Steam now has over 65 millions users, according to reports, representing a 30% increase over the number of accounts registered on the PC gaming platform twelve months ago. It also represents a significant advantage over Xbox Live, which currently sits at approximately 48 million users, while Sony’s PlayStation Network storms ahead with 110 millions registered users. As we know, Valve intends to take Steam to the living room in 2014 with the introduction of the Linux-based Steam Box, but the question of whether they can translate their desktop success to the bigger screen remains.
The fact is that PC gaming and console gaming appeal to very different audiences. The casual gamer is likely to opt for the consoles, while PC gaming as an alternative to console gaming apparently remains a niche for ‘power users’. What isn’t a niche, however, is the games such as SimCity, Football Manager as well as the pages and pages of Real-Time Strategy games such as the hugely popular Total War series. These games barely exist on consoles, yet sell in their millions. Anyone who plays those games has a Steam account. What’s more, games in each series were all released this year.
Now, why does this matter? Well, despite Steam’s best efforts with the Steam Controller, these games are most likely going to remain more playable with a mouse and keyboard, as they’ve all been developed for that environment. So in the short term at least, swapping a PC for a Steam Box isn’t honestly going to make a lot of sense for gamers who enjoy these near-exclusive PC games.
Furthermore, PC gamers are notoriously demanding when it comes to performance and graphics. Quite honestly, for games available on console and PC, that’s often the main reason to opt for PC, as the cost is astronomic in comparison. The Steam Box won’t cater for the demand when it comes to spec, thus won’t likely appeal to said power users. Where Valve may have more success is with its SteamOS, which is freely available to install on any PC. I think what we might see, though, is SteamOS being installed on many PCs in the office, rather than in the living room.
It’s not all negative for Valve though. The Steam Box is highly appealing to the niche market of indie gamers. Those who like low budget adventure and puzzle games, such as Braid and World of Goo. The ability to download these games cheaply and have the freedom to modify them ’til your heart’s content is appealing to a growing number of gamers. There’s little reason why these guys and girls might not be convinced to take it to the living room either.
It’s ultimately hard to say whether the Steam Box will be a success, as we’re unaware of how many units Steam will need to ship to meet its targets, and these relatively small pockets of niche gamers may supply enough demand to make it a successful project, however it’s inconceivable to me that in spite of its rapidly growing user base, the Steam Box will provide genuine competition to the ubiquitous PlayStations and Xboxes.
I can’t be the only one who’s been asked, ‘Are you buying an Xbox One or a PS4?’ and I can’t be the only one who’s unable to justify ‘Steam Box’ as a response.