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Why Valve's hands-off philosophy stained the Steam Machines' big launch

Brad Chacos | Jan. 16, 2014
After more than a year of whispers, job postings bemoaning the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space, and outright teasing, Valve finally-- finally!--took the wraps off its highly anticipated Steam Machine endeavor at CES 2014.

Steam Machines could have a bright future very quickly: Console ports would be a natural for the controller-focused, living-room-ready platform; and if AMD convinces developers to utilize its (potentially) powerful Mantle technology, a Steam Machine could pump out lots of graphics with middling (AMD) hardware.

Console ports and new games are the only way to compensate for the oversize asterisk that is SteamOS's Achilles heel: The Linux-based system can natively play only the couple of hundred games available for Steam for Linux. Accessing the rest of Steam's vast catalog requires streaming a signal from a Windows-based PC located in your house.

It's in Valve's best interests to persuade developers to making direct Steam-for-Linux ports, as quickly and as often as possible, in order to make Steam Machines a viable stand-alone gaming option. The best way to do that is to sell a slew of Steam Machines, and the best way to sell a slew of Steam Machines is to make them comparable to the consoles the masses know best — in price, look, and (perhaps most important) software and hardware simplicity.

Valve has provided the bones necessary to bring Steam Machines to fruition, but if these little living-room PCs are to succeed, Gabe and his cohorts need to bring a guiding vision to the table. I just didn't see that at the grand unveiling.

Here's hoping Valve's message becomes clearer as Steam Machines inch toward retail reality. The Philips CD-i already proved the danger of being too open back in the 1990s. If Valve fails, it's hard to imagine anyone else picking up the banner.

 

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