Editorial: Is Steam-Power Efficient?

As many gamers across the board know, Steam is one of the most popular clients and marketplaces when it comes to purchasing and playing games on any PC/Mac/Linux device. Now, Steam continues to expand its marketplace to incorporate trading cards, software, and even popular movies in the recent months. In addition to these expansions, Steam has also decided to release their own lines of Steam Machines, computers that are designed with the accessibility of consoles that run on SteamOS which is a modified version of Linux, Steam Controllers, and Steam Links. So, someone has to look at these experiments on Valve’s part, and figure out if they were actually worth it for the consumer, or just a waste of everyone’s time.

Just like when someone brings a fat guy to a cannibal party and it turns out he has freezer burn. It is a common occurrence.
Flashy on the outside, but disappointing on the inside.

First up is the line of Steam Machines Valve released which will also include SteamOS as an operating system to see how one of Valve’s most ambitious endeavors panned out. For those who do not know, Steam Machines are pre-built gaming PCs, meant to easily connect to televisions and act as video game consoles. Unlike standard video game consoles though, there is no set hardware specifications to a Steam Machine as they vary in quality, maker, and price, to make it more accessible. Unfortunately, a large flaw of the Steam Machines is the operating system they run on, which is SteamOS, which has been found to be slower than if the Steam Machines just ran Windows. Despite having the same hardware parts, GameSpot found that overall, when running games on SteamOS they are more prone to have longer load times and fewer frames per second. Because of this, some manufacturers have purposely not released SteamOS based Steam Machines and instead stuck to running Windows. Since their release, Steam Machines have continued to be a moderate success but it is doubtful they will achieve the the reception Valve is hoping for unless SteamOS is upgraded for better gaming performance.

Now if only every console could have sharable controls based on game, what a dream to dream.
One of the best features of the Steam Controller is the customizability between games.

Next, is the controller that left PC gamers on the edge of their seat to see if Valve had found the Holy Grail of video game controllers. Equipped with gyroscopic sensors, haptic feedback, and two clickable touchpads in order to replicate and better the concept of analog sticks, the Steam Controller went through multiple iterations and different designs including the concept of a touchscreen in the center. Since then, the controller has found positive reception amongst gamers for its design and its accessibility to not only the Steam Link but regular Windows/Mac/Linux computers as well. Not only can the controller handle a wide variety of gaming genres, it can also please those who regularly prefer a keyboard and mouse. Of course, controlling games with a keyboard and mouse will always be a large preference in the PC gaming community, but to make a controller that can bridge the cap between keyboard and controller is a noble pursuit on Valve’s part and hopefully they will find further success to do so in the future.

Or...even Huniepop...imagine those anime tiddies in glorious high-defintion.
Finally, gamers can play Bejeweled on their fifty-inch 3DTV.

Last, is the noble pursuit to display beautifully rendered PC games on user’s TVs without the need for excessive cables and input lag. The Steam Link seeks to fulfill that goal by using an HDMI cable to successfully mirror what gamers see on their computer monitors and display it on their living room television. It is most likely tied with the Steam Controller as being the most successful piece of hardware Valve has recently released due to its ease of use between a medley of gaming controllers and the overwhelming audience of gamers who love the idea of not having to lug a massive computer around their house in order to display it on their television. While a wired internet connection is highly recommended, a wireless connection is also possible which only furthers the appeal of the device for casual and intense gamers alike. All that it requires is a Steam Account and a wireless network, after that it is the gamer’s time to decide how they will wield such a powerful piece of equipment.

So, there is a small overview of the recent ideas Valve brought to the table through Steam. Do you own any of the products described above? If so, how does your opinion of the product compare and contrast with the points listen above? Make sure to leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

7 comments

  1. I was a bit excited for Steam machines when they were announced–after all, I am primarily a console gamer these days. In my youth, my friends and I built computers, and I always knew which hardware was best, what things worked together (and, more importantly, what inexplicably did not), and where to get it for a good price. We had water-cooled PCs and chased the latest Beta leaks and no one, absolutely no one, had a girlfriend.

    But that was twenty years ago and the simple fact is that I spend most of my working hours sitting at my desk typing words into my computer. I no longer want to sit here in my leisure time–no, not even to play a game, really–and I have a wife and a child on the way. So, the reason for this long explanation is to show, really, that I was excited for Steam machines. Finally, I would be able to play the computer games I like without having to sit at the computer, or be dependent upon ageing computer hardware that I now prioritise entirely for convenience and officework than for cutting-edge gaming excellence.

