Recently Valve Corp. put out news concerning a portable Steam machine. No, not a laptop, but a handheld console.
What a console is has been through a change as of late, and Steam isn’t the only one that’s to be credited with this. All the account systems we have now have effectively become the consoles themselves. While this is a change from physical to digital, the core function hasn’t changed.
To recount, a console is essentially physical DRM. Unlike some PC DRM that are highly invasive and might even destroy the users’ HDD. Consoles have pretty much always been about plug-n-play, thou we can argue about Pong consoles. That simple function of having the game in, either built-in or as a cartridge, and have it there the moment you turn the machine on. That is the core difference between a console and a PC. This dynamic has changed, for better or worse.
With the upcoming Nintendo NX, we have seen signs that there could be a unified account system across Nintendo platforms, akin to how PSN is shared between Vita, PSP, PS3 and PS4, or how Microsoft accounts can be shared across all MS machines. With the constant increase in digital nature of the games, the physical machine has lost most of its meaning, especially now that PS4 and XBone are very similar in design and build.
Valve’s Steam was a bit ahead of this all, providing this sort of digital game console before stepping in with the hardware business. It’s very strange to see Valve Corp. to push out multiple versions of their Steam machines. At the moment, their most expensive machine variant goes for $4 999,99 while the lowest goes for $449. That’s strange, very strange. If Valve wanted to hit the same consumer group that the Big Three are competing for, this sort of multiple machine approach feels very strange indeed. It’s understandable why to offer a digital game console on PCs, as it streamlines the usability but doesn’t magically make it PC gaming. The machine, with it being slowly but surely being turned into a mere notion, is irrelevant now. It wouldn’t be for PC gamers, who would want to modify and tweak their games to the absolute maximum possibilities and beyond, but with Steam even these so-called PC games have gone with the console route and made everything simple. It’s the plug-n-play mentality, and calling that PC gaming would be demeaning what it is.
Steam OS is another example of this change, as it quite literally turns your PC into a game console. You’ll be losing all the benefits PC gaming used to have with Steam, and with an OS the last remnants of PC gaming are almost completely lost. The only things that Steam allows the consumer to do that resembles PC gaming are options that are not found on consoles, eg. higher resolution and additional effects. These games are still tied down to the system, just like console games are.
PC gaming isn’t getting the same games as consoles and having them on better specs. Hardware race used to be a big part of PC gaming, but not anymore. There’s still those who masturbate over getting that extra frame per second over someone else, but that’s practically meaningless in comparison to actual PC gaming, where the hardware race was to actually get the game run properly. PC gaming wasn’t plug-n-play, it wasn’t necessarily easy. That’s an atmosphere that PC game is in the end. Whereas arcades were all about the reflexes and split second decisions, the PC was a thinking man’s realm. The main reason why UItima always sucked on consoles was because it’s a PC game series. It wasn’t just developed for PCs, it was designed and its core lays with the PC way of thinking. You find all the best Western RPGs on PCs, because they’re text heavy, adventures, designed to blazed through in a relatively slow pace. With consoles being in the middle between arcade and PC, they could’ve been a healthy balance between the two. The Legend of Zelda, the first properly popular Action RPG got that genre coined because it functioned like an RPG with its relatively slow overall pace but with the need to be able to manoeuvre properly in arcade like action. While most people think PC RPGs in terms of levels and numbers, these levels and numbers have been streamlined in Zelda to be simply represented with hearts, pieces of the Triforce and equipment.
In Japan this was represented in Visual Novels and their own adventure games and simulators, where the text and menu heavy games ran rampart. The occasional action game you saw was either clunky or horribly choppy to the point of almost impossible to play properly.
With PC gaming almost completely lost due to consoles becoming dumbed down PCs and the games getting mixed, it’s not surprising to see a generation or two thinking that PC gaming is just playing games on PC, which is dumbing and tamping it down to lowest common extreme.
In a recent report we saw that the most played games on Steam are Valve based. This is very similar in where those who own Xbone mostly favour games close to Microsoft’s own brand, and similar fashion follows with Nintendo and SONY as well. As much as people would hate the idea, there’s four big console companies out there, Valve being included with the Big Three.
The Portable Steam machine is… a machine to play Valve games on the go without having to resort lugging your laptop with you, essentially. I’m not a fan of the preliminary design we’ve seen, but then again the whole idea of having to use a dual-stick controls is a turn off. That’s actually a good example of a way how PC was adapted to consoles. It’s an inferior method of control despite consoles allowing whatever type controller you wanted to buy and use. The NES was a bastion of controller selections and there’s a very good reason MadCatz has a negative rap to its name, despite producing high-end arcade sticks as of late
The change from having consoles gone to digital realm is something that consumers need to get used to. That is one reason PC gaming barely exists, and you can thank Valve’s Steam for that.