How the Windows 10 app on Xbox One could kill the Steam Machines
The Xbox app in Windows 10 allows gamers to stream their play experiences from their console to their PC, but Microsoft is also hoping to share the love the other way – which could be disastrous for Valve's upcoming Steam Machines.
For many, the Xbox app proudly displayed on the new Windows 10 dashboard will be little more than a curiosity, but for gamers it's a portal to a new world that adds plenty of value to Microsoft's operating system. As well as facilitating greater cross-platform play and integrating your profile (with all those important achievements) into both devices, you can now stream Xbox One games directly to your PC. This allows you to take your "under the TV" experience mobile (via a laptop or Surface), or bring it to another room.
Microsoft's head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, has revealed he likes the idea, and when we put the concept to a Microsoft representative at the Windows 10 launch, we were told that, while there is no release date, such an app is "in the pipeline."
So it would appear then that it's the long-term intention of Microsoft to allow you to engage with your PC and all of its software from the comfort of your couch and big screen TV.
Meanwhile, PC behemoth Valve – makers of Half-Life, Counter-Strike and the Steam distribution network – is busy preparing for the launch of the Steam Machines, due on November 10, 2015. The long-awaited "console" opens up the huge library of games and fantastic community features of Steam to the lounge-room through a large range of third-party produced devices. These vary in price depending on specs and brand power, with Alienware being the biggest dog on board.
Steam Machines operate on a Linux operating system, and so can play Linux-friendly games natively – and given Linux compatibility is offered as part of the Steam API (application programming interface) that is an extensive library. Alternatively, a Steam Machine can stream titles running through the Steam service on Mac or Windows. There is even an incredible looking controller to go with it, using haptic touchpads in place of analogue sticks to bring the "keyboard and mouse" accuracy to a console-like device. Plus a virtual reality headset is in the pipeline courtesy of a partnership with HTC – it's called the HTC Valve.
Wait, wouldn't a Steam Machine and an Xbox One with a PC app be the same thing?
It would seem so; if you can use your Xbox One to play your PC on your TV, then your Xbox One can use Steam and effectively become a Steam Machine. Better yet from a consumer's perspective, as well as playing all of Steam's games, you can play all your Xbox titles, too – quite a plus when you factor in the long delays often seen between console and PC releases of the same title. Of course it's all facilitated by a free operating system (unless you're hanging in the cretaceous era with Windows XP) using a PC you already own.
You could argue that the unique controller can add some value to the Steam Machine, but are a significant percentage of developers going to make disparately different gameplay experiences between their standard Steam release, and their Steam Machine release? Doubtful. As for virtual reality, Microsoft has partnered with Valve on the HTC Vive anyway, so there should be little loss there, while there is also a partnership in place with the Oculus Rift whereby a PC-ready Xbox One controller will come bundled with every headset.
When you start taking all those elements into account, what's the point of a Steam Machine? Perhaps this is why Valve isn't making a machine of its own, and only really handing an operating system and a controller to third-parties to do with as they see fit? Valve as even stated it will not be making exclusives for the device and is encouraging developers to follow suit.
As it stands, we've never streamed our PC to an Xbox One through Windows 10 and publically nobody else has either, so perhaps we are overstating the capabilities. But the way the system works with the current Xbox app is wholesale – whatever is happening on your Xbox One, will happen on your PC. This includes passing through cable TV services like Foxtel and watching Blu-rays. You'd have to assume the system, working in reverse, would behave the same way.
On face value then, it would appear Microsoft has "in the pipeline" an experience that would greatly weaken the Steam Machine's market position for anybody but hardcore fans. And given Windows 10's likely install base ahead the Steam Machine launch on November 10, it could kill it right out of the gate.
Of course Valve could change its mind and make (the most anticipated game ever) Half-Life 3 a Steam Machine exclusive, but it wouldn't though… would it?