Thursday, 8 May 2014

How the Steamboxes failed

Before we continue, and you all start rage-hating me for damning your beloved console to be. Please take a moment to have a look at a good friend of mine's Darks Souls Gaming Blog - On The Game. If you prefer a well versed literary journey through the histories of gaming, then this should be the next link you click. If you want to read my rant below then stay here. but click that link after (I'll even make it easy for you and put the link at the bottom of the page).

How the Steamboxes failed

"It's not even out yet, how can I possibly make such a claim?", is the question you are probably asking behind all the rage and anger you feel purely over my headline. so please allow me to put this into perspective.

I love Steam, it is one of the first applications I install on a computer as soon as I set one up. As computer technician, it is the only gaming platform I have ever recommended to people when they ask for a trustworthy source. As an Xbox One owner who is a bit disgruntled that his digital purchases from the 360 wont carry over to the new platform, i'm actually looking to move to Steam as a living room alternative, so that my financial investment in the platform wont be negated in the next generation. The Steam game library is immense, they have free to play, they openly support mods and even go out there and encourage indie developers to put their games on that platform, and the creators of Steam are the creators of Half-Life. Due to that final piece alone they have my support for life. So please trust me when I say I am not hating on their soon to be released living-room extension of their platform, i was excited from the moment Valve announced they would be releasing Steam hardware. But as excited as I want to be about the potential this could have, I can't ignore the the following, in fact I believe it "has" the potential to be the Steambox death sentence.

It's because of the s, (the little one, not the big one).

As in, Steamboxes, Yep, that's it, variety is the main problem here. I'm assuming that you are hoping for the Steambox to actually take off. I was hoping for it to be to bring about the 2nd coming (of PC Games). But in order to get to that stature it needs to become an actual "thing" people talk about. "The SteamBox", but it's not a thing, it's many things, too many because it is more than one. Just to prove this point, if you plan to get one, ask yourself, which one are you going to get? Why? If you have already made that decision, it;s probably because you've weighed up the spec of each and decided that its the one for you to get the specific power requirements based on the budget you have. If, like most people you haven't decided yet, that's a problem for valve, right now in the Playstation and Xbox pre-release window, people had solid plans of which model/package they wanted as there was a clear and limited variety available on a specific release date. whereas the Steambox still leaves too much in the unknown. now consider those friends of yours who have a games console, which one will they buy? Is this machine that has a huge library and (based on model) has far better graphics than their current Xbox One or PS4 even on their radar?

Aside the expense, PC gaming is too varied and inconsistent for most users and because of this it undoubtedly puts users off. Most people who aren't enthusiasts have no interest in such huge variety when making decisions. The current mobile and tablet generation is one shining example of how people just prefer simplicity.

having fewer hardware options would surely encourage developers too as they would only need to code for a specific set of hardware (to be honest though, I don't know how much work it takes to do bug-fixing for 2 different GPUs vs 5).

Yeah, this is definitely more comparable to the android platform than the locked down iOS but that's fine on a device everyone needs, like a phone.

Sony and Microsoft

For anyone who says that Valve aren't competing with Sony and Microsoft may be completely right, but. The comparisons can't be ignored, When these things are on a shelf next to each other, (a big shelf holding a playstation, xbox and 14 steam machines) who isn't going to see them as competing products.

It's a box that sits under your TV and lets you play games from your couch instead of needing a desk to play at, it has a handheld controller instead of a keyboard, etc. The list can go on, but the fact is, these bring your games to the living room. If your a PC gamer already, you're probably used to not needing this and anyone else who cares about gaming will go after one of the other two options.

The OS

This looks much better than Valve's previous offerings, and the cool swirly floaty gamebox images in the background looks cool. But overall the interface looks kinda bland and inconsistent. The SteamOS is pretty much Steam big picture mode running on a custom Linux Distro. At the very least it is an already recognised platform unlike creating something brand new like the current offering of home consoles. But this makes sense since Valve aren't creating something from the ground up, they want their massive library of games to be a major selling point. The games that work on Linux anyway.

