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26 February, 2015

Has Microsoft Killed Off Valve's Steam Machines?

Last month I wrote an opinion piece asking whether Valve’s Steam Machines had already run out of puff. In short, I argued that the Steam Machine seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Who are they targeted at? What gap do they fill in the market? Is there even a market for them? I suggested that Valve needs to have a large presence at the upcoming Game Developers Conference (GDC,) and go out of its way to answer all of our questions.

In the month since I wrote that article, two interesting developments have occurred. First, Valve released a press statement noting that it will have a sizable presence at GDC, and will be showing off its Steam Machine and the final iteration of the Steam Controller. This is excellent, if not unexpected, news. This could be the final large scale opportunity Valve has to convince us of the benefits of its shiny new hardware.

Interestingly, in Valve’s press release it also noted that it will be unveiling “new living room devices and a previously-unannounced SteamVR hardware system.” This is a tantalising titbit of information, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Also Read: Why is Microsoft Making A Game for Sony Players?

The second major development is that Microsoft held its own conference in January to unveil the Windows 10 operating system. There’s a lot to get excited about with the new OS, but one feature in particular struck me. An Xbox app for Windows 10 will introduce the ability to stream Xbox One games to a Windows 10-based desktop, laptop or tablet over local Wi-Fi (see video below). It is expected that this feature will work for any Xbox One game. There are still many unanswered questions - such as technical specifications for the network environment and whether an Xbox Live Gold membership will be required - but the potential is astounding. No more fighting over the TV for use of the Xbox One. And imagine kicking back in bed playing Halo 5: Guardians on your laptop.

Another excellent feature is that cross-device multiplayer between Windows 10 and Xbox One will become available. The upcoming Fable Legends is being touted as the first major title to take advantage of this feature (see video below), but we can only imagine how neat it would be to see this implemented in future games. The line between platforms will become increasingly blurry until it is indistinguishable.

With such great features on the horizon, there is a logical next step. Frankly, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see Microsoft announce the ability to stream PC games to an Xbox One. Think that’s too far-fetched? When asked a question about it at the Windows 10 press event, Xbox head Phil Spencer said that it’s something the company is looking at. And by looking at, we can assume that means the company is knee-deep in development.

Certainly, there should be no technical limitations preventing Microsoft from doing it. Just recently Razer unveiled a microconsole called Forge TV. When married with an update to its Cortex software called “Stream,” it will allow PC games to be streamed into the living room. If Razer can do it, then you can bet Microsoft can, too. The real obstacle likely has to do with optimisation, but is it crazy of me to expect Microsoft to announce this ability at next week’s GDC or even at E3 later in the year?

Regardless of when (not if) the ability to stream in both directions is introduced, it further lessens any incentive to purchase one of Valve’s Steam Machines. If millions of people already have a piece of hardware in their living rooms with the ability to stream a PC library, why would they need to purchase a Steam Machine? As it stands, Steam Machines will not be able to stream your whole library of games (although they still cost a pretty penny to do so) and have no other discernible benefits that set it apart from the competition. It comes back to the same old argument that I asked in my previous article: why should I bother investing in a Steam Machine? Valve has yet to convince me of the benefits of doing so. Unless there are other exotic new features that have yet to be announced, the humble Steam Machine simply won’t be able to compete with Microsoft’s ability to fully stream in both directions.

Also Read: 68 Exclusive Interviews With The Next Big Indiedevs in Grab It Episode 8.

Of course there are many people who don’t own an Xbox One or a fully capable gaming rig and so a Steam Machine may be a tantalising option. But the potential install base for the Steam Machine could be decimated by millions if Microsoft does make this strategic move. If the ability to stream PC games to your living room at an affordable price is indeed the Steam Machine's biggest selling point, Microsoft is well positioned to dramatically undercut it. Personally, as an owner of an Xbox One, I see absolutely no reason to buy a Steam Machine.

So the question remains: has Microsoft killed off Valve’s Steam Machines? Perhaps not quite yet, but there is certainly even less space for the Steam Machine in our living rooms than ever before.

Stephen Mitchell

If you are wondering who we are, we’re a AAA digital magazine that you can pick up on the App Store anywhere in the world to get dedicated coverage of the indie iPad gaming scene. We’re trying to not only push the boundaries of what a digital magazine can be by making the reader experience feel like playing a dynamic and interactive game, but we’re also full of hours of reviews, exclusive developer interviews, footage, images, insights and more. Below you will find links to each edition.
     - Episode 1 - Includes The Making of République (*free sample issue*)
     - Episode 2 - Includes The Making of Oceanhorn
     - Episode 3 - Includes The Making of Monument Valley
     - Episode 4 - Includes The Making of Last Inua
     - Episode 5 - Includes The Making of World of Tanks Blitz
     - Grab It Episodes 2-5 Bundle
     - Episode 6 - Includes The Making of Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers

     - Episode 7 - Includes The Making of Tiny Troopers Alliance and Midnight Star
     - Episode 8 - The PAX AUS edition
     - Grab It Presents Nihilumbra - Classics Collection

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