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Editorial: Steam Machines are not dead, plus a video from The Linux Gamer

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As usual, the wider media and people who like to generate clicky headlines like to claim Steam Machines are dead in the water. The truth is though, that it's not quite so simple.

First up is a nicely presented video from The Linux Gamer that's worth a watch:
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Now onto my current thoughts on the matter.

Valve have recently hired new people to work on Mesa directly, which are our open source graphics drivers. We've already seen quite a bit of work done on Mesa thanks to Valve, like increased performance, supporting higher OpenGL versions and Vulkan support and this is set to continue.

Valve also only a few days ago released SteamVR in Beta for Linux, so in future a Steam Machine should work out of the box with the Vive headset.

Valve aren't stupid. They aren't about to stop developing Steam Machines. They are clearly still heavily invested in Linux to actually pay people to make our open source graphics drivers better. I imagine their business folks are keeping a very close eye on movements inside Microsoft for how their Windows Store will progress. That is still a very real threat to Steam, especially if more developers choose to release their games on it. In reality, any store is a threat to Valve, but one tied directly to the biggest operating system around in terms of use, Valve would be idiotic to move away from SteamOS and run off into the sunset with Microsoft.

Last year we saw the largest number of AAA/bigger budget games released on Linux, ever. We had Rocket League, Total War: WARHAMMER, XCOM 2, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Mad Max and so on. That's only some of the major releases quickly off the top of my head, but we had tons of other high quality game releases last year too.

This year has already started extremely well for us with Civilization VI and HITMAN both already out and with DiRT Rally to follow soon. We then also have Torment: Tides of Numenera, Sudden Strike 4, Dungeons 3, Cossacks 3, Total War: SHOGUN 2 (not yet confirmed, but it looks likely) and probably many others.

Aside from games, we also have Vulkan which will see much greater traction this year. Vulkan will help to level out the performance difference for Linux vs Windows in terms of game performance. We've already seen what it can do for some games, but in time Vulkan should do better and better as developers learn more about the ins and outs of the newer API and the big games engines incorporate better support overall.

Part of the problem was that expectation was just too high, but I've always maintained that Steam Machines were never going to be an overnight success. The odds were heavily stacked against them, and yet they have still given Linux gaming plenty of wins with tons more games, better drivers, more users and so on. For those wondering about my "more users" comment, remember that the Steam Hardware Survey percentage for operating system use is a ratio, so even when the percentage drops the overall user count is probably higher due to Steam's constant growth in terms of overall user-base.

As for SteamOS itself, it will be a constant evolution that goes hand in hand with all the work Valve is doing on the Steam store directly. All the improvements they do to Steam do directly benefit SteamOS. Things like better searching tools, better recommendations, requiring developers to use proper in-game screenshots, the constant and ever improving Steam Controller (and proper config support for more gamepads) and so on. These are just some examples of things that perhaps people aren't thinking about in relation to SteamOS and Steam Machines.

Simply put, Steam Machines are not dead. Not selling like hot cakes, sure, but Valve are putting in a lot of effort behind the scenes that the wider media don't bother to look into. Why would they though? Since that wouldn't generate great headlines. Bad news sells, sad, but true.

Right now, I see SteamOS and Steam Machines as being on a temporary hiatus while Valve helps to sort out some of the inner workings to make sure future games actually work well. Progress has been good on that and I'm pretty damn happy with the way things are going right now and you should be too.

What are your current thoughts? Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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56 comments
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Leopard 26 February 2017 at 8:10 pm UTC
I'm saying it all the time but it is not possible to get head to head with Windows in just 3 years,which Windows has a long legacy into video games.

I am very hopeful about Vulkan,which we saw that api is capable to with Doom 2016.Look,running games with Wine is not simple and most of the time it performs bad due to lack of DirectX existence on Linux.But with a Linux supported api(Vulkan)Doom is performs great which that game is not officially supported on Linux.

But if we need to benefit from it,we need a high seller console that uses Vulkan.Because Microsoft has two guns for attracting developers to DirectX side,Windows and Xbox.

Windows is also supports Vulkan but Xbox doesn't so it is a great reason to develop games with DirectX,two platform with one shot.

We need PlayStation at Vulkan side.Also Switch has Vulkan,but Switch won't be enough since it's targeting a nieche audience.

We need mainstream platforms that uses Vulkan and sells well.If this happens,Vulkan will be a industry standart and it leads to a whole new era for Linux,like in house ports and taken considered as a viable platform by big developers.
kellerkindt 26 February 2017 at 8:17 pm UTC
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What is the PS4 using? Wasn't the PS3 using a OpengGL ES kinda like API?
veccher 26 February 2017 at 8:21 pm UTC
to say the true linux gamers got a lot of attention since valve tried to release steam machine, and i'm glad for it, porters like feral are doing a great job, and i hope they keep going, but deep inside, i feel that it's not working as it should, linux users on steam seems to don't grow at all, and seems that gaming is not a big concern for linux distros, also i don't see tech media talking about linux, i follow some of them, they make articles for every update on windows, but still say "PC" to refer to windows, and the last time i've read something about linux from them was on steamOS launch, i feel that we are having our chance now to grow, but if we don't, i think we will be forgotten again.
kellerkindt 26 February 2017 at 8:25 pm UTC
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veccherto say the true linux gamers got a lot of attention since valve tried to release steam machine, and i'm glad for it, porters like feral are doing a great job, and i hope they keep going, but deep inside, i feel that it's not working as it should, linux users on steam seems to don't grow at all, and seems that gaming is not a big concern for linux distros, also i don't see tech media talking about linux, i follow some of them, they make articles for every update on windows, but still say "PC" to refer to windows, and the last time i've read something about linux from them was on steamOS launch, i feel that we are having our chance now to grow, but if we don't, i think we will be forgotten again.

