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The range of Steam Machines are a quirky, quiet triumph for PC gaming

The Zotac Steam Machine is more router than revolution.

Quirky, odd looking, and occasionally downright ugly. Faces that only a parent or gamer could love. The collection of Steam Machines revealed at Valve’s press conference at CES last night might have mockable looks, but I sort of adore them. 

Why? Because, by thinking about software and interface, Valve have created an opportunity for small, boutique, tiny businesses to eat into the money pie usually reserved for mega-corps like Sony and Microsoft.

They are the epitome of PC gaming: an open operating system, running on standard hardware, at a range of price-points and powers. They’re lovely. And I think they’re going to fly off the shelves.

I keep seeing the same question asked of Valve’s Steam Machines. “Who’s going to buy them?” Here’s the really obvious, in your face answer: PC gamers. And there’s a lot of them.

For those skeptical about the Steam Machine program, here’s some data. There are 65 million active accounts registered on Steam, 70 million registered League of Legends players (32.5 million people of them appear online a day), 10s of million locked into Battle.net via Diablo III and World of Warcraft, 45 million registered to play World of Tanks, 13 million copies of Minecraft sold – the numbers are obscene.

Now – there’s clearly overlap. There’s a pretty good chance that a LoL player also has a Steam account. But the size of the audience for playing games that are best with a keyboard and mouse is clearly at least as big and probably bigger than the audience for the current generation of consoles. (Sony and Microsoft both boast that they’ve sold around 80m consoles each to date).*

What I’m saying is that there’s definitely an audience for this. We also know that PC gamers love to spend money on hardware. One analyst believed that just a single game: Arma III was responsible for over $800m worth of hardware sales alone.

The real question when asking about the Steam Machines is: what benefit does the platform offer to PC gamers? Will that benefit be worth the asking price?

I think there’s a benefit to the Steam Machines that goes beyond playing DayZ with a controller in your living room, or playing the next Assassin’s Creed on a box that can deliver a graphical improvement over the PS4 and Xbox One.

It’s about my Steam library becoming pervasive.

When I choose to buy a game, I’m currently faced with a choice. Do I play it in the lounge, or do I play it on a desk. I shouldn’t have to make that choice. I should just be able to buy a game and play it where I like: on my PC, on my TV, even on the quirky little Windows tablets things that Microsoft seem to want us to own.

That’s why I think Steam Machines will become so popular: because they radically increase the value of the games you already own. It’s a benefit that you simply won’t ever receive unless you play on PC. That Alienware that Valve themselves highlight? It will be mine. I think it will be worth every penny.

*Note that these numbers aren’t directly comparable. Steam’s numbers are based on active accounts, as opposed to hardware units sold. Microsoft claims 48 million active Xbox Live accounts. Sony say 110m PSN accounts exist, but include Music Unlimited Subscriptions and inactive accounts into that number.