This week I've been talking about news coming out of the annual Game Developers Conference. Today I want to talk more about Valve. We knew ahead of time that Valve was going to be there with "new living room devices" and I wondered whether that phrasing meant they were dropping the term "Steam Machines."
The answer is no. Steam Machines are still a thing and Valve brought several examples to the show, but I couldn't help feeling a sense of déjà vu. Once again we're told that a variety of Steam Machines will be hitting store shelves this fall. Setting aside the $50 Steam Link, the machines range in price from $459 for the iBuyPower SBX (powered by an AMD Athlon™ X4 840) to a $5,000 model from Falcon Northwest for those of you with more money than sense.
Valve have announced Steam Machines before and nothing has come of them, but this time they've gone a step farther and added them to the Steam store (although none are available before November 2015). Steam is also running a sale on SteamOS games which I have to assume is more a marketing trick than anything since only a handful of beta testers have SteamOS machines to play these games on. Having a sale and showing off typical crazy low Steam sale prices is a good way to attract people to your platform, I imagine.
Of course how well these games will run is going to depend on how much cash you splash out for your Steam Machine; just like gaming on Windows, really. So why not just buy a Windows machine? That's a fair question and one I don't yet have an answer to.
Of more interest to me is the Steam Controller. Valve has finally finalized the design and they've added a left analog stick to it. On the right side they've stuck with the original circular trackpad design, with a cluster of face buttons below and to the left of that.
Feedback on the Steam Controller has been mixed. Of course using the trackpad instead of an analog stick is going to take some getting used to, but a more perceptive complaint I've read is that the face buttons and the trackpad are arranged in exactly the opposite way that face buttons and an analog stick are on traditional controllers. Your thumb is trained to reach forward for the face buttons but with the Steam Controller it needs to reach left and back a little, and the opposite is true for the analog stick/trackpad.
I'm still interested in trying the Steam Controller but I can't help but think Valve has lost their way to a certain extent. The original Steam Controller had no analog sticks and it didn't appear to be a gamepad replacement, but rather a different kind of controller for playing games traditionally played with a mouse and keyboard. By adding that analog stick Valve seems to be suggesting that this is the only controller you need. When I showed it to a friend his immediate response was to point out that there was only one analog stick and that he saw this as a design flaw. When there were no analog sticks he didn't really miss them. Human nature I guess.
The good news is the Steam Controller is only going to cost you $50 so it's not a huge commitment if it turns out not to work as well as Valve hopes it will. I'm still interested in picking one up when they ship in November, but I'll be pairing it with a Steam Link, not a Steam Machine. I'm still not really buying into Valve's vision of living room PCs just yet. I'm trying to keep an open mind, though.