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Microsoft's Phil Harrison's Thoughts on Steam Box and Shield: Hardware is a Hard Business to Enter

When asked about Microsoft's venture into tablets with Windows 8, Valve head Gabe Newell had less then kind words.

The tech giant was a little more positive when speaking about Valve's and Nvidia's venture into gaming hardware with the Piston and Shield, which were both confirmed and unveiled at this year's CES.

"I think that any new entrant, without being specific to any company or brand or product, any new entrant into the games industry is ultimately a good a thing," said Microsoft vice president Phil Harrison.

However, Harrison also provided words of caution for the two companies. "Entering the hardware business is a really tough business, and you have to have great fortitude to be in the hardware business, and you have to have deep pockets and a very strong balance sheet. It's not possible for every new hardware entrant to get to scale.

"They can be successful at small scale. But it's very rare for a new hardware entrant to get to scale, and I mean tens, hundreds of millions of units. There are a very small number of companies that can make that happen.

"And it's not just having a great brand or a great software experience. It's about having a supply chain and a distribution model and a manufacturing capacity and all the things that go with it. It's a non-trivial problem to solve and it takes thousands of people to make reality."

Deep pockets and strong balance sheets? Check for both Valve and Nvidia, who really are both in prime position to have their gaming hardware take off. But will the Steam Box and Shield take off and ship the amount of units desired? That might be a little bit trickier to manage.

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  • kawininjazx
    I think a lot of people would buy the Steam Box, there is already a huge following for Valve. A lot of people want console hardware upgrades, but that messes up the consistency of the games, since they are specifically made to run off of a certain type of hardware (thus running better on lower end parts). I guess the Steam Box would just be an affordable mini gaming PC that runs a Steam OS or linux.

    A lot of people don't get into PC gaming because of the initial cost of $700-$1000 for a decent machine, but there are a ton of great deals on PC games that are a couple of years old. If you could get a capable PC for $399 from Valve that will play the newest game at a decent resolution, there could be a big boost for the PC industry, but it's going to be a gamble for sure.
    Reply
  • takme12
    For a measly $199, I can play the latest games at a decent resolution. It's called the Xbox 360 and PS3. And I get exclusives that are actually high quality AAA titles not on PC. Beat that Valve.
    Reply
  • esrever
    Unless valve can offer something thats significantly better than console gaming with a low end steambox, they won't sell many consoles. Their target audience are people who most likely already own 1 or more consoles and making those people want a steambox is going to be challenging. They are also very unlikely to focus on the PC steam market to push the steambox because steam is free on PC and anyone well versed in PC gaming should be able to build their own steambox with customized parts. There is also the rumor of Valve using linux, which will drastically cut down on the available games on steam. If they don't push linux, then the windows cost will be too much to compete with other consoles.

    The Shield will be a niche device probably priced at $400+ for people who already own 6XX cards to do something novel. Nvidia won't sell at a loss and they already made the system's more distinct features very closed off. Nobody wants to play android games on a controller when they already have a phone.

    The steambox can succeed in the long run with valve support. The Shield won't likely have any real support from nvidia once they realize it won't sell in large quantities.
    Reply
  • DRosencraft
    Despite the ire that is often raised, the reason that there is a big three in the console wars (not counting PCs of course) is precisely because it's difficult to ship new hardware in sufficient quantities to meet demand and sufficient quantities to make a profit. Arguably three consoles is an equilibrium and a powerful new entrant could push out one of the existing three. Nvidia has that potential with their thing. I suppose Valve as a whole does, but the Steam Box just seems too much like a black sheep - I can't understand why one wouldn't just set their computer beside their TV or build a small rig that would accomplish the exact same thing.

    The other matter not addressed in the story above is the game development. Every system needs some exclusives and the willingness for third-party developers to make games for the system. That's development cost for a game maker who has already been working with other systems. Arguably neither the Steam Box nor Shield need much if any re-coding for porting and so forth, but it is still a question that must be asked by a developer, and by a consumer who is looking at the future of the gaming arena.

    Right now it would seem Sony is in the most fragile position. The PS3 has been more successful than the Xbox 360, but Sony as a company has faced more headwinds, and reports about their plans for the PS4 suggest that it is going to be a very major flop on arrival due to restrictions on used games. So the Steam Box could be successful, and the Shiled could be successful, and if they are I suspect that it will be at the detriment to Sony, less likely MSFT, and highly unlikely to Nintendo.
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  • The-Darkening
    takme12For a measly $199, I can play the latest games at a decent resolution. It's called the Xbox 360 and PS3. And I get exclusives that are actually high quality AAA titles not on PC. Beat that Valve.
    You get what you pay for. Walled garden, low res upscaled, low FPS, low textures, low detail, low AA, low AF. Beat that, Valve!
    Reply
  • kodster8912
    takme12For a measly $199, I can play the latest games at a decent resolution. It's called the Xbox 360 and PS3. And I get exclusives that are actually high quality AAA titles not on PC. Beat that Valve.What valve is releasing is much more advanced than the current 360/PS3 and is actually capable of playing games at detailed resolutions unlike the 360/PS3 any game you play on it is at low detail the game is produced at usually 480p and is up scaled to 1080 (when its really not that high of detail). The piston and the shield also have the value of steam with it so you can buy games for much cheaper the piston and the shield are also the equivalent to a mid range PC. I think they already beat that.
    Reply
  • jhansonxi
    Entering the hardware business is a really tough business, and you have to have great fortitude to be in the hardware business, and you have to have deep pockets and a very strong balance sheet.
    Avoiding hardware quality problems (like RROD) would help.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xbox_360_technical_problems
    Reply
  • Kraszmyl
    takme12For a measly $199, I can play the latest games at a decent resolution. It's called the Xbox 360 and PS3. And I get exclusives that are actually high quality AAA titles not on PC. Beat that Valve.
    Well atleast you don't try to claim they look good. Also i cant stand the terain randomly loading in my face or issues like skyrim has on the ps3 when the console runs out of memory and crashes.

    Also the ps3 and xbox debuted for well over 200$ and the generation after it you can be sure will be up there too.
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  • Miharu
    I prefer gaming on a PC. So Steam box seem a good idea as long they allow "upgrading" the hardware. Piston doesn't seem to be "upgradable" much. I have hoped a "stackable" version of Piston where the os allow cpu to work in stack but perhaps it's just too much for normal user.

    Since the unit it's not for sale right now, I would just removed any videocard from the package (or put a small one) with full support for external thunderbold videocard. The unit will cost $199-$249 and the external videocard $99-$599. So a great gaming unit will cost around $328.

    This could really change everything about PC­ if they play it correctly.
    Reply
  • kawininjazx
    The-DarkeningYou get what you pay for. Walled garden, low res upscaled, low FPS, low textures, low detail, low AA, low AF. Beat that, Valve!
    I have been playing games since Atari 2600/NES, so graphics are not all that too me and PS3/XBOX 360 graphics are amazing and honestly, I don't need to spend a fortune to get a bunch of effects and textures I don't even notice. I've also been a PC gamer for almost 20 years, I just prefer the simplicity and cost of a console, along with the great combination of a controller and sitting your ass on the couch.
    Reply