So far I’ve very loosely paid attention to the latest generation of console releases as a bystander. I have a Playstation 2 at home, still hooked up for some reason. I also have a Wii which sits unused, and a Netflix machine, aka the XBox 360. You see, I’m a fan of tech. More than anything, I just like giving new and revolutionary tech a try.
However, I’m far from a fanboy of any of the systems. For what I paid for them, except for the 360, they’re all collecting dust as my PC gets all the attention. This past round of new system releases was far from exciting. A new Playstation that plays new games. Okay. A new XBox with an upgraded Kinect that… does pretty much the same things as it’s predecessor. Cool, I guess. There’s really nothing new here. In both instances, to reach the same graphics capacity in my PC, all I’ll need is a small video card upgrade. The whole “next-gen” fight was nonsense, since the systems felt like a generation behind at release (although I really do like Ctrl+Alt+Del’s take on the console wars).
Then there is Valve’s new Steam Machines. Now these I’ve been paying some attention to. I’m not necessarily going to purchase one in the first round, but they have piqued my curiosity. For all intents and purposes, a Steam Machine looks like nothing more than a PC you can connect to your TV. I’ve done this before. Back when Comcast was playing a lot nicer, I hooked up a custom PC with a few tuner cards to my TV, used Windows Media Center, and had a system you could watch TV, record shows, play movies, check your email, etc. It worked well until one of the components in the box gave out, as happens to PC’s.
So this product looks like it’s aimed right at me. Someone who uses Steam like it’s going out of style, enjoys knowing what is under the hood, tinkering with the tech he has, and sees the benefits of having a full-blown PC as an entertainment center. But am I the right audience? Is this aimed at me? And if so, why am I only half interested? Deep down, I don’t think I’m the right target market, but I’m having a hard time figuring out who is.
The Console Crowd
Those who are solidly in the Sony or Microsoft console camps are already there, and they aren’t really moving. They have their systems, defend their purchases, and generally are already happy. What they want, it seems, more than anything else, is access to the games they are the most interested in. Some console buyers will buy every console just to play those few games that are exclusive that they must play. To them, what are Steam machines bringing? Steam is bringing a lot of new games to play, sure, but these games are far from exclusive and have already been out for a long time. If anything they’ll get to play the games that are only released on PC, which may include a lot of indie games, which Sony and Microsoft have been pursuing as well. Although I’ve heard a lot of PC users complain about console exclusives that only come to PC as a lame port much later, rarely do I hear about the opposite, of console gamers complaining about PC gamers getting everything.
The Power PC Users
So if it’s not really for the console owners, is it for current PC power-owners who want to move into the living room? Maybe. On this surface this seems like the most viable. If they use Steam, they already have a collection of games for the new system. They are more comfortable with the overall workings of PC units, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and would enjoy playing some of their more action-style games on their much larger TV screen. But these individuals already have PCs that play all of these games. So, is the pricetag, which is looking on-par or significantly greater than consoles, worth the price of just moving from your desk to your couch? I don’t really think it is. I didn’t exactly jump to fix the home theater PC I had set up before. The cost/value calculations weren’t pushing me to do so. I just wasn’t getting enough out of it to seriously justify the price, and the Steam Machine is no exception.
The PC Future
No, I believe the Steam Machine will be for those that really want to get away from the desk and move into the living room for good. They’ll already be living a very mobile lifestyle. Using their laptop or tablet, but wanting something with a little more power, the Steam Machine will be their PC replacement. It’ll have the power to play the latest games, but the versatility so that they won’t have to bust out their laptop if they want a web browser. They won’t be the most tech savvy, but they won’t be computer illiterate, either. They also may own a console, too, and plan to use the Steam Machine to make up for the consoles limitations.
Steam Machines, if nothing else, look to be attempting to really bridge the gap between the computer desk and the living room and attempt to really start the slide of the end of the PC-era. Computer PC sales have been on the decline for a long time. The advent of tablets and better smartphones has only sped it up. I’ve always said the day the PC is dead is the day that a more portable device finally shows the same power and versatility. Valve, then, appears to be placing themselves in a position to ring the deathknell of the desktop PC. With companies like Alienware and Gigabyte in the mix of partners, and the smooth business savvy that Valve has displayed, they may be on to track to do so.
Just as Apple revolutionized the smartphone and music, Valve has already revolutionized video game sales and is looking to push the PC revolution forward even more.
P.S. – And boy do some of them look pretty, too.