The Wii U, the Xbox One, and the PS4 all next gen consoles that made their debut in 2013. Well that was last year, and this is 2014 the future of gaming. For those who like to define themselves as gamers there has traditionally been two distinct parties; those that play consoles and those that play on the PC. Up until 2014 PC gaming has been home to hardcore gamers/hardware junkies. It was a place that allowed people to express themselves in their own customized gaming rigs. Whether it be in the form of aesthetics, raw processing power, or both; the PC gaming market had a little something for everyone. The one thing that PC gaming hadn't become synonymous with has simply been ease of use for most people. Gaming rigs are like Ferrari's and Lamborghini's requiring special attention, constant maintenance, and endless configuring. In 2014 Valve has set out to change the PC gaming landscape forever.
One of the biggest advantages that consoles have had over the years in contrast to PC gaming is the ease of use and accessibility for everyday people. To put it simply...
I like console, I buy console, I turn on console, I put game in console, I play game, I turn off console...The end.
Ease of use this is why video game consoles like Sony's Playstation's, Microsoft's Xbox's, and Nintendo's countless systems over the years have come to dominate the landscape commercially. While in stark contrast PC gaming can well, be like this...
Which processor do I buy Intel or AMD, are they compatible with the motherboard I want, should I go Nvidia sli or ATI crossfire, single or multi rail PSU, can I buy that extra 8GB RAM kit to make a total of 16GB of Ram, etc...
The list of possible combinations is almost limitless, and with constantly new hardware coming out every month it is impossible to keep your gaming rig up to date. There is no ease of use, or just put the game in and play option. The games needs to be installed, but you may run into issues before starting. The DirectX driver needs to be updated, or the graphics card has a particular issue running a game and the drivers need to be updated first before playing. I experienced this exact issue before being able to play Rage by id software back a couple of years ago.
The reality is that the raw processing power of the highest end PC rigs could already blow the PS4 and Xbox One out of the water the day they were released. Unfortunately that doesn't mean there are many PC only games that take full advantage of this raw processing power. The one most recent and famous exception was Crysis developed by Crytek in 2007.
The console market dictates the gaming landscape, but with the release of the SteamBox platform that trend may soon reverse. For years people have been clamoring that PC gaming is dead, and "experts" have proclaimed that each set of console releases will be the final nail in the PC's coffin. Alas this has not been the case, and a dedicated few have stuck by the PC, and the fruits of our labor are paying off. In 2012 PC gaming accounted for over $20 billion dollars in sales according to PC Gaming Alliance. This is a full 8% increase over sales the previous year, and this has been the largest year in PC gaming since the early 1990's. Monster games like World of WarCraft, StartCraft II, Diablo 3, Crysis, and the Total War Series have helped boost sales. Diablo III pushed over 3.5 million units in 24 hours alone. In comparison GTA V pushed nearly 6.5 million units in its first day alone, and became the fastest entertainment product of all time to gross $1 billion dollars. No one is claiming that game consoles are dying, but PC gaming is surging forward.
A huge part of the PC's success over the past years has been the introduction of the Steam Store by Valve. Where Apple created iTunes and changed music purchases forever. Valve's Steam brought the video game store online in the form of the cloud back in 2003. Games could now be virtual purchased and saved to an online account keeping a record of the transaction forever. So there were no more lost or damaged CD's, and if I purchased a new computer I download Steam and my entire game library travels with me. Ubisoft followed suite in 2009 with the launch of Uplay, and EA re-released their online store as Origin. GOG.com is another great digital distribution platform available as well.
For those familiar with Steam need I say more than Steam Sale. At key times during the year a Steam Sale will enter my life, and make an entire treasure trove of game on sale for staggeringly low prices. Games like Portal II or Bioshock Infinite on sale for less then $9 dollars. Steam has also stripped out the middle men, and high production costs for game developers as well. Many games now get founded through Crowd-founding on Steam. Free to play open beta's also give game developers access to countless number of testers for free in return of already owning the game when the final product comes out. While Steam has single handily carried the PC market on it's back, and kept it on life support in its worst times. Valve's SteamBox's look to carry the PC market yet again into a new domain...Your living room.
Imagine a world where powerful gaming rigs meet the reliability and ease of use of console machines. Well that reality is now here in the form of the Steam Machines. Valve has created a Linux based operating system called the SteamOS that will accompany each Steam Machine. Using my Steam account I can now purchase a game download/install it, and play it without any additional manual configuring or tweaking. I also will have full access to my own personal Steam library currently sitting at 50 games. There are currently thirteen manufacturers of the Steam Machines, and each company has it own unique models and design. In addition there are going to be models that are competitively priced against the PS4 and Xbox One, as well as Steam Machines that will run as high as $6000. IGN has a great wiki on the SteamBox that helps breakdown these new machines even more. Here you can find a full list of confirmed games, available upcoming models, and information on the revolutionary new controller.
A lot of the success of the Steam Machine will ride on the revolutionary new controller that gives gamers the dexterity of a mouse, and the functionality of a controller. The Verge wrote a great write up of their hands on impression of the controller and the SteamBox. The Steam Machines will support and fully embrace those purists who want to continue to use a mouse and keyboard, but Valve also needed a way to enter comfortably into the living room as well. Their controller is looking to merge these two worlds, and from early reviews it looks as if they have accomplished this task. Albeit the controllers are not completely intuitive at first, and have a higher learning curve then a traditional Playstation or Xbox controller.
The SteamBox or Steam Machine may not be for everyone, but the revolutionary idea of creating a stable OS for the PC coupled with a ground breaking controller, and undeniably the largest launch library in history makes the SteamBox a formidably foe to the PS4 and Xbox One. Another interesting fact is that all three platforms will use AMD's x86 architecture which has essentially eliminated the arduous task for what used to known as porting. When the SteamBox's start to release later in the year game developers will have no reason to leave the PC faithful waiting for their version of the best games. Games moving forward should release on all three systems down the road further cementing PC gaming into the future. Coupled with the raw power these machines can muster; game developers just might start paving the future of gaming with the PC instead of the game console.
- Robby Silk