Analyzing the SteamBox

By Mike on 3:50 pm

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There might be a Steam console coming to a TV near you. That's the rumour percolating this week. Sources say Valve has developed a mini computer, with the purpose of creating a stand alone console that can play PC games. Should such a thing exist? Blasphemy, so say PC gamers who have heard it all before.

Valve certainly wouldn't be the first company to do this. Phantom Entertainment attempted it as far back as 2003. The hardware looked promising, as well as the allure of a truly open platform. Then a lawsuit and fraud investigation later, and The Phantom disappeared entirely.

Valve has also come up with a system that has promising hardware. It's claimed to feature an i7 processor, 8gb of RAM, and an nVidia graphics chip. All built with off-the-shelf components. Valve  has considerable gamer & publisher support, and an existing distribution model. If we compare past systems, a Steam box would be like the original Xbox. A big company takes a risky move to create a console out of PC hardware.

A standardized system would have huge benefits for software developers. However, such a system wouldn't necessarily benefit gamers. After all, standardized hardware already exists. They're called the Wii, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. Many, if not most PC titles launching today are ports of console games. Few exclusives exist beyond MMOs and real-time strategy, and that's only because they're impractical on consoles.

The Steam box is a novel concept but it fails to take into consideration one important factor. PC gamers don't game just for the sake of gaming. Much of the hobby comes from building and customizing hardware, or tweaking and modding the games themselves. Especially outdoing those doing the same. As a PC gamer myself, I feel a Steam box isn't going to appeal to this community.

As for console gamers, the market is already saturated. There isn't room for more than three systems. There never has been. It's especially true if the system can't offer up any clear advantage over the others. Both Nintendo and Sony survive through well established franchises and unique exclusives. Nintendo furthermore has its gimmicks. Microsoft has their superior online play. Steam would add a direct download, discless alternative. But is that enough?

Valve should not be producing another stand alone console. The world doesn't need it. If they want in on the hardware business, custom PCs are a more viable choice. Especially if they partner with nVidia, as has been suggested. Similar to what AMD has done with their Vision platform. If they can use their leverage to produce a Windows PC focused on gaming, with prices comparable to consoles, then they may be on to something.

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