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Why the Steam Machine's war against Windows gaming looks more doomed by the day

Chris Hoffman | Feb. 2, 2015
Steam Machines sounded so good on paper... but they've remained on paper after a long delay, and the need for a Windows alternative diminishes by the day.

But even that has become less interesting and more commoditized. Microsoft is looking at streaming PC games to an Xbox One, so at some point you may be able to buy an Xbox One for $350 and get the ability to play both Xbox One games and stream games to it from your PC. Razer's Android-based Forge TV console allows you to stream games from a PC to your TV, and it'll be available soon for only $100. It also isn't so tied to Steam, so it'll help you stream non-Steam games to your TV with less hassle. The same goes with NZXT's $100 Doko box.

Heck, even Intel's cheap "Compute Stick" HDMI dongles could be used for game-streaming. Game-streaming alone can't sell Steam Machines anymore. You don't even need new hardware to beam the power of your primary gaming PC into your living room! Pretty much any Windows, Linux, or Mac computer that can run Steam can run Steam's powerful in-home streaming feature.

One bright spot in the Steam Machine saga grew out of some interesting tidbits Origin PC CEO Kevin Wasielewski told to GameSpot recently.

According to Wasielewski, Valve is about to show off a revamped version of the Steam Controller, and it should be going into production soon. The Steam Controller has a lot of promising features that could provide a better experience when playing games designed for a mouse and keyboard on a TV.

The term "Steam Machine" doesn't look too healthy, though. As Wasielewski said, "I think that's pretty much dead. It's like 'living room PC' is now the new term. Living room PCs have been around forever. That's not anything new either. But it seems like there's a legitimate demand and push for living room PCs." Perhaps like Origin's own Omega PC.

Where does that leave the Linux-based SteamOS? Many PC gamers might expect their "living room PCs" to run all the (Windows) PC games they've purchased on Steam, after all. The Alienware Alpha living-room PC — originally supposed to be a Steam Machine — is a good example of how a Windows-based Steam-gaming living-room PC might look.

SteamOS development hasn't halted, of course. But Valve may be less committed to Linux and SteamOS, as the company's extracted key concessions from Microsoft.

This isn't the final word

Despite all we've said, there's still ample room for SteamOS to make an impact, as Alienware general manager Frank Azor told PCWorld ahead of last year's E3:

"SteamOS is obviously been designed around one single use, whereas Windows is a multi-use operating system that can be custom tailored around any one particular use — as we're doing [with Alienware Alpha's console mode]. But Valve has a lot more control developing SteamOS, ensuring it's singularly focused with one use model. That's why it's a very important initiative for us, and one we're still fully supporting as soon as it's ready. It's a more sustainable way of delivering a reliable living room experience. We can build our custom [console UI] interface over Windows, but we don't know what [the next version of Windows] is going to be. Are we going to have to redo all that work...?


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