Valve’s Steam Machines are finally starting to come out. Officially, I believe the launch is next month (November 2015) but a couple of sites have come out with reviews: Engadget loves them and ars technica is not as enthusiastic. Both review SteamOS and the Steam Controller on (I believe) the Alienware Steam Machine. Both also talk a bit about Steam’s Link – a small set-top box to stream Steam games from another computer on the local network.
Reading the comments, both at the news sites and on Reddit, I am struck by two major, semi-related misunderstandings (or, perhaps FUD): that Steam Machines will fail because there are no/few/not enough/etc AAA titles and that without those AAA titles, serious gamers won’t buy a Steam Machine. There are other issues in here as well — that AAA games are too hard or expensive to port to Linux (which is the operating system underlying SteamOS) or that the Linux display drivers are not good enough for AAA games. But, it still comes down to
no AAA games = Steam Machine fail.
However, I don’t believe that hardcore gamers are the target for most Steam Machines or SteamOS. The more likely target audiences for (most) Steam Machines are: casual gamers and those gamers who: a) already use Steam, b) want to game on their couch, c) don’t, or don’t want to, build their own small and quiet computer for their living room. These two groups have much different attitudes and needs than do hardcore gamers.
In general, hardcore gamers have to have specific games, not just any game. Casual gamers don’t necessarily care about specific games. Hardcore gamers will choose a system (Steam Machine, XBox, Playstation, etc.) based on whether or not specific games (such as say, Halo 17) are available for it. Casual gamers are more likely to buy from the games available for the system they have, without worrying about what other games might be available for some other system. For someone like that, a Steam Machine may make good sense.
Sure, that doesn’t automagically mean that these people are going to run out and get Steam Machines. But, if they happen across them, these folks aren’t going to immediately ask “Can it run World of Warcraft?”.
Personally, I may get a Steam Machine for my living room. I have a large (for a casual gamer) library of games on Steam. I got most of them through Humble Bundles or Steam sales. Most are indies and a few are closer to AAA level. Most work on Linux. That is what I have been using for the last 15+ years, so those are the titles I look for. A Steam Machine would work just fine for my gaming needs, and doing it on the TV would make it easier for my wife to get involved as well (a huge plus).
If you have to have Grand Theft Auto XXV: Lunar City, than maybe a Steam Machine isn’t right for you. That doesn’t mean that they might not be right for a lot of people.
By the way, one of the most important reasons for SteamOS and Steam Machines is avoiding MS and Apple lock-in. App stores controlled by the OS vendor are a threat to Valve, obviously. So, even if sales numbers for Steam Machines do not impress, Valve (and gamers) will benefit from the fact that there is another option out there.