So, What’s A Steam Box?

There have been a few announcements over the past couple of weeks about Valve’s upcoming Steam Box, but I’m still utterly clueless as to what it is or why it’s important. I’m not sure whether this is intentional on Valve’s part as a sort of intrigue-generating PR strategy or whether it’s just the result of poor communication. I’m not even sure what the Steam Box (or Steam Machine?) actually is. Is it a console? A PC? A concept? I’ve read this article from January, in which ‘Gabe Newell lays out Valve’s Steam Box plans’, twice now and I still don’t have a clue what it’s going on about.

An artist's impression of what an army of Steam Boxes will look like under your TV. Probably. I really don't know what's going on here.
An artist’s impression of what an army of Steam Boxes will look like under your TV. Probably. I really don’t know what’s going on here.

My best guess is that it’s a sort of PC where Valve makes the operating system but other companies manufacture the hardware – a bit like the 3DO, perhaps? Let’s hope it’s not too much like the 3DO for Valve’s sake, we all know what happened to that. Last week Valve revealed the specs of its Steam Machine (is this what we’re calling it now?), but they may as well have written the press release in binary for all the sense it made to me – just tell me whether it’s more powerful than a PS4 and I’ll willingly believe you.

If I’m understanding the idea correctly, it’s intriguing – that Valve are making an easy-to-use, open-source PC that sits under your TV and lets you download games easily and cheaply from Steam. I’ve never really been much of a PC gamer – some dreadful experiences with crashy games and recalcitrant hardware in the early days put me off PC gaming for life – but the recent resurgence of the PC gaming scene has made me interested in getting back into it. The idea of a PC-type box that sits under the telly and plays games without me having to do anything too technical to it sounds like a great idea. But I’ve got a couple of reservations: namely, how much is this going to cost, and what happens when the hardware goes out of date?

The major trouble with PC gaming as far as I see it is that graphics cards are constantly evolving, which means that your machine becomes outdated much more quickly than a console would. Does this mean I’ll have to buy a new Steam Box every two years? And how will they compare to consoles in terms of price?

Despite my confusion, I’m quietly hopeful for the Steam Box, whatever it is, simply because Valve are making it and they’ve generally done GOOD THINGS in past. One of the things I did understand was the release of images of the new controller. Well, I sort of understood it… but why are the buttons tucked in the corners like that? Isn’t that going to make things a bit difficult?

Is it an owl? Darth Vader? No, it's the Steam Controller, with its fancy haptic feedback trackpads.
Is it an owl? Darth Vader? No, it’s the Steam Controller, with its fancy haptic feedback trackpads.

Still, I’m all for innovation in gaming, and it’ll be interesting to see how developers use those weird, vibratey trackpads…