As the upcoming console war begins to heat up, legendary video game developer Valve is keen on bringing its own machine to the fight. Over the course of the last 5 – 10 years we’ve seen monumental shifts within the video game industry. In fact, technology in general seems to be growing, evolving and shifting on an unprecedented scale; naturally, one of the most immediate areas where this can be felt is in the area of console design.
As far as Sony (or even Microsoft, for that matter) is concerned, their PS4 is a stunning achievement, and rightly so; it is after all, one of the most powerful video game boxes to have ever been created (up to this point). Likewise, the approachability of the PS4 from the viewpoint of game developers is also highly amicable and perhaps even long overdue.
Despite all of its perks and admirable aspects, the notion of having to deal with yet another somewhat unexpected competitor isn’t something that the creators of the PS4 likely had in mind. Don’t get the wrong idea here though, this isn’t an attempt to extol the virtues of Sony while downplaying Valve’s concept, quite the contrary, actually. One might say that the markets have been eagerly waiting for someone to release a straightforward Linux-based line of home gaming computers. Of course the power of this idea stems from the fact that these specialized “steam machines” would utilize the streaming power of the Steam service (try to say that three times fast, quite a tongue twister).
Sony is also delving into digital distribution like never before with the PS4, so it’s not like they were completely unprepared for such a development or remain unable to compete. As it has been mentioned many times before, the PS4 will begin to integrate cloud-based services via Gaikai that will allow it to stream games. When you factor in that the PSN has its own incredible back catalog of games, it would be impossible to think that Sony isn’t planning on using the aforementioned avenue to deliver content. In other words, PS4 users will essentially have access to a wealth of streaming games, including freebies.
Although the Steam service hosts an incredible number of awesome titles (somewhere in the range of over 2000 titles) they have had to limit their clientele to those with PC’s capable of actually playing most of them. This is the most obvious benefit of owning a console, of course – you can rest assured that there will be no additional tweaking / upgrading required to dive right into a new piece of software. However, the Steam Machine might very well change all that; forever altering the video gaming landscape with its’ standalone capacity.
Of course the problem is that Valve isn’t exactly sure about how they’re going to implement everything at this point. The concept on the table right now involves multiple boxes and options, the only unifying aspect being that these machines will be running the Steam OS. Currently, the idea involves creating three tiers – good, better and best. Moreover, each level represents a step up in terms of technology, power and price. Obviously the “good” machine would be essentially a bare-bones unit, something meant for streaming only, perhaps. Stepping up to “better”, you might expect a more self-contained and powerful yet standardized design which is comparable with off-the-shelf consoles. Lastly, the “best” steam machine would represent the desires of each independent manufacturer, and Valve has already made it abundantly clear that they want companies to push the envelope in this area.
Despite this potential revelation, it’s unlikely that the Steam Machine is going to put a serious dent in PS4 sales. Let’s not forget, Sony is working with a AAA franchise here; the PlayStation empire stretches all across the globe and is composed of millions of die-hard fans. Moreover, given the amount of money that Sony has sunk into development / R&D for the PS4, you know that they’re going to emerge with something truly special. Simply put, while the Steam Machine will likely be very cool (and perhaps even worth purchasing in addition to a PS4), Valve alone doesn’t have the muscle to edge out a mammoth corporation like Sony.
It’s also worth mentioning that the PS4 will push graphics to entirely new levels, the likes of which these potential Steam Machine manufacturers aren’t capable of matching. The technical demands vs. the cost of manufacturing the components and sticking them inside of a standardized machine are clearly evident. Smaller companies manufacturing their own unique Steam Machines might be able to compete with the PS4 on one or more levels, but certainly not all of them.
Additionally, there are the major video game developers to consider, many of which have ongoing deals with Sony to release their flagship products on the PS4. Needless to say, gamers tend to “go where the content is”, and if the top-tier titles aren’t hitting a specific console, you can expect sales of that device to drop dramatically. In short, Sony has the “star power” required to ensure that they draw in a significant portion of the market share in terms of video game sales (especially since the recent Xbox ONE upset at E3).
Looking toward the future, it would seem that we are moving toward an era where the bona-fide “console” and “PC” are essentially starting to merge together. Part of the draw of the PS4 is that it can function as a sort of “all-in-one” entertainment center, acting as both a basic browser-capable computer as well as a highly-powered gaming box. In a way, the Steam Machine represents both a step forward as well as backward in that it is meant to be a powerful PC-like console, yet one could also say that it is basically a gaming computer lacking your more standard PC capabilities. Conversely, the PS4 is following the current next-gen console trend and is morphing into an entertainment / media portal with personal computing abilities. Very interesting indeed…