When it comes to console success, it takes just one match to start the fire.
We approach the precipice of the next console war. The big two, Microsoft and Sony, have assaulted us with press and hype for months now in an attempt to make their case as to why you should pick up their piece of hardware vs. their competitor’s. In many instances, they’ve just been preaching to the choir. Most people already have their pick long before the launch date arrives or even before the new consoles are announced. In a previous article, I touch on the fact that there are some who play for the home team and will buy their products, no matter what. They will never be swayed. However, once every few console generations, there’s something that comes along that forces people to break party lines and take notice. Whether it’s a new, innovative piece of hardware or a revolutionary game that people just have to have, some gamers can be shaken out of their fanboy stupor in order to indulge in something completely new. Just such an innovation may be upon us in in the next-generation, brought to us by an unlikely source. First, let’s take a look back for a moment at the previous generations and exactly how something like this can affect the gaming landscape.
The next-gen console war seems to be shaping up somewhat differently than in the past. It appears that the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 are all anyone can talk about. With the struggling release of the Wii U, people have almost completely forgotten that Nintendo (and some others) still considers itself as part of this next-gen narrative. Whether you’re a fan of Sony or not, you have to admit that the company has paid its dues with the PlayStation, as it’s coming up on a twenty-year anniversary in the business. Microsoft, on the other hand, has one thing to thank for every Xbox One it sells this year: Halo. This game is the perfect example of how a killer app can absolutely make you as a name in the console business. For every dollar Microsoft sees this holiday season, it should send a huge wine and cheese basket to Halo’s game designers. Even the Wii can attest to this kind of success. Even though Nintendo has been a name in gaming for years, the Wii success came with an innovation with its Wii-Remote. Couple that with the uniqueness and accessibility of family-friendly games such as the Wii Fit, and you have a perfect storm that carried the Nintendo Wii into the position of being the bestselling console of this generation. This again proves the point. The Wii isn’t known for its must-have game library; it’s known for the little things that are unique and completely set it apart.
This brings us back to the next-gen. While people’s attentions were fixed on Microsoft and Sony, a new competitor threw its hat in console ring, seemingly out of left field. Of course, I’m referring to Valve, with its announcement of its Steam Machines. Valve, a company mostly knows for its great PC presence, has decided to spread its wings a bit and expand from your desktop right onto your couch. These new Steam Machines will run a proprietary operating system (known as ) and will have a customized controller, designed by Valve itself. So what does a play like this mean? Well, it would suggest that Valve feels it can offer a gaming experience equal (or better) to what the “big two” can provide, and it’s prepared to go toe-to-toe with them to prove it. Although competition is generally a good thing in any market, I can’t help but wonder if the risk outweighs the reward. Valve has become a well-respected name in the gaming community, especially among PC gamers. Its Steam service is generally well received, and overall, it’s got a good thing going. Failing to succeed in an unfamiliar market could lead to a black smudge on its resume that folks are not likely to forget any time soon. Of course, the flip side to that is becoming hugely successful, alongside the mainstay consoles of Microsoft and Sony.
But how will Valve do this? Neither Sony nor Microsoft are lightweights at the console game, and both know how to make a launch successful. What will it take for Valve to compete?
As of yet, Valve has done a good job of piquing people’s interest. The new operating system, a well-designed controller, and the power of the Steam Machines are impressive, but does that make anyone want to lay down their hard-earned dollars on a Steam Machine over an established console name like Xbox or PlayStation?