Valve’s Steam Machines: A New Challenger In The Gaming Console Wars

Valve has revealed the hardware it wants to use to disrupt the games console industry. But will smartphone gaming beat it to the punch?

Valve’s Steam Machines: A New Challenger In The Gaming Console Wars

Valve, the game company behind a string of successful computer games like Portal and Half-Life, has already revealed its SteamOS gaming operating system this week–an attempt to make it easier to code better computer games. Now it’s also revealed its long-awaited and much-rumored gaming hardware, the Steam Machine. But as the Guardian points out, it’s not quite the radical entry to the console wars that we were expecting.

Steam Machines are going to be pretty powerful pieces of kit. They’re based on PC architectures, but shaped deliberately into a “new category of living-room hardware,” according to the company. The idea is to take aspects of high-end computer hardware and put them into a box that will sit underneath the user’s TV, acting as a gaming and entertainment portal, running the Linux-based SteamOS. Valve isn’t actually going to make its own machines–which is a blow to those expecting some sort of awesome Weighted Companion Cube format–and instead is going to license the manufacture out to other firms for a 2014 launch. The company is going to make a few hundred reference consoles, however, and release them to beta testers who can even now try to sign up to the program, which will begin this year. There’s no real idea of the type of hardware that will arrive, but makers will be able to customize the devices beyond the base specification and users will be able to hack and tweak the OS.

This is a different approach to the more locked-down and DRM-protected status of games machines like Sony’s PS4, and particularly Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One, whose overly restrictive policies caused a backlash that has already hurt the console’s reputation. But it is worth pointing out that the Steam Machines are, in essence, similar to the PS4 and One, which are traditional PC hardware reimagined and directed toward gaming and home entertainment.

It’s also worth pointing out that the console gaming market is facing an ever-increasing threat from mobile games on smartphones and tablets. Apple has just revealed the iPhone 5S, which is as powerful as a desktop PC from a few years ago and can run amazing games. It’s likely that its next iPad will be even more powerful, and the company may have plans to turn its machines into erstwhile games consoles. So is Steam’s effort too little, too late?

[Image: Flickr user Pedro Reyna]

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