reasons consoles are popular is because of burden issue, people don't want to be burdened and have their limited time and energy sapped away from them. Tech enthusiasts like us are different, we who build our own PC's and don't mind diddling to some extent. But even as I've gotten older I just no longer want to screw with registry/config's because it's just a huge time sink. When you're a kid you got lots of energy and free time, as an adult the opposite is true.

Gabe keeps forgetting this I think because Valve is wealthy, they are kind of in a bubble where they're not thinking about the PAIN and HURDLES they've unnecessarily created for everyone. If you're going to introduce something like Steam OS then you better damn well make the experience worth it and make it as painless as possible to transition.

I don't see how valve has done that. There's still a huge tonne of software that only runs on windows and I dont think he grasps that not every gamer plays every game.

Most of us have a spectrum of games we play, and many of us are not going to switch operating systems just to play a few games. I think this is lost on Gabe. That while there may be hundreds of games, a person only has interest and time for a small chunk of that.

On a PC this could be made even easier by just having one button on the keyboard that cycles through OS's. With SSD's you can easily make this a reality.

Dane MacMahon
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I'm not saying I think this venture will succeed, but a lot of your points are off a bit I think. The focus here seems to be on making PC gaming easier and more convenient by having standard hardware that boots right into Steam on a television. It's basically turning Steam into a console.

The problem, as you say, is they need a compelling reason to use it instead of a the existing consoles, which I don't think they have. Not in 2014 anyway.

Bob Fox
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PC standardization is nice, but the problem with steam machines/Steam OS is the hardware itself.

When transitioning from one system to another you want to make that transition as painless as possible.

They could have put way more thought into the transition by allowing OS switching for backwards compatibility reasons.

People won't migrate unless you make sure 1) all their current stuff comes along for the ride 2) it's painless to go back to windows when Steam OS can't run or work with your old stuff. (software, games, peripherals).

I don't see where they have done that.

They don't see the PC gamer as someone with interests BESIDE gaming, if you're going to release a damn operating system then you're going to have to manage that transition with precision intelligence.

Gabe doesn't seem to have the brains to understand the users point of view, he needed to put a lot more time and work into this. If I was the head of valve I'd be running rings around gabe.

One of the main reasons the transition to 64 bit windows has been so friggin long was because not enough thought was put into how to transition from both a hardware and software standpoint.

Microsoft did not make it painless to transition from 32-bit to 64 at all. We had giant clusterfucks all around with drivers and peripherals.

What they should have done is: Have had hardware that switches between old operating system and new one. So they could make a CLEAN BREAK. So new operating systems would not need cruft to be compatible with old software. i.e. all the old software stays on old system and updates/new software can make the transition cleanly.

There's just not enough intelligence in the heads of major corporations though.

Dane MacMahon
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I honestly think they see open platform console as a big deal, but I'm not sure consumers will. Time will tell.

Bob Fox
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I don't think he see's it as a "game box" but rather an "application platform". Problem is he has done nowhere near enough to make it an app platform.

That's why I posted what I did, he doesn't seem to have a clear vision of what and where he actually needs to be going sadly.

Jonathan Murphy
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We won't know where the industry is until late 2014. Amazon, Google, Apple, Nvidia, Valve will leave their marks next year. Who will survive, who will emerge? It won't be a predictable outcome.

warren blyth
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seen a lot of people speculating that Friday's announcement will be a game, or a controller.

Doesn't it seem more likely it will be a new version of the source engine? with hooks into SteamOS and promises to help devs bring their games to linux?

Mike Griffin
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They've iterated the living hell out of Source since its introduction. You can still push that sucker. Even an elite studio like Respawn thinks the engine has the chops to power a sophisticated, 60fps version of their game on XBone.

But Source 2 seems to be on its way.

The ultimate triple-threat bomb would go like this:

1. Valve announces Source 2, champions its strengths on new generation hardware and optimizations for SteamOS.

2. Valve announces Left4Dead 3, champions its Source 2 awesomeness on SteamOS... as a launch title (multi-platform later).

3. Valve says L4D3 plays great on [New Input Device revealed], provides some evidence to support it.

Ryan Christensen
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Excited for everything Valve is doing in this space, big screen gaming/standardization in a way. Consoles have been a bit of a drag to PC development and I still really prefer PC gaming, so hopefully games will be more aimed for both simultaneously more easily with some standardization rather than consoles solely pwning PC releases.

TC Weidner
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Good luck to them, but I dont see them muscling into the living room. For all of those that think Sony and Microsoft consoles market and demo is getting soft, I simply say. GTAV , three days, 1 billion in sales. I think the living room is still taken.

TC Weidner
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Steam on the PC was/is a service, one that people can sign up for and have access to at no cost. Plus it was also not going up against gigantic entrenched billion dollar corps. Digital distribution was wide open when Valve dipped its toes in. This steam machine venture is entirely different. You have the barrier of up front cost to a consumer, adoption of the technology barrier, and the fact that they are way way way behind entrenched industry monsters.

Slow steady does not work in situations like this, slow= dead and forgotten

Scott Lavigne
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@TC Weidner
I largely agree with you, but I think there is a chance because 1) the current consoles are just launching and 2) the concept itself promises to be different from consoles in that this is a platform that you can upgrade and evolve with time instead of a fixed point you sit on for a few years before moving on. It also helps that they had several very successful titles this console generation that made them familiar to console gamers.

Harry Fields
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Billion dollar question.... Anyone here not using Unity on their project planning on putting out a Linux version? Just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come.

Mike Griffin
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With regards to the actual boxes/devices, at least the timing is right.

We've been able to assemble full-featured living room HTPCs for many years, even very compact models, but we're getting into an era of super-compact, super power/heat efficient CPU-GPU combo chipsets late this year and into 2014. Affordable, efficient, low-nm, high yield stuff.

You could build a fairly PS4/Xbone-like unit for reasonable cost, with a similar architecture. Ideally the SteamOS is super optimized for games and media, in console-like OS fashion. Who knows, maybe a $400-$500 unit could offer peak performance superior to next-gen consoles in native AAA titles. With the ability to upgrade the unit over time.

And compared to -- let's say -- if this happened 5 or 6 years ago, we might actually see some compact, quiet and attractive SteamOS-branded units from Valve's hardware partners. Boxes that look, sound and perform like they belong in the living room.

I reckon a number of these hardware partners will offer +packages that include options like larger hard drives, SSDs, better GPUs, accessories, and extra pre-installed software on the SteamOS device, such as games - or Windows.

The introduction of SteamOS and machines doesn't change Valve's bread & butter, which is Steam on (largely) Windows PCs. So for them it's perhaps win-win, and not so counter-intuitive during transition, if their hardware partners attach package options like booting to Windows -- for conventional Steam.

It's still part of the Big Picture, ahem. Plus - that new input device is intended to improve the living room experience for any Steam player. We'll see!

Jason Chen
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but buying another console to play computer steam platform games? (buying another computer to play computer games?) love steam on pc, but why do I need another hardware to play steam game when I can play it on my current PC?

Bob Johnson
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You don't. SteamOS will work on your pc.

Dave Hoskins
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"THE HARDWARE BETA ELIGIBILITY QUEST"
"3. Make 10 Steam friends (if you haven't already)"

Well that's me stuffed then!! Haha.


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