Microsoft Keeping Close Eye on SteamOS, Steam Machines

In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison admitted that the company is going to keep a close eye on Valve Software's Steam Machines initiative. As the Redmond company is gearing up to launch its third entry into the living room, Valve is shooting to invade the same space with its own Linux-based SteamOS platform, Steam controllers and hardware solutions supplied by Steam Machines participants.

"Valve is a very impressive company, and obviously we're going to be watching what they do with great interest," he said.

"I think the death of the video game console was prematurely announced," he added. "Clearly there is a lot of excitement around gaming in the living room on the biggest screen in the house, often times connected to a great sound system and creating that real intensely high quality game experience with a very powerful CPU and a very powerful GPU."

Death of the video game console wasn't prematurely announced, as sales of the Wii U have shown. We still don't know the full potential of the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4; they'll be popular, but will they save the declining console industry? With all the recent talk about the new consoles, it's easy to forget that console hardware and software sales were giving way to mobile devices and cheaper, on-the-go games. That could still happen after the initial launch window dust settles.

The Steam Machines initiative, as well as AMD's Mantle API, shows that the gaming industry outside the Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo trio wants change. The good news is that Microsoft and Sony seem to be catching on, shifting over to a "services" focus.

You also have to look at what's going on in the Android front. Sure, Android games won't match what's made available on the new consoles, but most of these titles -- if they're purchased through Google Play or Amazon's Appstore -- can be played outside the living room experience on phones, tablets and laptops. Even Nvidia's Shield handheld attempts to merge the Android and PC world, and it can connect to a big-screen TV just like any console. No longer are gamers merely content on playing titles on one stationary screen, and the console trio no longer has dibs on the big screen living room TV.

This is now why we're seeing talk of Microsoft and Sony reaching outside the box with possible streaming services. There's a non-PC gamer audience that doesn't want/can't afford the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and are quite happy with their mobile devices, desktops and laptops. Streaming games to these devices would bring in loads more revenue, which would in turn strengthen the gaming industry. Of course, Microsoft and PlayStation 4 will have their console-only exclusives to sell the dedicated hardware.

With that said, it will be interesting to see how gamers take to the Steam Machines initiative as well. Like Microsoft, we'll be watching this movement closely, especially if AMD gets heavily involved. The Mantle initiative is highly interesting, but it's likely that it won't reach the casual audience that wants the games but not the hardware expense. "Competition is good," Harrison said. "I'm not going to speculate on what other companies may or may not be doing."

To some degree, Steam Machines will be Microsoft's primary enemy. Not only will this initiative possibly pull customers away from Xbox One sales, but from Windows 8 machines as well. The Linux-based SteamOS is focused on gaming, but given that Valve has entered the software and digital entertainment arena, we're betting the company is shooting for a Windows 8 competitor. So yeah, Microsoft will undoubtedly keep a very close eye on what Valve is doing.

Eurogamer also asked about Microsoft's possible support for the Oculus Rift on the Xbox One console, but Harrison dodged mentioning the headset directly.

"There are many business and technical reasons that would have to be overcome, so I'm not going to talk specifically about any brand or partner," he said. "But we've put USB 3.0 ports on Xbox One to facilitate high bandwidth connection with peripheral devices, so technically you could imagine a wide variety of devices being attached to Xbox One. What those actually are and when they show up is a different discussion."

To read the full interview, head here.

Check out all our SteamOS coverage below:

  • eklipz330
    "Death of the video game console wasn't prematurely announced, as sales of the Wii U have shown."

    I stopped reading there. the wii u is currently a failure because of a lack of interesting features/games and more gimmicks from nintendo. not because there isn't an interest in it. the biggest mistake they made was probably calling it the wii u. many average cosnumers believed it was a peripheral add-on, so they have to advertise that it was indeed a completely new console. i wouldn't even go as far as calling the wii u a next gen console. it's simply stuck between last gen and next gen.

