Valve hopes to bring PC gaming to the masses in the form of its console-like Steam Machines.
Ahead of the arrival of the first boxes later this year, MCV asked four manufacturers – Webhallen, Zotac, Materiel.net and Falcon Northwest – about placing their bets in the battle for the living room
Can the Steam Machines really take on the might of PS4 and Xbox One?
Anton Nilsson, purchasing manager, Webhallen: I wouldn't necessarily see consoles and the Steam Machines as direct competitors so I think the impact is limited.
John Woodward, regional manager, Northern Europe and South Africa, Zotac: We see console gamers moving over to the PC platform as they get more seriously into their gaming – demanding better graphics performance or taking a competitive edge in eSports.
Steam Machines lower the barrier to entry for those console gamers looking to move to PC.
Stphane Guyard, components and integration business unit manager, Materiel.net: Console players are more and more attracted to PC gaming, and the Steam Machines offer them an easy entrance into this world.
Kelt Reeves, president, Falcon Northwest: It's important to understand that all Steam Machines are actually PCs. So it's not like consoles are advancing and gaming PCs haven't started – the opposite, actually.
The Steam Machine initiative simply makes gaming PCs even easier to use in a living room setting.
"Console players are more and more attracted to PC gaming, and the Steam Machines offer them an easy entrance into this world."
Stphane Guyard, Materiel.net
Has Valve handed the new consoles a head start by delaying the launch of the Steam Machines?
Woodward: Although living room PCs have been around since the late ‘90s, Steam Machines are a relatively new concept.
I don't think there is a lead to be had – more a missed opportunity of a small percentage of customers that may have been swayed to buy a Steam Machine over one of the new consoles.
However, there are still a huge number of older-generation console gamers that are yet to make a decision with their next-gen purchase.
Reeves: PC versus console in terms of which consumers should buy has always been a straw man argument. Who doesn't own both a PC and a console by now?
I don't see Steam Machines as an ‘either-or' alternative to consoles; a Steam Machine will offer a world of PC benefits and exclusives, but won't handle my kids' Disney Infinity figure collection. There are good reasons to have each one of them.
What makes you think gamers will pick Steam Machines over PS4 or Xbox One?
Woodward: The graphics performance, SteamOS experience and Steam Controller are the true USPs – these are what will make or break the Steam Machines.
PC is also an open platform. It's all about consumer choice – and PC does just that. Plus, games on PC cost less.
Guyard: We want PC gaming to be accessible to as many people as possible, as we're convinced that there is no better visual experience.
Also, nowadays, nine games out of 10 are bought on digital platforms, and Steam is the most powerful one. It deserve this rank because of its site, its software and the way it keeps on improving, so we know that more and more developers will work with Valve, providing the Steam Machines with a healthy software library.
Nilsson: I'd say that the two major differentiators are the library of titles and performance.
During 2014, I don't think we saw too much of a performance difference, but down the road when the PS4 and Xbox One are starting to get long in the tooth, a Steam Machine will certainly provide a more up-to-date experience.
Reeves: PC is unmatched in the number of games available, exclusive titles, backwards compatibility, variety of input controls, customisation options, framerate, resolution, processing speed, utility and so on.
Consoles represent a fixed point in time for gaming hardware, and their hardware ages rapidly – they have their merits, but today's top-end gaming PCs make even the latest consoles look like dinosaurs.
"Today's top-end gaming PCs make even the latest consoles look like dinosaurs."
Kelt Reeves, Falcon Northwest
What are the biggest challenges you expect the Steam Machines to encounter?
Woodward: A full range of game titles are not currently supported by SteamOS. We need to see triple-A titles at launch.
Guyard: SteamOS could be a disappointing operating system, but we don't think that will happen.
Nilsson: Not having one united marketing force behind the brand and the fragmentation of devices; this will make it harder to sell to ‘average Joe' consumers.
Reeves: The biggest barrier to success as a brand is the decades – and hundreds of millions of dollars – of marketing Microsoft and Sony have put into their gaming hardware.