A few years ago, the internet was buzzing about Valve’s Steam Machines. It was rumored that Valve was working on a lineup of consoles catered towards PC gamers. Then, Steam Machines were launched – and we kind of stopped hearing about them.
Whatever happened to Steam Machines? Are they popular? Did they disappear? Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about the state of Steam Machines in 2017.
Valve introduced “Big Picture Mode” to Steam in 2012. It made it easier to access Steam over your TV. It was marketed towards those who wanted to play PC games from their living room. That same year, Gabe Newell’s Valve revealed that it was working on a video game-style console called the Steam Machine (the internet originally called the console the Steam Box).
We didn’t hear about the Steam Machine for months. Suddenly, in September 2013, Valve issued a flurry of announcements about its platform. They announced their Linux-based operating system Steam OS (basically a modified version of Debian). They also announced the Steam Controller and a lineup of Steam Machines.
Valve called the machines “a powerful new category of living room hardware.” People were excited. Valve announced 13 hardware partners that would offer the machines, based on Valve’s designs. More information was revealed at CES 2014, which took place in January.
This is where things went wrong for Valve. In true company fashion, Valve took an incredibly long amount of time to release its Steam Machines. The first machines launched in November 2015. Multiple customization options were available. The PCs were packaged into a friendly living room form factor.
Within 7 months of its launch, however, the Steam Machine was declared “dead in the water” by ArsTechnica and other industry giants. ArsTechnica claimed Valve’s hardware partners had sold 500,000 Steam Machines – but those numbers included controller sales. It was difficult to tell exactly how many consoles had been sold. However, considering the Xbox One and PS4 both sold one million versions on their first day, the Steam Machine’s 500,000 sales over 7 months was seen as below average.
Today, in 2017, it’s hard to find someone with a Steam Machine. We reached out to our community and couldn’t find someone willing to interview.
What Went Wrong?
So what went wrong with the Steam Machine? Why didn’t it turn into the living room giant that Valve envisioned? Here are some of the issues.
Worse Performance than Windows
Valve touted its Steam OS as a gaming-focused operating system capable of running ordinary PC games better than an OS like Windows. Valve cited its OpenGL-powered Linux port of Left for Dead 2 as an example. However, a 2015 report showed that Windows 10 ran 5 out of 6 games significantly better than Valve OS – even Left for Dead 2. In Portal, for example, the average frame rate was 146.2 on Windows and 107.1 on Steam OS 2.0. The culprit was obvious: games weren’t optimized to run on Linux. Thy were optimized for Windows.
The Steam Controller
Valve’s Steam Controller was designed to combine the functionality of a gamepad with the accuracy of a mouse and keyboard. Some liked it. However, others complained about the shoddy build quality. As you’ll learn below, sales of the Steam Controller have actually been okay since launch.
Steam Machines Only Run Linux Games
For me, this was the biggest issue with Steam Machines. Steam Machines ran a version of Linux called Steam OS 2.0. That meant it could only run games that had Linux versions. Valve did their best to port their own games over to Linux, but many high-profile developers didn’t follow suit. At the time of writing, blockbuster titles like the Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto 5, and Metal Gear Solid V still are not supported. If you’re buying a machine for gaming, you want it to play all the games. To be fair, Steam OS 2.0 has a library of about 900 to 1200 games (depending on who you ask).
Steam Machines were too expensive for some gamers. In the world of PC gaming, it’s easy to put together your own PC and save money on hardware costs. Steam Machines, however, were priced much higher than their interior components would suggest.
It Tried to Solve a Problem that No Longer Exists
The Steam Machine was first announced back in 2012 – right around the time of the launch of Windows 8. Gabe Newell publicly denounced Windows 8 and called it “a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space.” He theorized that Microsoft would close down its PC in the future and launch a controlled Windows Store. In short, he thought that Microsoft would ignore PC gamers. Steam OS 2.0 was marketed as a better future for gamers.
As we now know, this never happened. Microsoft did better with Windows 10, and they’re introducing features increasingly catered towards gamers. In other words, the Steam Machine tried to solve a problem that never really existed.
What Went Right?
The Steam Machine hasn’t been a total disaster. Thousands of gamers around the world play games with their Steam Machines every day. Here are some of the things that have gone right for the OS:
Steam Controller Sales
The Steam Controller may be the one successful part of the Steam Machine. Sales of the Steam Controller have been gaining traction since launch. Last year, Valve released the CAD files for the controller, letting anyone mod it.
Steam Machines certainly look cool. They’re a combination between a PC and a console. Manufacturers were free to customize their Steam Machines however they liked. I’m particularly a fan of Maingear’s offering:
In addition to the controller, one of the positives to come out of the Steam Machine situation is the Steam Link. It’s a streaming device priced at $50 that lets you stream from your gaming PC to a connected TV. Samsung will actually integrate Steam Link into some of its future titles.
Can You Buy a Steam Machine Today in 2017?
Today, the official Steam Machine website advertises four official Steam Machine manufacturers, including Alienware, Maingear, Material.net, and Scan.
Alienware sells a Core i7 6700T Steam Machine with 8GB of RAM, 1TB HDD, and a GTX 960 for $900. They offer a similar PC with a SSD for $50 more. That PC runs Windows 10. Given that, it’s hard to see why someone would spend $50 less on a Steam Machine.
Ultimately, there are thousands of gamers who use their Steam Machines in 2017 – and they’re happy with it. However, the ambitious project looks like it has fizzled out. Unless manufacturers release updated versions of the Steam Machine over the coming years, the Steam Machine is going to disappear into the chapters of gaming history.