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Steam: Is it all Just a Bunch of Hot Air?

Gabe is already in your home office, but he wants to be in your living room.

There has been a lot of news about Steam this week.

First, there was the SteamOS announcement- a modified version of the Linux operating system designed to bring your favorite Steam games into the living room. Next, there was the Steam Family Sharing, which has been long overdue, which allows family members and guests to play one another’s games and be able to do so with their own Steam account. Lastly, Valve announced the beta for the Steam Box prototypes, likely a small form factor “PC console” with uniform hardware that will run the SteamOS and allow you to play games on your TV.

Part of me is interested to know more, but the other half (my jaded, cynical, elitist gamer half) couldn’t care less.

I’ll be honest about my thoughts on Steam. I don’t like it. I know this is an unpopular stance, akin to standing up in the middle of church on Sunday and exclaming, “I don’t believe in God!”. Just to be clear I’m speaking as myself and not Brutal Gamer regarding my feeling towards Steam.

I know there are a lot of Steam diehards out there – in fact, most of the Brutal Gamer staff uses and purchases games from it religiously. But I really don’t like the service — specifically the client.

Call me old school, but I like being able to play my games by simply installing them, either from a disc or digitally. Why do we have to get Steam involved at all just so that I can hop into a game for 15 minutes during some free time? It’s not just Steam that I have an issue with either. Ubisoft and EA having their own clients to buy, download, install, update and play my games- and quite frankly it’s becoming ridiculous.

You know what service I do like? GOG.com. They have good deals every week, they’re DRM-free, and if there’s a download available, I’m notified about. I don’t have to download them through a client. I can log into the web site and download them like I used to.

I understand that Steam is a convenient service. All of the games you purchased are available to play or download and install. Games that you have installed are automatically updated in the background. There are daily and weekly sales all the time on top-quality titles. You can earn achievements and make friends through the community services. Even backing up your games and restoring them is a nice feature. These are features that are good for the Steam enthusiast, that a casual gamer probably couldn’t care less about.

One of the things that I despise the most about Steam is that it’s a one-profile-per-system solution. My stepson and I each have our own Steam accounts, with a respective library of games. If he wants to play mine, I have to let him log into my account. If I want to play his games, I have to sign into his and get barraged by invites and comments from his online friends of which he has TOO many. Thankfully this Family Share plan sounds like the right solution, but considering it’s in beta right now, when is this solution going to become reality? This is another reason why I prefer buying DRM-free games from Humble Bundle or GOG. I can install them on the computer and EVERYBODY can play them.

Using Steam on a computer with multiple profiles is like the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 dashboard before. Everything is tied to the account, and nothing is tied to the console. You can play your games, and I can play mine. If we want to share, we have to share EVERYTHING. I don’t like that.

With the SteamOS, why do I need to have ANOTHER piece of gaming hardware in my house so that I can play games on my TV? I have a desktop and a laptop, both of which are capable of playing games, and they both have an HDMI output. I can hook them up to my TV right now if I wanted.

Are you telling me that all of that money I spent upgrading the desktop to include bigger hard drives, more RAM, a faster video card, a beefy power unit to run the faster video card and a nice monitor will need to be spent again on another system that can run SteamOS? It doesn’t make sense. Rather it sounds more like a luxury for those who have disposable income.

And regarding this SteamBox, part of the beauty of PC gaming is that you can tweak the settings of your games almost however you like! If the game is capable of running at some ungodly high resolution, you can pay an ungodly sum of money and get the next-generation video card, pop it in and play your games. If your games are running a little sluggish, pop in another 8GB of RAM! PCs are customizable. With the SteamBox, I see the “console-ification” of PC gaming on the horizon. The dumbing down of hardware for the best unified experience. This is fine for a casual gamer, but Steam is full of enthusiasts who aren’t aren’t going to want to be tied down by universal hardware.

Unless Valve’s idea of a SteamBox and SteamOS is akin to Google and their Android OS, where other manufactures can modify and tweak the OS with varying ranges of systems going from casual to hardcore, I can’t imagine this working very well. The promotional images (see above) seem to imply a bunch of different sizes and shapes for the SteamBox system, but how easy are these system to modify? Can I upgrade the video card, or the hard drive, and can I do it easily? Can I use any hardware I purchase or will there be limitations to the makes and models that will be supported by the Linux-based OS?

Valve has had a lot of grand ideas with Steam, and it looks like most of these new announcements are still very much in their infancy, with only a handful of the select few will get to test these things out until bigger and better things in 2014. As much as I may not like the Steam client, I do like hearing about new and exciting technology offers.

But with all of the ideas of freedom with the SteamOS, might this all just be a vehicle for this announcement in 2014: Half-Life 3: Available Only on SteamBox.

About Troy

Troy is the Features Editor at Brutal Gamer. When he's not writing about or playing video games, he's enjoying life with his wife and children. He also loves coffee. And lots of it.

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