Steam Machines were supposed to take PC gaming mainstream by simplifying setup and moving the games in your living room. Valve had high hopes for the project, but Steam Machines never took off. The company now seems to be distancing itself from the failure, as Steam Machine listings are no longer accessible from the Steam front page.
When it announced the Steam Machine initiative, Valve trotted out most of the big names in PG gaming as hardware partners. It said Steam Machines were on the way from Asus, Alienware, Falcon Northwest, Gigabyte, and many more. However, most of these vendors backed out or indefinitely delayed launch plans as it became apparent Steam Machines would not be a slam dunk.
You can still access what remains of the Steam Machine landing site via a direct link — not that you’ll see much when you get there. It lists only five devices, one of which is no longer available on the manufacturer’s site. Several of the remaining systems are arguably not even Steam Machines as Valve envisioned — they run Windows 10 instead of SteamOS.
Originally announced in 2013, SteamOS hit a v1.0 launch in 2015. SteamOS is based on Debian Linux, so it’s free to download. However, it ships with Valve’s closed source Steam client built-in. Using SteamOS cut down on system costs, but it probably wasn’t a good tradeoff. For better or worse, game developers target Windows first. Most games did not work on SteamOS at launch, and many still don’t today.
Steam Machines offered impressive hardware — they were just compact gaming PCs, after all. You could get a Core i7 CPU and high-end GPU capable of running AAA titles. SteamOS was an albatross around Valve’s neck. Even with identical hardware, gaming performance was better on Windows. You also needed to purchase the most powerful Steam Machines to run games smoothly at high resolution, and those $499 advertised prices were just for show. The versions worth having were $1,000 or more. At that point, you could just build your own high-end Windows gaming rig.
The final nail in the coffin for Steam Machines may have come from Valve itself. In late 2015, it released the Steam Link. It’s a small box that you plug into a TV, allowing you to stream a game from your PC in real time. The original price was just $50, and Valve is basically giving them away right now. Valve is still developing SteamOS, but I don’t expect that to go on much longer.