Do We Need A Steam Box?

We are getting close to the release of the ‘Steam Box’, a platform set and designed by Valve, the company behind the Steam service.

A possible Steam Box design.

A range of manufacturers will be producing the end machines, with idea being that they become possible console alternatives. Steam Boxes will be running Linux, but users will primarily be switching them on to access the Steam game service, currently available for PCs, (Windows and Linux), and Macs.

The range of games on Steam is huge. Most of the AAA multi-format titles find their way onto the service and there is a large indie provision, which is significantly larger than the small PSN and XBL release schedule. The service does have some exclusive titles, due to the fact that Valve are behind the service, and of course are famous for making games such as the Half Life series, Left for Dead and Counter strike. However, many of the titles are on consoles (in one form or another), or elsewhere. Whilst the number of exclusive titles are few, and updates are slow in arriving from Valve, they are highly valued titles by gamers worldwide.

So will the Steam Box change the gaming landscape?

It could certainly affect it. If over a period of time, people find they can get access to a platform, which has cheaper games (games on Steam are cheaper than on console, and they have amazing seasonal sales), is possibly cheaper to buy (there will also be different versions of the hardware we are told, presumably so it can hit a range of price points), and can be upgraded to allow it to have a long shelf life then it might be a possible ‘second console’ purchase.

Clearly it’ll be a contrast to the closed boxed experience being offered by the next generation of consoles. Yet with the onset of Streaming, will it be as radical as it once sounded? Does it even matter what box you have once we have streaming in place? After all, the box is just handling the video feed and controller info, with streaming. The Steam Box might just become the Steam Service accessible from your Smart TV, just as the Playstation will eventually cease to be a machine, and also will become a service accessible from your TV, or tablet or wherever else Sony chooses to provide it.

Nonetheless it is clear that the physical console will be relevant for at least another 5 years, and that is a long time in the world of technology. In this space, if the launch of the PS4 and new Xbox were to be slow, with traction in the marketplace being stalled (as it is now with Nintendo’s WiiU), then the Steam Box might be an added complication for Sony and Microsoft, as it might take enough of a percentage from the overall market to affect the sustainability of the traditional players such as Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony.

This overall might be good. It might force Sony and Microsoft to become more open regarding who can publish games on their platforms (something Sony, at least, has stated they are wanting to achieve already). In addition it will put pressure on the prices of digital content on the store. Why pay £59.99 for a top game on the PSN store, when on Steam, perhaps, it is £40-£50 new, and after a few months £20-£40. If the Steam Box is cheap enough, AND small enough (it is being designed to be small), maybe the consumer will have a PS4 for first party Sony content, but then have a cheap Steam Box next to it, for multi-platform content at a cheaper price.

What with the Ouya box also coming out soon, a platform based on Android (along with other similar, competitor platforms also based on Android) it has been a long time since we have had so many different console choices. Whilst one can assume that the typical main three companies will still dominate, due to marketing, exclusive content and of course brand loyalty (plus initially their consoles will be very powerful compared to all, except possibly the top of the range Steam Box), over time these alternative systems will eat into the units sold. More importantly we might find that content is bought for a wider range of systems. As the traditional console businesses recoup the money they invest in the console via ongoing software sales, this possible dilution of which system games will be bought for, could have serious repercussions for the traditional console business model.

Perhaps this is another reason why Sony (and possibly Microsoft) are looking into subscription based services as a way of reducing the need for the consumer to look elsewhere for content?

What do you feel about the Steam Box? Attractive and exciting, or just a lot of hot air……