Daily Dispatches
A drone flies near a tent at the International Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Las Vegas.
Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong
A drone flies near a tent at the International Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Las Vegas.

PC gaming’s living room ambitions

Technology

The world of computer gaming could soon be moving out of the basement and into the living room, thanks to news from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

On Jan. 6, Valve Corporation announced the first generation of Steam Machines, personal computers designed primarily for gaming from the couch. These machines are part of Valve's plans to bring PC gaming into the living room and convince current PC gamers to upgrade both their hardware and their location.

Founded in 1996 as Valve Software, Valve started by making PC games like Counter-Strike, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. The company moved on in 2002 to create what is now one of the largest digital stores for PC games—Steam.com.

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Although PC gaming enjoys a large share of the video game market, gaming in the living room has always belonged to the consoles. Casual console gamers like simplicity. Valve’s bid to win over console gamers with a simple box could end division in the gaming market and help the company vastly expand its sales of games on Steam.

The Steam Machine is just the latest effort to make inroads into the console market. In September, Valve announced the Steam Controller, designed to make PC gaming with a controller closely resemble the precision of a mouse and keyboard. The traditional desktop input devices are standard for PC gamers but can be difficult to use on the couch. The company also announced a new open-source operating system, SteamOS, optimized to run on home televisions that are typically larger than a PC monitor.

Valve’s CES announcement named over a dozen PC makers who will be releasing the first line of consumer Steam Machines. Prices start at $499, on par with the newly released Xbox One, but can escalate to several thousand dollars depending on the selected hardware.

Paying that much for a high-end gaming PC is not unusual, a cost-of-entry that keeps many gamers tied to their consoles. Valve hopes to make it easier—and cheaper—for consumers to enjoy PC games. That may be difficult as the new consoles have the edge, outperforming the low-end Steam Machines and beating them on price.  Also, many popular games available digitally on Steam are available for existing consoles, though sometimes at a higher price.

Much like Apple used the iPod to drive sales on iTunes, Valve hopes its Steam Machines will boost game downloads on Steam. But the company seems to be alone in this push for the living room. Other digital PC game stores like Origin and Amazon Digital Games don’t appear to have any similar device ambitions.

Valve is either setting a new gaming trend or making a futile attempt to change the habits of gamers perfectly happy in their basements and back rooms. But since the company isn’t manufacturing the Steam Machines itself, it stands to lose little in this gaming gamble.

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