Sunday, May 20, 2018
TV and Media

Valve's Steam Machines poised to blow off gaming's Big Three

Forget the consumer-analyst narrative that wearable media was the big story at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Gamers know the announcement of Valve's lineup of Steam Machines is the true wave of the future.

The game developer announced this week that its plan to mete out content from its Steam digital distribution service via third party machines is (dare I say it?) full steam ahead. There were 14 different designs of the so-called Steam Machines ready to cater to Valve's 65 million-strong user base.

It was a moment that will send shockwaves through both the console and PC gaming communities for years to come, possibly changing the development models of both forever.

Steam has been working to crowdsource solutions to its development challenges for years, but this is an unprecedented project. The 14 machines, with a Linux-based operating system called SteamOS, can serve as either computers or strictly game consoles. Each one has strengths and weaknesses, and offers features that can be tailored to gamers' specific wants and needs.

There are high-end models from established gaming PC makers. Alienware, Digital Storm and Falcon Northwest are among the builders, with Falcon Northwest's Tiki offering configurations that can cost as much as $6,000. (That Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan GPU alone would cost at least $1,000 if you bought the component for your own PC.)

If that's not in your budget but you still want to play Outlast, companies like Zotac and CyberPower are ma­king boxes with lower-spec parts for as little as $499. Any and all of these machines play Steam's 250 titles, and unlike a console, offer PC-like features, as well. That means someone who isn't a PC person (like me) can plug and play a cheap box on the living room television, while techie tinkerers can modify the high-end stuff all the livelong day — or alternately, a newbie could enjoy a $6,000 megatower without having to soldier or dismantle anything, while someone who digs retrofitting could upgrade a base version to anything they want. Valve even has allowed hardware makers to create their own controllers, allowing for numerous configurations for countless play styles.

This business model aims to take on both consoles and PCs by bringing Valve's open-source philosophy into hardware. The idea, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell said, is to allow gamers to find the right Steam Machine for them, instead of being told what their machine should be.

"The hardware that you're used to using on an airplane is not necessarily the right form factor for what you want to have in the living room," he said in Las Vegas. "So there are a set of issues there that we wanted to address in terms of hardware design — we wanted to prove that they were possible and share that knowledge with partners."

Imagine Sony or Microsoft farming out build specs to more than a dozen manufacturers to create consoles that could perform any number of tasks. That would be terrible for the established branding, of course, but it's a terrific option if your goal is to offer your services quickly to as many people as possible.

Microsoft, especially, has a lot to lose in this equation. It has been the last word in computer gaming for dec­ades now, and has clawed its way to the top of the heap in the console wars. Combine that with its lackluster launch of the Xbox One, and there may be a few corporate strategists arching an eyebrow as to whether Bellevue will have the firepower to withstand such a multifront assault.

If there's one thing the Big Three can fall back on, it's their mainstream name recognition. Everyone knows who Nintendo is, and that it would be the source of the next Super Mario Bros. title. Fewer people in the everyday world could tell you anything about Valve's Steam, but more than a few of those aforementioned 65 million users are no doubt ready, willing and able to fork over the dollars to maximize their Steam experience.

Surely not all of those machines will survive. All you have to do is go back 35 or 40 years to see how well all those Pong consoles fared in the long run. But it's the choice involved, the near-absolute freedom for an increasingly tech-savvy population to buy the box it wants, that will likely hit the reset button for everyone.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games for tbt*. Challenge his opinions at [email protected]

Comments
Have your favorite shows been canceled? Here’s a breakdown by network

Have your favorite shows been canceled? Here’s a breakdown by network

Last week brought the up-front presentations, when broadcast networks show off their new fall series to advertisers and, less ceremoniously, dump dozens of others.This year the bloodletting included beloved sitcoms and high-concept dramas, and the ne...
Published: 05/18/18
Summer TV preview: For your viewing pleasure, a look at the lineup

Summer TV preview: For your viewing pleasure, a look at the lineup

Get ready for another hot summer of sensational TV. We want crazy thrillers. We want exaggerated plot lines. But don’t count out prestigious and gut-wrenching dramas. The summer TV season begins earlier each year. We’re only halfway thro...
Published: 05/17/18
Today’s sports on TV/radio

Today’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBaseballCardinals at Twins1 p.m.MLBRays at Royals2 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMBrewers at Diamondbacks (in progress)4 p.m.MLBDodgers at Marlins7 p.m.FSFYankees at Nationals7 p.m.ESPNAstros at Angels (in progress)10 p.m.MLBCyclingTour of California, Stage...
Published: 05/15/18
Pauley Perrette claims she endured ‘multiple physical attacks’ on ‘NCIS’: ‘Nothing is worth your safety’

Pauley Perrette claims she endured ‘multiple physical attacks’ on ‘NCIS’: ‘Nothing is worth your safety’

Pauley Perrette left the long-running CBS forensic show NCIS after 15 seasons last week under what was originally presented as a professional decision. On Twitter, however, she told a different story."I refused to go low, that’s why I’ve never told p...
Published: 05/15/18
14 classic movies to see at Tampa Theatre this summer

14 classic movies to see at Tampa Theatre this summer

Tampa Theatre revealed today the lineup of movies for this year’s Summer Classics series. Among the more notable screenings are 2009’s The Blind Side, featuring a question and answer session with actor Quinton “Big Mike” Aaro...
Published: 05/14/18
Updated: 05/15/18
8 TV shows to watch with your mom for Mother’s Day

8 TV shows to watch with your mom for Mother’s Day

Mom should spend Mother's Day however she wants. And if she doesn't want to go anywhere, suggest a heartwarming TV show to binge together. My mother and I have always shared a love for television, and I remember proudly declaring to my fifth-grade cl...
Published: 05/10/18
For the first time, a royal wedding will be shown in theaters

For the first time, a royal wedding will be shown in theaters

If you were planning on waking up at the crack of dawn on May 19 to catch  Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's royal wedding  (and why wouldn't you?) there's good news for sleepy heads.  Fathom Events and BritBox, the subscription service...
Published: 05/08/18
Legoland brings back Star Wars Days with ‘The Force Awakens’ Miniland display

Legoland brings back Star Wars Days with ‘The Force Awakens’ Miniland display

The force is strong with Legoland this month.The Winter Haven theme park brings back its annual Star Wars Days on weekends in May with meet and greets with Lego Star Wars characters, galactic-themed building opportunities and a new brick display...
Published: 05/07/18
Updated: 05/08/18
‘Avengers: Infinity War’ scores second best weekend 2 ever

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ scores second best weekend 2 ever

LOS ANGELES — In its second weekend in theaters, "Avengers: Infinity War" continues to dominate in North America.The Walt Disney Co. says Sunday that the superhero film will gross an estimated $112.5 million over the weekend, becoming the secon...
Published: 05/06/18
Is Hulk Hogan OK?

Is Hulk Hogan OK?

***UPDATE TO THE UPDATE***Hulk has cleared up the Great Help Scandal of 2018:Sorry about the “HELP” tweet,was at the Dodge Dealer trying to figure out why my iPhone wouldn’t sync up to my Bluetooth! Oops,sorry HH— Hulk Hogan ...
Updated one month ago