Steam Machines still seem to be an answer to a question no one is asking, but if they lead to more people enjoying more games on the PC I'm all for it. I already have a Steam machine in my office though; it's just a gaming PC. I'm not that interested in loading an OS that limits which games I can play while I wait for people to port to Linux.
That controller, on the other hand...
You can read my thoughts based on a hands-on in March of this year, but I'm incredibly excited about a working, malleable controller-style solution for PC gaming. Especially one that will be integrated so well via PC gaming's most popular way to buy and play games: Steam.
The Steam Controller isn't notable because it's better than a mouse and keyboard, it's interesting in that it's more well-rounded.
The mouse and keyboard will likely continue to be the most precise way to play PC games in a desktop situation, but this controller will allow you to emulate that mouse and keyboard, or even a simulated trackball backed up by surprisingly convincing haptics when you're in a situation where you can't use a mouse and keyboard.
You have to get rid of the idea that the Steam Controller is the same as your standard dual-analog controller found on modern consoles. The two touch pads felt much more precise in my time with the controller, and by adding haptic effects you can make them feel like different methods of interaction with the option of adjusting the strength of that haptic effect. This means that every PC game, even complicated, fussy games like Dota 2 or League of Legends, will be possible to be played with the controller if you're willing to do some experimentation.
And the system makes it simple to share that experimentation with others, so the hard work of making the best configuration with the best options will be crowd-sourced and easily shared.
If there's a large community of controller users on Steam the best mappings and settings will be easy to be find and it's likely people will figure ways to combine the many buttons, pads and sticks in ways we haven't yet thought of. Many people, before they use the controller, don't seem to get just how versatile it can, and how unlike what they're used to.
Having a controller with this many control options that's also completely remappable, also means that more people will be able to play more games; the issue of mapping will now be handled at the Steam level, which is a huge help with accessibility.
It's never going to replace a mouse and keyboard, especially at the highest levels of play, but it's going to allow us to control more games in new ways, from the comfort of our couch. That's a great thing for PC gaming, and I can't wait to pick up a few for myself and the kids. This is a brand new way to think about controls for PC games, and with Valve behind it the Steam Controller has a decent shot of being a mainstream device.