With Steam Machines becoming a living room reality, it’s time for all of us gamers to make that difficult decision: Will our next Steam Capable machine be an actual Steam Machine, or a PC? This is going to be quite a different type of decision than say, picking between a Wii U, XBox One or PS4, or an iPhone or Android device. I’ve had a few passing thoughts about this myself, and thought I’d compile them to help you brainstorm what you want out of your next purchase.
Let’s face it. Most of us have a limited disposable income for these sorts of things. Many gamers in the 18-34 demographic probably can’t afford both, nor can the parents looking to buy a device for their kids. Sometimes you can afford to buy both, and with some of the Steam Machine options starting at the price of an XBox One, it might not even be an issue. But for those of you who either can afford just the one, or don’t want to buy both, what to do?
Budget: I’ve already eluded to the budget issue. What is your budget going to be for this sort of thing out of the gate? Certainly, if you’re willing to put the money out for both and can do it, I’m not going to stop you. But if not, think about how much money you’ve got to spend on something like this. Do you only have a couple hundred bucks to put toward an upgrade or two for your PC, or do you just want to start using that secondarily, and want something brand new for all your gaming needs and can spend a few hundred, or a couple thousand dollars (the same way you would a gaming PC?)
Versatility: I’m going to be honest with you – Good gaming PCs aren’t a versatile thing. You can’t just box up and take your PC with you that easily. Well, I suppose you could, but if your gaming PC is the size of ours, you practically need a dolly to bring it from place to place. When my wife had some friends of ours from out of town visit, they brought their PCs with them so everybody could game together on LAN. As neat as it was to hear game after game, and World of Warcraft raid after raid taking place in my kitchen, the whole thing looked like an FBI stakeout between all the cables and wires running everywhere and drawn shades and such. Suffice to say, between the number of TVs in the household, we might have had a little less going on if a couple of people played on Steam Machines. It might also have some saved some space on their trip up too.
Another definite versatility boost for the Steam Machine? Most will come with more than just SteamOS installed, or can function other operating systems. Some will be even have dual-booting ability. While you can stay within the confines of Steam OS and use your Steam Machine for just its singular purpose, it could end up being almost like a 2nd PC for the household if you tinker with it enough, bearing in mind that it does have a finite Hard Drive. That also being said, the Steam Machine would stand alone on its own, so you wouldn’t have to spend all the time it takes to somehow connect and stream from your PC up to it. You’d function it like its own piece of hardware.
Location: Location is another place a Steam Machine might win out. With the exception of a couple people I know, nobody keeps their home PCs in arms length of their living room TV, or hooked up to anything but a monitor. Most people have a home office, or it set up in a bedroom or somewhere like that. A Steam Machine will defeat the purpose of having to shuffle things around to cater to friends coming over, and the SteamOS will allow you to bring your library of games up in a snap.
Aesthetics: Let’s face it. This is another boon for the Steam Machine. Much like its lack of versatility, PCs don’t necessarily have the best way of blending into the atmosphere like your gaming consoles do. When I attempted to keep an older PC of ours in the living room some years ago to try to bring computer games to the living room, it was practically the height of the entertainment centre and fit in none of the bays. Needless to say, the idea flopped. With so many different models and builds of Steam Machines to choose from, you can go from something that’s the size of your PVR to something much better. It’ll store much better, look much better and take up a lot less room. That’s a definite edge over a PC.
I’ll be frank – The need for more functionality for me is the one key reason my household won’t be getting a Steam Machine. I admit that my wife is the primary PC gamer in our household so she might find use from one, but my laptop and occasionally, home PC is the lifeblood of my business. It might be something available in the future (again, looking at what the last generation’s gaming systems supported at the beginning, and what it will support at the end of its life) but off the bat, I probably won’t be able to hook up my gear to it to work. That means no easy way for me to do my podcasts, voiceovers, reviews and no easy access to Adobe Creative Suite. Sure, I mean technically it will be possible for me to do it all with a Steam Machine running Windows, but it’ll be a bit weird for me to sit there and cut and edit a video in my living room (not to mention that the entire hard drive would be taken up by these work projects, defeating the purpose of the SteamOS’ offerings.) With the number of PC games I do play each year (which aren’t that many,) it’ll still be worth it for me to continue pouring my dollars into system upgrades and new laptops and perhaps installing the beta version of SteamOS on them at best.
Meanwhile, I have friends who own PCs JUST for the sake of gaming. They use their tablets, smartphones and laptops for most of their social media and internet access. They are the generation of gamers Steam Machines are made for. To those people, it will seem like a much more enticing option.
So those are some of my thoughts surrounding whether you should invest in a Steam Machine, or another PC next time around. What about yours? Are you one of the multi-million Steam account holders out there waiting for the machines, or have you chosen just to stick to your comfort zone and stay with the PC?