If Microsoft is serious about PC games, Xbox One should be the real Steam Machine

By Patrick Garratt, Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:05 GMT

Forget the magic space goggles. Maybe Valve doesn’t have the wherewithal to realise PC gaming’s TV dream, but Microsoft holds all the keys.


If Microsoft really wants to get into PC gaming full-time, it needs to get around the table with Mr Newell and its platinum chequebook.

“It’s time for us to talk about gaming on Windows,” said Microsoft’s Phil Spencer in December. He wasn’t lying. The Windows 10 reveal event last night did feature some PC games content, mainly insomuch as Xbox One’s concerned, but Microsoft failed to capitalise on what has to be the most obvious opportunity in PC gaming right now: putting Steam onto TVs.

Because, and let’s be honest here, Valve has blown its chance with Steam Machines. Last year was supposed to be the start of a campaign to shuffle Steam into the living room, and, for a few moments, it looked as though Steam could challenge the entire console concept. But it hasn’t. Steam Machines has already failed. While manufacturers did what they were bid and put together some suitably sci-fi-ish hardware, the entire initiative has been confused from the start. Multiple specs, multiple price-points, no clarity. No one ever knew what would play what, and “that controller” is still nowhere near, well, anything. Steam Machines died before it even lived.

Whatever the reason for Valve’s failure as regards Steam Machines – an ill-fated step outside of core competency, or merely a lack of adequate scale are most likely to blame – the truth is that Microsoft could score a mammoth exclusive and revolutionise the PC experience in one fell swoop: if Phil and the gang can broker a big-ticket deal to stream Steam games onto TVs via Xbox One, we could be looking at a mould-breaking move. Steam featured in the presentation last night, as did the Steam logo in the Windows 10 taskbar, and Microsoft said in post-event interviews that talks are ongoing to allow game streaming from PC to Xbox One. Magic space goggles? Come back in five years. This is the development you should be watching.

Could it happen? Of course. Valve needs it, hence the Steam Machines and Big Picture projects existing in the first place, but, for whatever reason, it isn’t capable of completing. Microsoft’s launch into this gaming generation has been marred by spying allegations, DRM disasters and the ignominious offloading of Kinect. While Xbox One sales have rebounded somewhat in the US, Sony has been gifted an incredible lead with PS4, an advantage it’ll fully exploit. Microsoft needs a boost. Shaking hands with Gabe would turn Xbox One from “the console that can’t share screenshots” into a no-brainer buy for the dedicated PC gamer. As was evidenced by the Steam and Xbox symbols sitting next to each other during yesterday’s presentation, “PC games” and “Steam” are synonymous. If Microsoft wants to do something cool in PC games, it must rush to ink this deal.

Because the rest of Microsoft’s PC games announcements last night were lacking. Let’s break this down. Let’s see, in the cold light of day, what Microsoft said in relation to gaming in its Windows 10 presentation yesterday. Let’s see if anyone should be excited about any of it. Be sure to check out our complete coverage of the event for more. You can see the PR version on Xbox Wire.

Cross-platform play. Certain games will be playable across Xbox One and PC. We have, of course, been here before. Remember Shadowrun? Didn’t work, and it didn’t work because the game was average and it wasn’t part of a wider trend. I’m not saying Fable Legends will stink, but if it’s the only game available for cross-platform play then you shouldn’t expect this to make too much of an impact.

There’s going to be an Xbox app in Windows 10. I’ll be able to see my Xbox Live friends on PC. It’s the innovation we’ve all been waiting for.

Game DVR is coming to PC. If we can translate this as, “You’ll soon be able to record PC games in Windows,” I think that tells us everything we need to know about where Microsoft is with PC games and Windows.

The holographic space goggles. Microsoft’s magic future headset, HoloLens, is a prototype, and anyone who’s been around long enough to remember Kinect’s launch will know how cautious you should be with your excitement. Bear in mind that Microsoft, like Google, is desperate to shape the future of computing. The current hardware generation was entirely owned by Apple and its revolutionary touch interfaces, and tentative industry moves towards a VR future are looking as shaky as Google Glass: any positivity is countered by inevitable nausea and the enforced wearing of a giant geek helmet. That given, AR could easily be the future, and the glasses Microsoft showed last night did look cool, but it remains a bet. And we all know about gambling, right? Microsoft has a vested interest in gaming, and in Minecraft specifically, so it’s obvious it’d use gaming to show off a piece of innovative visual tech. Should PC gamers be enthusiastic about HoloLens? Only in a speculative sense. It means little to the immediate future of PC gaming.

You’ll be able to stream Xbox One exclusives to PC. I only partially understand why anyone’s getting passionate about this. Yes, if you’re a massive Halo fan, it’s going to be useful to be able to stream Halo 5 to your PC while another member of your household is watching TV. I get that. But if the option stops with exclusive games then this is going to be largely irrelevant. There’s nothing wrong with the concept, but it’s more “nice thing to have” than “game-changer”.

If Microsoft really wants to get into PC gaming full-time, it needs to get around the table with Mr Newell and its platinum chequebook. Xbox One can be the Steam Machine. Do it, Microsoft. Cut Sony out and make it work. Bring PC to the TV in a manner that doesn’t completely suck, and all the gaming riches shall be yours.


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