Does Valve's rumoured "Steam Box" make sense?
Would gamers buy a standardised PC to play Valve games such as Portal 2 and Left 4 Dead?
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a major philosophical schism in the gaming community. It separates those who play games on PCs from those who play on consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. Each group looks on the other with a certain amount of disdain, especially when the obligatory “PC gaming is dead” stories emerge with the launch of each new console.
Of course these powerful game consoles are really computers under the bonnet. The point is that they’re a standardised hardware and software platform — for better or for worse. The beauty of buying a game for the PlayStation 3 is that you know it will run happily on any PlayStation 3 and you’re generally freed from PC-esque hassles (apart from large software updates).
Meanwhile PC gamers are busy tinkering under the bonnet. They trick out their high-performance gaming rigs to offer razor sharp resolution, exquisite detail and mouth-watering frame rates. They generally like to see the whites of a zombie’s eyes before they splatter its brains across the footpath.
Of course for PC gamers there’s always a faster processor, more powerful graphics card and larger monitor around the corner. Last year’s high-end graphics card might not do justice to this year’s high-end games. Living on the upgrade cycle might sound frustrating, but it’s the price that PC gamers are prepared to pay to escape the shackles of static console platforms.
The debate rages but gamers have voted with their wallets, as sales figures indicate the majority of people prefer the convenience of console gaming over the flexibility of PC gaming. When you combined PS3 and Xbox 360 games sales, they outnumber PC games sales by around 10 to 1.
So we come to Valve’s rumoured “Steam Box” games machine. Valve’s Steam platform lets you purchase PC games online and download them rather than heading off to the shops for a disc. Last year Valve also embraced the PlayStation 3, letting console owners interact with the Steam network and engage in cross-platform play and instant messaging.
So far, so good, but do the rumours of a Valve games machine make sense? Reports indicate the Steam Box could actually be a range of PCs built to meet Valve certification, rather than just one box. It might also bring the PC gaming experience to the big screen in your lounge room. Admittedly this could impact on the traditional keyboard/mouse interface used with PC games, considered by some to be a strength compared to console controllers.
Valve has denied the existence of the Steam Box, but the rumours persist. A standardised design should offer stability, although this would be jeopardised if owners could use it for other tasks and install extra software. Of course a static, stable gaming platform is what already attracts some people to consoles and drives others to PCs. Gamers on both sides of the divide are likely to scoff at a PC locked down to mimic a console — potentially offering the worst of both worlds.