    But the Steam machines have not delivered. And those that have had some promise have been so overpriced that I cannot justify their purchase on the grounds of I do not like paying through the nose for hardware that I know to be merely adequate. And finally, the move to Linux for SteamOS, although laudable, simply hasn’t carried the kind of weight that it needs to carry if it is to motivate developers to go in that direction. Windows is fucking horrible, absolutely, but developers seem to be locked in a death-embrace with it that cannot be parted with reason or pleading. It will take money–huge amounts of money, vast amounts of money, money in enormous piles beyond the dreams of avarice, in order to buy the Linux PC-exclusivity needed across a suitable number of AAA games for a sufficient time to get gamers and the industry to go the Linux route full stop. And here’s another harsh reality: that will not happen. There is more chance of the industry fully embracing Mac OS X than that–and, as a Mac user now, I can tell you that’s a dream that is about 50% realised, which might be the high-water mark.

    So I wanted to like Steam machines. They promised a lot when they were announced. But, they have fallen short of expectations and have been priced well-above estimations so that, in the end, they’re just a disappointment.

  2. @Adeki:
    I wasn’t expecting this topic – and it’s a good one! Plenty of food for thought on a platform that had so much promise. I think they are too expensive for the hardware and comparatively meager selection of games available, relative to the Windows/Direct X side of things. I also don’t care for the Steam controller, primarily due to the touch-pads (which feel somewhat less direct as a method of control to a person of my tactile tastes).

    @Lusipurr: I’m with you all the way here; from the personal computer fatigue in general to your assessment of the Steam machines. Developers would have to embrace it far more than they have for it to take off, and that means simultaneous creation of OpenGL versions of their software (not economically viable!). With the current PlayStation and XBox consoles running on x86, games can be much more easily ported between them and the PC – leaving SteamOS (which is just Steam Big Picture Mode running over a Linux distro) out of the loop. At the very least the Steam boxes would have to be subsidized by Valve a bit to be more attractive – with $399 probably the practical limit at this point.

    I would personally run only Linux on my home system (Ubuntu is my particular favorite OS), were it not for the reliance on Windows for certain things. But as much as I’d like to play even the fairly small Steam library that I have, I find my gaming time to be divided between Vita/3DS handhelds and occasional PlayStation use on the living room TV. Sitting at the PC means work, and I use gaming as a break from that.

  3. I’ll briefly add that Linux, and with it SteamOS, are running on x86 hardware as well. It’s DirectX that keeps games off of Linux; not x86.

  4. I’m with you Lus and Seb: I like to keep my computer/desk space for doing work and not playing games, keeping those spheres separate.

    I wonder how long we have left with the era of the personal computer as we know it. I can’t imagine what the next evolution would look like, except to think that it would make the desktops, laptops, and even tablets seem like mainframe and punchcard computers do now. And by that time, I think that game consoles would be a thing of the past, like our VHS and DVD players, outmoded but still functioning for those who care to hold on to such things.

    Yes, in the future, all computing will be done “in the cloud” and delivered back to us, through a monitor or tv with some attachable internet-streaming device capable of connecting appropriate inputs (mouse, keyboard, controller). There will be no issue with having different levels of computing power, because the actual unit will not be there before you. We will physically own absolutely nothing. Actually, it will be much more like mainframe computing than how it is now.

    So I don’t know who Steam machines are really “for,” but I don’t think they’re the future of gaming, just a stopgap solution for now. Great article though! I didn’t know some of these things.

  5. I want to get a Steam Link, but you have jump through some small hoops to get things like your 360 controller working, and setting up the ability to drop out of steam and just use windows via remote, both of which are possible. Its also noted that you will need one of those slick new 2.6 GB/s Wireless routers to really take advantage of a steam link via wireless.

  6. @Lusipurr I agree wholeheartedly on the Steam Machines being a disappointment, I’d love to get one just because I prefer Mac OSX for all my computing purposes so I would not be making my own PC any time soon and the OS is definitely not suitable for gaming. Hopefully, they do better in the future and are more reasonably priced and I’d definitely look into getting one considering how many damn Steam games I own at this point. It’d also help that I wouldn’t have to be on my computer and could even play games in the living room on a nice TV like God intended.

    @Sebastian I’ve only held the Steam Controller once because one of my friends has one and while it seems “OK,” I don’t have any plans on purchasing one in the near future, especially for $50.

    Also, I just wanted to say thanks for all the compliments on the article, I’m definitely going to try to work on doing more of these types in the future rather than the previous format of picking a topic out of a hat and centering it around three video games.

  7. @Adeki: Yes! More like this. Make people think. Make us talk. Compel us to comment. Change the world.

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