Tuesday, January 7, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

From one console gamer to another, there is a new line of “next gen systems” on the block.

Stapling the term “next gen systems” to the line of 14 Steam Machines announced yesterday is politically incorrect. Steam Machines aren’t marketed as sitting in a generational delineation, nor are they technically considered consoles either; they are PCs built with Steam OS and living room gaming in mind.

However “living room gaming” has been commanded by home consoles for nearly three decades, and as a console exclusive gamer, in my eyes, Steam Machines are a new line of home consoles.

The prospect of Steam Machines is incredibly appealing to gamers of my preference. Essentially, these units are the first major development in PC gaming’s simplification of all the iterative streamlining the platform has done in the past several years. There’s no building required, no parts that need imperative management right away; these powerful pieces of hardware come in a complete box.

They’re also appropriately priced ranging from what we know as little as $499 to $6,000. Who in their right mind would spend months of my salary on a gaming piece of hardware, I clearly don’t know those people. But if you’re offering me a system that’s the same price as an Xbox One, I’m in.

An added bonus is that allegedly even the cheapest of Steam Machines are reported to be more powerful than Microsoft and Sony’s bombastic offerings. Alienware’s incredibly compact hardware is set to be competitively priced with both the PS4 and the Xbox One while offering more power than both systems. It’s a slightly higher end option for an affordable price for this new era’s most resource intensive games.

However the massive appeal to me is Steam’s potential of an unparalleled library of games. Given that Steam OS will translate Steam’s current experience, owners of this hardware will have access to some of the most interesting titles before any other platform. Sony has made impressive efforts in getting indie support over to their console and handheld platforms; but whereas I appreciated getting a chance to play Hotline Miami on my Vita, I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll get a chance to play The Stanley Parable on any other platform.  

These experiences are already cheap, but Steam’s industry leading Steam sales allow these games to be even cheaper at a criminal price. For me, a Steam Box will more or less function as a high end Ouya. And I don’t mean that in a negative way by any stretch. Games like Titanfall or the next Battlefield (after BF 4’s disastrous launch, my current attitude is to not return to the franchise, but I’ll go along with this example) won’t do well to pull me from any of my current consoles because of the established communities I have with them. And while others such as The Witcher 3 and the new Thief might win me over if there’s a notable improvement in performance, my Steam Machine library will be stuffed with indie games and experimental projects.

For some time, I was envious to PC gaming, allowing the barrier to entry to wall me off of approaching the platform. Last gen’s systems, while not nearly matching the power of PC, was able to eventually have some of the high demanding PC games carry over. For some time, I thought I was in good shape, convincing that the PC platform was meaningless to me. But as the indie scene grew to a size that simply couldn’t be ignored, particularly after Steam Greenlight kicked off, that envy grew again.

After what we’ve seen at this year’s CES, it looks as if I’ll color myself green no more.

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