How the Windows 10 app on Xbox One could kill the Steam Machines

Chris Stead 30 July 2015

steam-machine

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 – and this 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.

We used the app to play the fast-paced racer Forza Horizon 2, and it worked surprisingly well. There is some minor visual and audio loss, but hardly enough to impact the great gameplay. Naturally, we wondered if the feature could work the other way: could there be a "PC app" on the Xbox One dashboard that streams from your desktop?

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?

SteamControllerIt 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?

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5 Responses to How the Windows 10 app on Xbox One could kill the Steam Machines

  1. Default Gravatar
    Headpool182 | April 9, 2016

    But why not just buy a steam link? Then you’re not locked into MS environment,and you can play non steam games by adding them.

  2. Default Gravatar
    Bryan | July 31, 2015

    Talk about a F.U.D. article (Fear Uncertainty Doubt). First this assumes that people will spend the money on an XBox One at $350 and up vs the $80 for the Steam Machine controller that allows you to use your existing gaming PC (or Mac) on your TV. The structure of what you call a “Steam Machine” is layered so that you’re only buying the hardware you need/want from just the controller, all the way to a complete, dedicated console. Also, if you’re gaming on PC, you’re using Steam. While I’m sure there are gamers that also own XBox One systems, they are not buying Games for Windows to play over the network on their XBox. At that point the buy the XBox release. Seriously. This is an ignorant article and smacks of being funded by Microsoft PR.

    • Staff
      Shirley | August 3, 2015

      Hi Bryan,

      Thanks for your feedback!

      We appreciate that, for your circumstances, the proposed PC app on Xbox One would not change your purchasing plans. We believe, however, that the option to buy an Xbox One (or use your existing one) and use it to play both Steam games (like a Steam Machine) and Xbox games gives it a strong market advantage that undermines the value of a Steam Machine in the marketplace for many consumers. Before the app, it was Steam Machine or bust. With the app, there is an alternative that provides a strong proposal to consumers – some of which may see putting their $80 towards and Xbox One a better deal.

      It’s worth reiterating, however, that a PC app on Xbox One is only in the pipeline at present, and there is no release date.

      Cheers,
      Shirley

    • Default Gravatar
      MadHatter | September 7, 2015

      I think the point of the Steam Machines, is that they can expose Steam’s enormous platform of 11,000 games to the console gamer who only has an XBox/PS4 for about the same price of one of those who have a console. They aren’t necessarily for those with gaming PC’s already running Windows/etc.

      That’s the aspect that makes the Steam Machines a “killer app” if all the stars align correctly — For $449 you can play all PC games on a PC gaming “console”.

      Playing PC games on your XBox One suggests that you are already a PC gamer by nature. So this is actually not a great MS strategy. It may provide some synergies but it’s not going to turn PC gamers into XBox streamers. Steam Machines have the power of turning console gamers into PC gamers on a “console”. That is what Big Picture Mode on Steam allows, a console experience for PC games.

    • Default Gravatar
      Krystian | August 7, 2015

      I agree that it can render the steam machine useless. But I do not think Valve is putting too much focus on these machines. The xbox app plans to be able to stream between all Windows 10 devices. This would mean you could stream games to your phone, your tablet, anything running Windows 10. I believe that if Valve makes a deal with Microsoft and launches steam machines running Windows 10 and DirectX 12, this could help both Microsoft and valve in the long run. It would also be interesting if Steam became part of the Windows store and integrates with Xbox app. Or they could become an enterprise with their own section in the Microsoft store. Since we know the xbox app can launch separate executables purchased in the store, Steam could do the same thing as a Windows 10 app. MS could give Valve financial incentive where it drops its fees per game and only requires an Enterprise fee. This is something Valve has to adapt to eventually. Going linux is not going to help them.

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