    HOWEVER, nobody can make assumptions until a few years down the line. but with gta v shattering records, anyone who says consoles are on the decline are idiots. sales may have declined, but that could be due to all the new consoles being released too. i don't know, i think it is way too early to make assumptions like this. pc gaming is awesome and all, but i know its not for everyone. choice is a good thing.
  • Nyhil116
    I think what we are bound to see in the coming years isn't the death of one or the other, but an inclusion of a unified operating system that ties everything together seamlessly. Computers with multiple desktops, that have CPU's and GPU's powerful enough to stream those desktops to your tablets so you can work on the go around the house, or access your movies from anywhere there is a solid internet connection.

    The SteamOS is brilliant.. but it's very limited because of the operating system's limited support for hardware drivers and video streaming (a quick OS transition feature would be nice as well.. like a "boot to windows" button).. the only thing microsoft can do to combat this is to have their software engineers design a "game mode", so to speak, of windows that basically puts it into a "light windows" mode in which games can draw even more power from the system.

    The biggest difference between PC's and Consoles.. and the primary reason why mobile gaming is gaining such enormous ground against consoles.. is that PC's are not "family" or "social" gaming machines.. they are for one person to sit down and play a game, and yes I understand that playing online can be considered social, however in this context I am talking about real social contact not online.. and consoles, while they deliver the social and family gaming, cost hundreds if not over a thousand dollars to get started.. Valve has the right idea bringing PC's into the living room and that is the direction home computers should be headed anyway.. keep it in the living room and use a small cheap $50 device to stream the computer's desktop over wifi or something (and add some USB ports) to a monitor for work use since you won't need the full capabilities.

    My entire point in this is what I said at the top.. in order to evolve.. someone, or Microsoft, needs to create an operating system from the ground up, that is built around the new technology we have today.. not a rehash of the old crap. It needs to work synonymous with tablets, it needs to be best friends with your phone and it needs to be able to utilize the best features that are available today such as streaming videos, games or otherwise to all the devices that most families that own a computer already have. This is the technology revolution and the foundation needs an overhaul or its going to crack, crumble and collapse.

    Just my opinions.
  • cobra5000
    I love Steam and I am very interested in what they are going to do but the Piston Steambox, with its $999 price tag is laughable. Why on earth would anyone buy this? The only way the Steambox will work is if it remains in the sub $200 range. Cheaper than consoles or gaming rigs. These are exiting times for gamers, who now have more choices than ever before but people have only so much money and it will be very easy to get lost in the myriad of offerings presented.
  • dimar
    Maybe if AMD's Mantle becomes successful, Microsoft will stop screwing their customer.
  • Bloob
    Many things could happen, but exclusives and comfort zones are still the king. If the, basically identical to Win 7, Win 8 is getting a heavy resistance among your average consumer, imagine the up hill battle the totally different Steam OS will face. Anything is possible, and I welcome Steam OS with open arms, if for nothing else than improving driver support on linux, but I am not expecting much.
    Just port all of the Halo games to PC, problem solved. Win for Windows 8 and Microsoft.
  • spectrewind
    Have they completely side-stepped the need for Microsoft DirectX *and* Microsoft .NET?
  • tolham
    "To some degree, Steam Machines will be Microsoft's primary enemy."

    true, but steamOS is free and open. that means - crazy idea - MS could make their own steambox.

    the steam announcement page also says "We’re working with many of the media services you know and love.". 'working with' means they don't have it yet. MS already has media services ready to go via xbox live. they could write an xbox live app that gives users instant access to media services.
  • alextheblue
    The Steam Machines initiative, as well as AMD's Mantle API, shows that the gaming industry outside the Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo trio wants change.
    Mantle API = Xbox One graphics API = Microsoft. Mantle came from AMD working WITH Microsoft. They're just bringing it over to PC gaming to improve performance and help ease porting concerns.

    Kevin, this and the "death of consoles because of Wii U" comment make this whole article seem silly. I mean, I'm sure SteamOS and Gabe makes you stiff and all, but consoles and Windows gaming aren't dead yet. Mantle is a Windows API, that uses DirectX 11.x HLSL, for example. Gabe's just pissed because he fears losing Steam's near-monopoly on PC digital distribution, and he wants a cut of the console market too.
  • KelvinTy
    If Valve gets this right, it will be an one-side slaughter, and I certainly hope they do get it right. However, I know it's going to go wrong, like any other company, user testing isn't their strong suit.