Will Steam Boxes Succeed?

A few weeks ago at CES a flurry of new Steam boxes were revealed that will be available to people in the future. Some boxes just showed hardware, while others threw out some specs and some even told us what we’d expect to be paying for these steam boxes. All of that said, we still are far away from seeing if the introduction of these Steam boxes will really change anything about console gaming as we know it. As every day goes by, and I have more time to mull over the situation, I become more and more sure that these Steam boxes are not going to change the gaming landscape much, if at all. Especially not if you are an early adopter.

Bad Controller?

Steam Controller

Valve’s Steam Controller

The one thing Valve actually has proper control over is the controller. While they left the manufacturers to set up the Steam Boxes to their liking, Valve designed the controller from scratch. At first glance, the controller has a similar form factor to many well established controllers, but also looks very foreign at the same time. It has two large track pads that act as joysticks. While I haven’t had the opportunity to have a hands on with the device, I’ve read numerous reports that it isn’t intuitive and takes time to get used to. Generally that isn’t a good thing. When designing a product, the goal is always to make it as intuitive as possible so that people can understand. That doesn’t mean it can’t have more capabilities, but the basics need to be comprehensible.

Much of the problem with the controller’s lack of intuitiveness stems from Valve’s idea of the development of the controller. The controller is designed so that it has a bunch of different usable points that the user can uniquely configure to do what they please. yes, the user is given the freedom to decide how to set up all the controls. While, that might sound great at first, it isn’t. Valve is leaving the best configuration to the users. They pretty much said here’s the controller, figure out how to use it best.

Price Too High
The Steam boxes will come from an array of manufacturers each boasting different specs and price points. While many of the boxes are not priced, a few have and the predictions have been largely right. Some of the boxes are set to compete with current consoles. And then there are the high end boxes. The lower end boxes are set to hit the market at the $500 range, but you have to keep in mind these are the lower tier boxes. These boxes will get the job done, but specs indicate they are only on par with a currently good gaming PC.

Piston Steam box

Piston Steam box

Some of these boxes sky rock up into the $2000 range. Sure, you will be getting a better machine with better specs. But again the level of future proofing isn’t properly there. With the higher tier, you are getting a beast of a machine, but you’re paying for it. A $2000 machine is not going to attract the casual gamer to join the Steam community. It’s simply too price. I beg the question if the $500 machines will draw in a tremendous new user base considering it still isn’t cheap and lacks familiarity.

The Linux Issue
Steam machines run off a Linux based kernel. This means that games that are not made to play off a linux kernel will not be available. Most of the games in Steam’s catalog run on Mac and Windows. In case you haven’t looked at the game catalog, that’s a lot of games a Steam box user wouldn’t have access to. The majority of them in fact. Now sure, once the Steam box comes out, it will become a standard and you’ll see more games coming out using that Linux kernel, but it doesn’t change the fact that the original catalog will be stunted.

Does Valve Care?
Despite all these issues that are presenting themselves with the first round of the Steam boxes, I don’t believe Valve actually cares. Their investment in the boxes in minimal. The way the model is structured, they only stand to benefit. Their end goal is to get more people in the Steam ecosystem by any means necessary. Even if this venture even ends up a complete flop, there will still be more Steam users out there than when it started.

If you were to ask me right now if I am going to get a Steam box, the answer would be a resounding no. It’s too much money. It’s too much work on my end. Not to mention if I’m going to go in, I’m going to get a better box. So until the Steam boxes prove themselves a worthy endeavor I’ll look in from the outside.

Will you be getting a Steam box?

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