The online gaming community has been battling the console market for decades, with online gamers citing the lack of backwards compatibility issues, broader interface options, better graphics and speed as the clincher in the debate… for as long as the debate has been around. Despite all these (largely true) claims, the console market has been the primary driver of game development for years, and console sales are still strong.
It’s long been suggested that the primary reason for this is the generally more social nature of consoles, and the low cost of consoles compared to a game-quality PC. Similar conflicts are mirrored all through the ‘net: Apple vs. Microsoft, Activision vs. EA, Websitebuilder.com vs. Wix.com.
The streams have never really crossed before between the PC gaming world and the big console producers. But that fact will change as soon as later this year, when the largest PC game purveyor in the world introduces it’s first-ever console.
A console that can play any game in HD from an online library of thousands, all without disks, at a price-point for options varying from of $450 to $1999 at the time of release. The cheapest option is a measly $50 more than the current price of the Playstation 4 or the Xbox One.
The Steam Machine
The Steam Machine is set for release in November, and according to the Steam website. But the Steam Machine isn’t just one, but more than a dozen different console-type options produced by different PC manufactureres. These manufacturers, ranging from Alienware to ASUS to Falcon Northwest have sampled from top-tier components to fashion their unique steam machines, all of which come with the custom-designed Steam OS.
According to the Steam website, almost any producer of computers can register with Steam as a manufacturer of Steam Machines, so long as they meet certain minimum standards and criterion.
Don’t want to pay a manufacturer markup? You don’t have to. Steam has released the details on how to make your own Steam Machine if you’ve got the technical know-how, an unprecedented move on the part of the company. As consumers get more and more tech savvy, this move may revolutionize the future of the gaming industry. As the growing success of tech startup Little Bits has gone to show, consumers are hungry for the ability to make their own tech.
The Steam OS
Part of what makes it possible for consumers and producers to make their own machines is the open-source Steam OS, which is Linux-based and currently available in Beta form on the Steam website.
Reputedly not a replacement for a desktop OS, the Steam OS is designed around offering an impressive gaming functionality which patches into Steam’s robust online gaming platform. That said, the OS is capable of being modified by users, allowing them to download programs and make amendments on an ad-hoc basis. It also allows them to view a traditional Linux desktop, a potentially important feature for Linux-savvy clients.
How Might the Steam Machine Change the Gaming Scene?
The Steam Machine is likely to dramatically change the gaming scene if it sees wide adaptation in several ways. Perhaps most significantly, if adopted by casual gamers, it will give boutique game producing agencies an unprecedented access to a whole new market share, which may shake up the strong hold of major studios on the gaming industry. So far, such boutique firms only reach a relatively small segment of PC gamers.
Another consideration is that the Steam Machine will dramatically reduce the cost of entry into PC gaming. Most console gamers are more wallet-conscious, and cannot afford a PC capable of running current releases (often running in excess of $1,000) and often select consoles as the more economical option. No longer the case, after the advent of the Steam Machine, which reduces this barrier to entry by more than half with its cheapest option.
How much this will reduce the console market share will be interesting to see!