It was fashionable several years ago to declare that PC gaming was dead, ushered in by the cheaper convenience of consoles. I may have even written one or two of those pieces, ahem. That stubborn PC wouldn’t go away though and the Steam Box may help make it the only gaming device in teh future. Dedicated gaming consoles are trying to become more PC like every day. Microsoft seems to add a new Windows feature to the Xbox 360 on an hourly basis. I’m convinced Kinect exists to remind me that I can use my voice to search with Bing. (I’ve tried asking my Kinect where Google is on this machine and it hasn’t responded.)
Now the PC is coming into the living room with Valve’s Project Piston Steam Box, where the console has reigned unchallenged since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Valve has earned the love of gamers the world over with its Steam digital distribution platform, and the wallet-attacking sales it has. If there is anybody who convince gamers it’s a good idea to hook a mini-PC into their HDTVs, it is Valve.
Software sells hardware. Having access to Steam’s considerable library on Day 1 gives the Project Piston Steam Box a launch lineup that blows competitors away. Console launch lineups tend to be mediocre. They can be because of their dedicated fans, who buy new systems to play the three or four good games available. We trust Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony to eventually bring us software we’re excited about playing.
Anyone who has ever participated in a Steam summer sale knows how competitive the platform is with pricing. The X7A modular computer Piston is based on costs around $1,000. Valve may be in a strong enough position to sell the hardware at a loss, as it will easily make the money back on software sales with the Steam Box. It’s just like what the Big Three do with their consoles.
Microsoft is especially vulnerable through Games on Demand. You can download games to your console, but its used game prices are far from competitive. PlayStation Plus was able to exploit this with the Instant Game Collection. Nintendo has never prioritized creating an online community, and it’s too early to say if a huge online gaming community could develop on the Wii U. Once dedicated console gamers get a taste of Steam, there may be no going back.
Many experts expect that the Wii U, Microsoft and Sony’s next consoles will be the last to support physical disc sales. The future is digital distribution, and Valve its little Steam Box are already there. This console war just got very interesting. Microsoft and Sony have to announce what their new consoles are going to do to counter it by E3 2013 and possibly before then.