I believe its working out quite good. If companies like feral and aspyre are able to port such an amount of games to linux, their profit cannot be that bad. I also do not belive that they would try increase the amount of ports, if they were unsure whether the investment is worth it.


Last edited by kellerkindt at 26 February 2017 at 8:25 pm UTC
Spud13y 26 February 2017 at 8:38 pm UTC
I've been keeping an eye on Syber, which is one of the few companies featured in the Steam store to still be making custom Steam machines. Syber have refreshed their offerings a couple times, at least (like a new 650w power supply option).

I have a concern about Steam machines. Whenever I see them advertised on the store or on an Alienware Steam machine, they have pictures that would make consumers believe that huge AAA games are available for that box. I understand most people don't know or even care about the many eccentricities of Linux, but I find this disingenuous. I guess it's ok that they haven't sold like hotcakes, but someone could buy one and be frustrated that they can't play GTA5 or something.

Anyway, I'm debating on whether to by a Syber Steam Machine, a Nintendo Switch, or a System 76 computer this year. Decisions, decisions
Corben 26 February 2017 at 8:41 pm UTC
A scenario where Steam Machines could find a great niche is VR. When playing room scale VR you won't sit at your desk. You want the PC powering your VR headset in your living room, and this is where Steam Machines belong to.

On the other hand, when reading about why Steam Machines were invented in the first place, you'll realize that this reason isn't urgent at the moment. Dell/AlienWare approached Valve for an alternative to Windows 8 and its store. This was also covered here.
So today, Microsoft is giving Gamers again a vital platform with Windows 10, and this took the pressure of Dell/AlienWare and Valve to push the alternative.
We have to see, how this works out with UWP games and the store where these are sold. So there is still a chance, that this "thread" is becoming imminent again, and then Valve might already be prepared with SteamOS or Linux gaming in general.

So yeah, Steam Machines might not be completely "dead", but they aren't doing pretty well. Nevertheless, gaming on Linux is doing very well, and this trend seems to continue. I was afraid for 2017 that the momentum we saw in 2016 would decrease, but with VR coming to Linux there is something again I'm getting hyped about and looking forward to. I hope this pace continues and the signs for this are looking good at the moment \o/
wvstolzing 26 February 2017 at 8:42 pm UTC
I'm confused, though: Is there anything in the article to substantiate Valve's commitment to Steam Machines? You offer good arguments to the effect that SteamOS is going strong, and Valve's Linux support in general is promising, etc.--and these are absolutely true, of course. But is the console-cum-PC hardware they tried to push last year doing just as well?


Last edited by wvstolzing at 26 February 2017 at 8:43 pm UTC
STiAT 26 February 2017 at 10:00 pm UTC
kellerkindtWhat is the PS4 using? Wasn't the PS3 using a OpengGL ES kinda like API?

Well, to put that true:
On PS4 we have GNM and GMNX where GNM is the "hardware closer" version like Vulkan and DirectX12, and GNMX being the one closer to DirectX (API whise).

On PS3 we had PSGL (closer to OpenGL) and GCM (more hardware-close like Vulkan/DirectX12) now.

So Sony opted for having a "not so optimized" DirectX11 like API on PS4 where they opted for a more OpenGL like API on PS3, while "adopting" GCM to GNM with the PS4 for more optimized development.
Gobo 26 February 2017 at 10:02 pm UTC
I'm not that optimistic about Vulkan's traction, new technologies take time to get adopted and gain a reasonable market share. Sure, it will be better than a handful of titles and tech demos this year, but I doubt we will see a significant rise in applications that support it, much less as a main feature.

And that's exactly why SteamOS and Steam Machines are not terms that ring a bell for mainstream gamers. Yet. There is no revolution in the market like the transition from mobile phones to smartphones with the rise of Android. SteamOS and Steam Machines are just supporting a much older platform. A platform that has already established a solid footprint on a wide variety of hardware and lots of niches. Special purpose devices already embrace Linux at a much higher rate than Windows.

On the other hand: should Microsoft decide to develop into a walled garden by restricting access to software only through their self controlled channels, then this would equal another big transition. That's why I don't think MS will chose to do this.

A few years ago there was a push to establish Android on game consoles, Ouya is most probably the most well known one. But right now Ouya is considered a failure, despite the media coverage. You can't enforce success, it's decided by the audience.

At least that is true for commercial success, and Steam Machines are the commercial choice when it comes to Linux gaming. If you want to see a type of hardware succeed, buy it. Especially if you are a fan of the operating system.

And now we are back at the Steam survey. I don't really care for the hardware survey, I'd be happy to know the ratio of Steam connections by operating system. Real OS fingerprints of user logins, not the flawed numbers aggregated by the broken hardware survey. Plus maybe the number of games run by platform, not the number of games sold per operating system. But that is not reliable as well as there are Windows games that get run by Linux games by using another executable outside of steam, just using the downloaded data.

Never give up, never surrender. Keep doing things you enjoy.
STiAT 26 February 2017 at 10:09 pm UTC
Actually, you mentioning Android is a big hit. Since Android will be using Vulkan, that's a much higher threat to Microsoft than Valve or Steam could ever be. People develop for Android, they have to. The only question is - will Google really tackle the client/desktop OS market? I still doubt it... there are better ways to accomplish that.
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