For Valve, the promise of its living room gaming PC initiative, dubbed Steam Machines, is less about replacing consoles and more about giving its existing audience a way to bring their Steam experience into the living room.
Speaking to Polygon at CES, Valve's Jeff Cain said many of Steam's 65 million customers want a transportable experience, and Steam Machines are the company's answer to the demand.
"We've been hearing for quite some time that [our customers] don't want to leave all the features that Steam offers just because they want to switch the rooms in which they play their games," he said. "So our focus has really been on taking that Steam ecosystem, all the features and capabilities that Steam offers to our customers, and basically transporting that to the living room so they can have the same experience there.
"We think if there's a role we can play where we add value to the space, we'll do that..."
"All their friends, all their games and everything they've come to know and love about Steam, they can now have in the living room. That's really been the primary focus."
Valve co-founder Gabe Newell echoed this idea in a presentation he gave at CES. When asked how the Steam Machines would compete with existing living room entertainment systems like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, he explained that Valve's foray into the living room is less about competing with consoles and more about how the company and its user base can benefit from it. He said Steam already has an install base of 65 million users, which is well ahead of the three or so million customers who have bought a Xbox One and the 4.2 million customers who bought a PS4. These 65 million users have something to gain from Steam Machines, and Valve itself benefits from the investments customers have already made.
When asked whether Valve plans to make and release its own Steam Machines, Newell said the company would make only what it needs to. "We view our role in this as being enabling," he said. "So whatever we can do that's going to be helpful to other hardware manufacturers with the controller design or building specific kinds of boxes, that's what we're going to do."
Cain added that just because Valve isn't releasing its own Steam Machine now doesn't mean it won't release one in the future. "We think if there's a role we can play where we add value to the space, we'll do that," he said. "And if that calls for releasing hardware, then that's something that we're open to doing."
Valve did manufacture its own Steam Machine, but only 300 units were made available to beta testers, and the official box is not among the 13 revealed at CES that will be made commercially available. Cain said that with 13 different vendors and manufacturers producing Steam Machines, the company doesn't see investing in its own Machine as the best way for it to spend its time.
"There's going to be plenty of choice and there's going to be a lot of different options available for our customers at varying performance levels and price," he said. "I think, really, it's a philosophical choice that we make that we think that choice is a good thing and having multiple options is a good thing."
With additional reporting from Chris Grant.