Meanwhile, iBuyPower's Steam Machine actually looks like a traditional gaming console. Digital Storm's Bolt II resembles the original Bolt small form factor vertical gaming tower rather than an Xbox clone.
Valve, meanwhile, has built a prototype Steam Machine and given a few of them to beta testers, but Valve president Gabe Newell reaffirmed at a Monday-night press conference that the only hardware Valve intends to sell at retail — and presumably to its partners — is its highly out-of-the-ordinary touch-sensitive gamepad. Perhaps more importantly, Newell didn't mention a single major game developer that has committed to offering triple-A games that will run on SteamOS, though that problem is maybe alleviated by SteamOS's upcoming streaming capabilties.
Low risk, high reward
Aside from the gamepad — most PC gamers prefer to use a mouse and keyboard — Valve assumes very little risk with this gambit, but stands to earn fortune if it pays off because it owns the distribution channel.
A Steam Machine builder, on the other hand, needs to design, build, market, and sell an entire computer that runs on operating system many consumers will be wholly unfamiliar with. While these companies could hedge their bets by making dual-boot rigs that can run both SteamOS and Windows — in fact, Digital Storm's Bolt II does just that — that Windows license will inflate the retail price of the computer.
But when all is said and done, the success of SteamOS and the rise of the Steam Machines should be a very positive development for those of us who play games. Even if a lot of the games turn out to be crap, we've seen indie game developers flourish thanks to Steam — and we've played some great games that would have never reached the market under the old publishing model.
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