History inevitably repeats itself.  Outcomes can be determined by analyzing past decisions and consequences.  If the past 50+ years of computer science trends have taught us anything, it has shown that open platforms have a far easier time of gaining traction than closed ones do.  Furthermore, the less proprietary your environment is, the easier it is to be adopted by the mass market.

IBM first two attempts at creating microcomputers had flopped and failed to garner significant market share from the likes of Commodore and Apple.  However in 1981, IBM found its first success in a design known as the Personal Computer or PC.  The basic concept was to build a non-propitiatory design that employed the use of “off the shelf” parts.

IBM’s PC

Even though IBM is no longer the leader in computer manufacturing, its design has become industry standard.  PCs can be configured using parts from a wide array of vendors and manufactures; allowing for millions of different configurations and specifications.   The underlying structure intrinsic to all PC still allows these different configurations to communicate, process, and share information and data.

In order to understand why this concept is key to the inevitable domination of Valve’s Steam Box, we will briefly look at contemporary models and the constraints they create on the platform holders. A game console (such as the PlayStation 4, or Nintendo Wii U) are specialty computing devices developed specifically for delivering game content from developers to the consumer.  These machines are developed with parts that will determine the maximum utility of the platform for years to come.  Because they are not upgradable, special attention must be paid to make sure that the selected parts are both cost efficient, and capable of providing the power that future enhancements in rendering technologies will demand in the future.  In some cases, such as with Microsoft’s Xbox One, the console may be released with obsolete specifications that fail to meet even modern PC standards.

Valve Will Dominate Because They Wont Reset Their User Base

In addition, the console platform holders are usually responsible for costs associated with manufacturing and design of their propitiatory formats.  Because consumers are forced to upgrade to entirely new devices each generation,  the effective market share of each console maker resets to 0%.   Valve co-founder  Gabe Newell recently remarked about having a 65 million user base compared to Microsoft’s 3 million at CES 2014 earlier this week.  It was funny, it was witty; but most importantly it was true.    The introduction of the new Steam Box is not intended to replace the Steam’s PC platform in the same way that the Xbox One is intended to replace the Xbox 360.  If you game on the PC, you can continue to do so without missing any content that is released on the platform in the future.

Valve Will Dominate Because Platform Trumps Hardware

IBM enduring legacy is the idea that one company doesn’t have to produce every component of a system.  The Steam Box is a higher order of this concept.  This week 14 different Steam Boxes were unveiled at this years CES in Las Vegas.  Established computer manufactures such as Alienware, Alternate, Cyberpowerpc, Digital Storm, Gigabyte, iBuyerpower, Falcon Northwest, Materiel.net, Next Spa, Origin PC, Scan, Webhallen and Zotac have all signed on to produce the hardware for Valve’s platform.  Without the need to invest large capital into R&D and manufacturing , Valve can pour its resources into refining its already first class content distribution model.

The consumer will see the benefits of competition as different manufactures compete for you business.   The benefits are far greater than those produced from console makers battling with their propitiatory formats.  Ranging from $500 to $6000 your gaming machine can be as cost efficient or as outrageous powerful as you see fit while maintaining access to all the content offered on Steam.  Even the lowest end variant of Steam Box will categorically outperform the similarly priced Xbox One console.  The consumer also benefits from being able to upgrade their hardware’s performance for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new machine.  Ten years from now when the current consoles have reached their peak performance, a Steam Box owner will simple pop out their outdated video card and continue gaming for another ten years.

Valve Will Dominate Because They Are Bringing the Best “Off the Shelf” Components Together

And that is basically it.  The value is there.  The technology is there.  The digital distribution model is there.  A model that allows for other vendors to benefit from each other’s strengths and mitigates the risk of going all alone. A model that maximizes the benefits to consumers while providing products that will outperform any console on the market today.

Has Valve’s well structured platform convinced you to invest in a Steam Box or will you stick with PC or console?

Take the poll and be sure to leave your comments below.