The Library

Biggest strength. Not really, I have over 300 games in my steam library and 250 of which I cant play on steam OS. Most of the games for steam have been developed for Windows and Valve certainly have made clear improvements on their multi-platform offerings, but they are still miles off the totality of the full library. Perhaps the Steambox will encourage developers to port more of their products over, but the devices really need to sell to make such an impact.

Also, new games, where are they.

The Controller

Ok, This I understand, Valve can't go back and re-engineer the games to work with a pair of analogue sticks and a lot of these games require a mouse in order to work. So they needed to come up with a touchpad based solution. I'm glad to hear that this is more than just that and actually provides some haptic feedback cool. But i want to know what happens when I stop pressing the button. You may not notice but when you move an analogue stick to look around in an FPS, once you let go the view snaps back to centre-forward. on a Mouse and keyboard setup You are in full control of what direction you are looking. do you want to look front and centre again, you need to put it back there. It's likely to be the same with this.

Also, I, like many people have a limited experience with using a touch device ti control games, and that experience is from using smartphones. Which is a horrible way to play games especially shooters. and even though this will be very different to that experience. Without a good amount of hands on time, who doesn't just think "bah" to touch controls?

What it doesn't do

Most console now are more than just that, most notably they're media centres but they support a huge range of apps. And yes, this is just a linux distro so apps can be created, but does valve have a strategy for this? because if not, that;s a huge feature-set and amount of potential Valve are missing out on. Twitch is a big thing on the new consoles, is this going to be the same on Steam OS

Their own potential

Valve wins at PC games (with the exception of a few, most notably the Blizzard games). And they exist on a very open platform which has the potential to create almost anything to run along side but it;s a mess. For anyone who has played with Linux, you will find that it's come leaps and bounds in the last few years, but would you be willing to hand Ubuntu over to someone who says I want a PC but don't want to pay for windows. You may be happy to use a Linux distro, but the average user would break it in 5 minutes, or call you every 4 minutes to ask things like "where is the start button?". And yes Steam OS is much simpler than even Ubuntu but it has the potential to do so many things, I'm not convinced that valve actually have a strategy with these potential things mapped out on it.

I envision a future where i'm sat in my room with my oculus rift on my head with some 7.1 headphones. All wirelessly steaming content from my steam server using their in home streaming platform. and i'm sure someone at valve has this on the cards too. But, like many geeks, they get started down one path and before it's complete, get distracted by the next cool tech. i can't believe i'm gonna say this, but I think they actually need some suited fellows in there just to get some stuff finished.


Steam (Desktop version) itself still feels like an experiment to me that valve are playing about with and this is just another leg of that experiment and although their results are good they don't seem to have truly defined anything yet. At this point they can't go back and say, right. we've changed our minds, there will only be 1 Steambox. But they still have the option to partner with a hardware builder and make their own Valve Steambox. at least then there would be a flagship (like the Google Nexus, which is actually made by ASUS/Samsung depending on the model). At least with then they could do more to get re-developers (great new word) on board with a single platform and make that huge library mean something.

I'd love to be wrong here, and I'm sure the box will make an impression, I'm also sure I'll have one at some point (even if it's just to play Carmageddon: Reincarnation). But do you think that this can complete with the current console offerings and if you think it's not aimed at them, who is it aimed at? Hardcore PC gamers who already have their PC's and, if they keep them in place of a SteamBox have a larger library of games to hand. The device is currently only viable for a niche of current PC gamers (a declining market). If valve truly want this to be taken seriously (because we the loyal customers want this to work) we're going to need to start seeing the word "Coming to Playstation 4, Xbox One and Steambox" on some upcoming big games titles very soon, either that or get warcraft on it.

Hey, remember my friends blog I mentioned at the top of the article, here's that link again, as promised.
Post a Comment