Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Big Picture about the Steam Box and the PS4

by Jak Marshall

I thought the title of this post was fairly clever, but I've already lost confidence in it as I type. What I have not lost confidence in though however are my predictions about the upcoming console war, including my worries about Sony's market share of the new gaming market. I'm not certain that this new console will do hugely well. I have my reasons for believing this but rather than alienate some of my audience by spending this whole article worrying about the PS4, I'd rather spend my time alienating my entire audience by also saying how much I'm  worried about Valve's "living room Steam" console as well. Because that's just more efficient.

Imagine this, but with settees.

On Valve's website there's a short presentation video about a project with working title 'Big Picture'. My two big take aways from the video were not what I expected. First off, I can't really get over how cool the typing interface looks. Analogue stick plus a button press. One rarely ever needs to type during console usage but when you have to it's an absolute pain. I have something much more important to talk about but I needed to get this feature out of my system first.


It also looks like a pretty flower. I'm terribly excited about this.

My other really surprising take away from all I've learned about the Big Picture concept is that I'm exceptionally worried about it! I adore the idea of PC style gaming in the living room but where the PS4 envisages a console which is more like a PC, the Big Picture concept appears to be a PC which is more like a console and in both cases I'm not convinced that I'd be willing to pay for something which isn't quite one or the other. For one, like a lot of gamers, I already have a PC and a console of some sort  and the distinction between the two broad platform types is clear enough to me that I feel like I can justify having both.


Although bridging the gap would end this kind of humour, which I'd appreciate.

When one starts merging the two ideas together it looks to me like having a 'Steambox', a 'PS4' and a gaming PC would be like owning 3 PCs where the only distinction between them are the game libraries available. An inevitably expensive PS4 (that hardware will cost a bomb) will come with whatever exclusives it can garner and while I was impressed by the Watch Dogs footage I've seen, I'll need to have a lot more reason to splash out on this new machine, especially since the games catalogue is likely to be all I'd be buying a PS4 for since if the lack of backwards compatibility with the earlier PS consoles remains as a feature.
The PS4 represents an expensive leap of faith for it's supporters without a back cataloge.

Sony fans have not had to consider buying such a console since 1994, a time when the Playstation had no immediate competitor, loads of great launch titles and a far less hefty price point in real terms. Valve's problem is less severe because it can bank on it's back catalogue and the highly active indie developer community it has managed to foster. However the specs of such a machine will not be fathoms less than that of the PS4 so we're likely to see a fairly eye-watering price point there too. I'm under no illusions that such a concept console will be cheap and I am not entirely convinced that either PC gamers or console gamers will be willing to pay this much for the privilege of playing PC games in the living room, where they can already do that in the bedroom. Consumers will need a better reason to buy one than simple portability.

That being said, the Steam box is likely to have the option upgrade its hardware very easily. The potential for this is that a Steam box type piece of hardware could replace the traditional gaming desktop, where consumers could have a Valve machine for their gaming, and another machine for other functions. This situation would be a very hard sell though and I am not confident that it will be made and thus bring about a change in culture. Only Nintendo have given console fans a distinct alternative to the PC market. No PC gamer can claim to already have the potential to experience what the Wii U's innovative hardware has to offer. The decision to buy a Wii U is largely independent of all other gaming considerations. You'll either want it or not, but you will not already have something like it.

Now it's Microsoft's turn to show off their "Project 361", which is a codename I have just made up. Here's hoping they have something more special than a souped up Xbox 360 in the pipeline or PC gamers worldwide will get to have another big laugh.