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7 COMMENTS

    • Valve isn’t going to “dominate” anything with the Steam Box(es). They are actually serving to further fracture their own market share, and force their target consumers to make a ridiculous number of comparisons and contrasts….including the PS4 and X1….before deciding on a gaming platform. But at the end of the day, those who are PC savvy, will still opt to build and upgrade their own rigs, and those who aren’t will continue gaming on their old laptop/desktop for casual games, and possibly pick up a console of their choice for their respective exclusives. The only way Valve even raises a collective eyebrow with the launch of the Steam Box(es), is if they announce that HL3 and L4D3 are platform exclusive (and that’s actually very likely). But with all of the console exclusives that will never be seen on Steam…not to mention the fact that many multiplatform games are now afterthoughts on the PC, and superior on consoles….that will hardly be enough for them to “dominate”.

      • Steam has been on the rise every year now and there is no sign of it stopping. PC still holds the gaming market at 51% a lot of PC gamers are still going to buy a steam box since most of us can’t carry around our desktop to other rooms too easily. A lot more console gamers will now have another option open to them which also opens up a TON more exclusives than either console gives and for the price to performance ratio it CAN’T be beat. Multi-plats are afterthoughts on PC’s and superior on consoles, what? If that’s not the biggest load of crap I’ve read today.

        EDIT: It is my hope though that console gamers might open their eyes this year and see that they’re getting ripped off with consoles and it’s costing them a lot more for less and either get a PC or SteamBox.

  1. I’m not sure who the Steambox is aimed at though – I’m a PC and console gamer, I have a perfectly capable PC hooked up to the same TV as my PS4 and PS3, and have no need for one. When my PC ages, I’ll replace components to keep it up to speed, and only when there’s such a shift that I’ll need to replace the motherboard and CPU at once will I look at a new machine, and that’s 5+ years off at least. Most PC gamers will already have their gaming rig where they want it now, and be in a similar position.

    On the other hand, console-only gamers are probably not ready for the range of driver conflicts, compatibility issues and extra instability that PC gaming brings with it, and moving to an entirely new OS, or a dual-boot machine, is unlikely to make things any more stable. Given the hardware is varied and non-standard, there’ll be no stability bonus from that either.

    Add to that the uncertainty over how well your particular machine will run a particular game, and the extra price to get something of similar power (don’t forget that $600 was too much for the PS3 during good economic times – the same gaming demographic that weren’t going to buy a $600 PS3 are hardly going to fork out $1000 for a decent Steam machine, and if they spend much less than that, they’d be better off getting a PS4 – yes, the PC components will get cheaper, but so will the PS4 and XB1) and the economics of it don’t really add up.

    The final issue that the Steambox faces is that yes, most will be more powerful than current-gen consoles, but ever-diminishing marginal returns to extra CPU and GPU power make this less noticeable. I was surprised how close to decent PC performance last gen’s consoles were – while some PC-only gamers talk up the minor details, many console gamers are remarking on the smaller gap in terms of improvements in the move to current-gen. If they’re finding that gap small, then the ever diminishing marginal return to extra GPU and CPU of the higher-end machines simply won’t be noticed by the broader gaming demographic.

    The big thing Steam has going for it is cheaper game prices, particularly for older titles, _but_ this is becoming less of a factor. As Steam’s share of the market has increased, and the importance of Steam sales to publishers has risen, prices have remained higher for longer. Up until a couple of years ago, 99% of the recent big games on Steam were hand-me-down ports of console titles, where the majority of the sales were – in effect, consoles paid for the titles, and PC gamers got ports that were ‘gravy’ to publishers. Now that PC is more important, prices are staying higher for longer. Bioshock Infinite is full price nearly a year after launch, and Dishonored, even older, is the same price on Steam and the Playstation store. Effectively, now that PC gaming is coming back into form, PC gamers are being asked to lift their weight again, and the price advantage is diminishing, and will continue to as long as PC gaming comes back into form, so the more Steam machines are out there, the smaller the gap in prices for titles there will be between the platforms (indeed, for many titles there isn’t a gap now).

  2. i hope so but i doubt it, steamboxes give you the price/perfomance you want, better controls and cheaper games with no mp fees, but we gotta make sure the steam os is good and not a piece of crap.

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