Earlier today we were given some extra details on over a dozen new Steam machines, including prices for the base models from multiple manufacturers. Many things remain unclear, but the consensus amongst the PC-savvy crowd seems to still be that they could build their own equivalent gaming rig for considerably less. This is hardly earth-shattering news though.
Steam Machines are all about the convenience for the non-savvy consumer looking for a way into PC gaming, namely people who own a PC or laptop solely for work or console gamers. People like me. I know this, you know this. So why doesn’t Valve?
Why do I have to do all the research through gaming/tech sites to find out even the most basic of facts? The info available on Valve’s site is just terrible. One of the most problematic issues for me is the lack of confirmed Operating Systems for these different models. One minute I’m hearing Linux is the default, then it’s the newer Steam OS. None of these options are particularly attractive because it means there are a huge number of incompatible games on the Steam store as most of the games are built for Windows. I’m presuming extra licensing costs are the reason behind the Steam Machines not wanting to run with Microsoft’s OS, but when it has such an impact on a player’s potential library, it seems like Valve are cutting their nose off to spite their face.
My earlier point about the lack of pricing for any of the Steam Machine models beyond the entry level ones is worth coming back to. Even with no PC gaming experience (apart from Day of the Tentacle and Doom back in the day), I know that the cheapest machines sporting 4GB of RAM (the same as my wheezing ten year old laptop) isn’t up to much and hardly future-proof. When quizzing my PC-gaming colleagues they told me that I wouldn’t be running anything past average settings, which doesn’t sound like the ‘on a par with the PS4/Xbox One’ comparison Valve are claiming.
There’s just no information on how the machines will run either. Can you update drivers easily by installing some auto-update software? Will it do it automatically? Would I be able to get individual hardware pieces upgraded at a later date – extra RAM, HDD space or better graphics cards? Or is this a locked environment like a console? I’d like some solid intel on whether we’ll be able to use third-party controllers too, as the Steam owl face looks like a gamble to me. My colleagues Carl and Jon have perfectly illustrated a point though as I’ve been quizzing them about the ins and outs of the Steam Machines, if I have to ask experts (which I consider those two gents to be), Steam aren’t doing this whole thing correctly.
So, what are your options if you’re a console gamer wanting to get into PC gaming? Well, you could (probably should) wait for the Steam Machines to release and see how the reviews are. I’ll be particularly interested in comparisons of the same titles running across different machines, which will hopefully tell us more about which machines offers the best performance for various budgets. It’s only once the machines are out we’ll be able to get a solid idea of how much of the Steam library will be compatible too.
What other options are available? Bite the bullet and get into actual PC gaming. If like, me you’re a pure console gamer, this couldn’t be more daunting. A quick Google search tells me that I could buy what PC World claims to be a half-decent desktop rig for about £500, like this Cyberpower Empire Elite. Speak to anyone that really knows their stuff though, and they’ll say you might need to spend closer to £800 on something like the ASUS ROG GR8-R015R. Maybe rack that up to £1000 if you need a monitor, speakers, controller, keyboard and a mouse too. It’s here I start to reconsider the joys of constant 60 frames-per-second gaming or delicious Steam sales.
How about a gaming laptop? This was an especially attractive option for me as I’m in the market for a new work laptop anyway. So why not spend a little more and kill two birds with one stone? So if I’d be willing to spend around £400 on a laptop for work, how much would I need to spend on one with some gaming grunt? Prepare for a sad face time, as gaming laptops are more expensive than a similar spec rig thanks to the condensed tech and the bonus of portability. There’s always the risk of a gaming laptop overheating more often than a rig too.
Build your own rig and save even more money are the most regular replies you’ll get on any forum page or comments section, which is fine if you’ve been PC gaming for years. But personally, I don’t have the time, the know-how or the patience and I imagine many people eyeing up the Steam Machines’ potential have similar issues.
My expectations from a cheaper Steam Machine were not particularly high. I was not expecting to be able to run games at ultra settings. But not having a clear picture of well, anything, is starting to wear thin now. Valve and their partners need to get their act together and realise that console gamers are their key audience for Steam Machines. PC gamers are going to stick with their existing tech and invest in Steam Link for second room streaming at best.
If people like me are considering sacking off Steam Machines seven months before release and looking at gaming rigs, something is very wrong. On the plus side, if nobody is buying them, maybe the prices of the higher spec ones will come down by January. But at this stage, the Steam Machine dream of getting involved with PC gaming properly for the same cost as a console seems like a joke. Prove me wrong Valve and you’ll make insane amounts of money. Right now, you’re blowing this incredible opportunity.