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How SteamOS could become a better console competitor

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What is SteamOS?

SteamOS is the console OS from Valve to turn PCs into consoles, but with PC things you love such as the ability to mod and use PC software. But it puts them in an easy to use package with a controller on the TV and removes some hassle that operating systems like Windows, Mac, Ubuntu (or other Linux distributions with a desktop GUI) and FreeBSD includes.

SteamOS grabs the drivers and updates the OS from within SteamOS Big Picture Mode. With Windows you have to download the newest drivers from websites and from Ubuntu you have to go to choose the drivers, then update them in the system updater, and then open steam. These all work and aren't particularly difficult but add a bit more hassle into a gaming experience.

SteamOS has little bumps in the road that prevent it from being a good console alternative for people who aren't used to the PC market.

Playable Games

SteamOS still has a way off having all games or games by default coming to both SteamOS and Windows, thus they need a better way of handling content not available for SteamOS coming into consumers eyes that they can't use. Currently if you open the store and go to Featured, you have a high chance of seeing some Windows only deal on the right hand side. For any Windows user it's like seeing Halo or Uncharted on the front page of Steam just to be told that you can't play it on Windows but need to go grab a PS4 instead. This is something that used to be a much bigger problem for Big Picture Mode as it used to just show whatever people running Windows would see, but to say it's not a problem currently is an issue.

People also realize there's a PC and phone client and a web app, which is great, but the problem with that is that Windows only games are shown there, possibly making SteamOS users feel upset about games they can't get. A solution could be to only show games that are available for all platforms by default, then choose the platforms you game on, and thus the front page would always only show you games you can play regardless of device.

Another difficulty people may have is that they're probably using a Steam Machine in a front room with no keyboard and mouse. They only have the Steam controller, which is great, and works with many more games than ordinary Dualshock 4s and Xbox 360 controllers, but there are still games that require a keyboard and/or mouse. Pony Island is one, you need a keyboard there to type. Sure you could use the onscreen keyboard option but that is a pain, is not practical in some games and is a lot less enjoyable than a keyboard. My solution to this would be, if you're in big picture mode with only a Steam controller connected, by default the only games that should show up are games that have full controller support or games that you can beat from beginning to end with a Steam controller—even if they originally needed a keyboard and mouse. This should include games that need keyboard and mouse if the system detects one, or one is selected in the store's settings screen.

Oneof the worst issues with Steam Machines is the confusion. What hardware we should buy is a problem we're going to have to deal with, but if a game works or not on your system with the current drivers shouldn't be a problem any more with SteamOS. SteamOS detects your hardware and Steam version, and knows the minimum system requirements for a game, so why not hide games with minimum system requirements that aren't met? This means gamers won't be disappointed that they can't play their game they just bought and that it's extremely laggy.

Please note that any game that I'm saying should be hid by default, should have an option not to hide. People who have the capabilities or are willing to deal with certain difficulties should be able to, just customers who perhaps don't have as much knowledge as hardcore gamers shouldn't have to risk these issues.

Separation of Media’s

Steam currently has several issues with displaying medias in Big Picture Mode. When you go to the store page the games and movies have an icon or a banner in which it shows a bit of the media the same way a bit of box art would. The issue is that they aren't separated at all, there's never anything to say which media it belongs to. The only thing below the icon is a price tag, possibly with a discount sticker with it. The only way you find out if the media is a game or movie is if you click on it, which isn't exactly a chore but makes the system seem less cohesive.

Steam does address this in some tabs a little further down if you wish to segregate medias inside a tab named “Browse”. This offers you to browse Games or Videos, so perhaps this isn't that big of an issue, but it should be talked about.

Now while we're talking about medias and videos, how can I miss out, Youtube and Netflix? There’s no app for SteamOS, simple enough. You can easily access these providers and many more via the internet browser but the UI isn't good, it's not fun, and is awful for a consumer. There's also no picture viewer or USB media playback. This means you can't browse photos on a USB stick or watch movies downloaded legally on your TV with the Steam Machine unless you pull yourself out of Big Picture Mode and into the desktop mode.

Perhaps a small amount of people like to view images on their TV via their console, but I'm sure many people use their consoles to play other media like music and videos. Whether that be via a USB stick, or YouTube, or Netflix, there are already tabs for music and videos. Why not let people import their own, and add a tab for apps and try to get big internet players on board?

Boot like a console

Currently SteamOS—at least on the Cyber, this is less true with the Alienware Steam Machine—is you turn it on, you get a BIOS screen, then a Steam Machine logo. Then sometimes it'll go to a SteamOS logo with a bar underneath it, go black for several seconds and then show the Big Picture splash screen.

With Alienware the BIOS screen doesn't show up—this as a console is a good thing. The BIOS screen makes it feel like a desktop when it should feel like a console. Just have a SteamOS boot screen in which you can go into the BIOS by holding down a button on the Steam controller or keyboard but don't make it look like a BIOS screen. Make it a SteamOS logo screen, then after a second or so of waiting the splash screen should awaken and let the players play.

The Steam Machine also boots games pretty slowly, perhaps this is a hardware issue, but for a console that costs double or more than a Playstation 4, the PS4 shouldn't boot games faster than the Steam Machine...


Now that most uncertainties of SteamOS have a solution the next is selling devices and getting games. The first step is to let people know it exists, get some advert time on TV, get advert space and advertise like crazy, get bigger slots in game retailers for hardware, make Steam stores. Just get out there, and give the world SteamOS and Steam on Linux.


Now Valve has said there wont be any SteamOS exclusives from them:

Valve’s Greg Comer[Y]ou won’t see an exclusive killer app for SteamOS from us. We’re not going to be doing that kind of thing.


I think this is negative for SteamOS; without exclusives there's little reason for anyone to try and use SteamOS or Linux. If they created Half life 3 and it was only available for SteamOS/Linux then you know a lot of people would install Ubuntu or SteamOS and may start to use it as their main gaming OS. If every new game comes to both systems and the exclusives are the difference between HL3, Portal 3, Team Fortress 3 on Linux and Halo Reach on Windows.

What do you think? What do you think would make SteamOS better and more successful in the mainstream?

Article taken from
Tags: Editorial, Steam
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silverphil 19 Feb, 2016
very good read :) I also think valve should make steamos exclusives albeit only temporarily
(with an excuse like: HL3 is not yet ready for windows and needs optimizations ).

Last edited by silverphil on 19 February 2016 at 10:18 pm UTC
Glog78 19 Feb, 2016
Sorry the biggest problem i see at the moment is that to many ports works better on windows in to many different configuration. As long as windows + steam on the same hardware performs significant better, the main reason to choose a dedicated game OS is gone.

Second while i don't like it , but 99% of the windows centric media will compare fps cause they do it for anons now to compare pc's. So fps will count.

Third steam os / steam machines wont be compared to consoles cause sorry while the experience has vastly improved ... people want 1 "click" controlls over all the content which is available on a console. Want to see netflix -> press a to start and completly useable with controller because seperated app. Want to post a message in a forum -> press a to start the forum specific overlay / app and again all works great only with the controller.

The list goes on ....

Last edited by Glog78 on 19 February 2016 at 10:25 pm UTC
miro 19 Feb, 2016
> [Y]ou won’t see an exclusive killer app for SteamOS from us. We’re not going to be doing that kind of thing.
you know, that's sad and funny at the same time.

Surely, and not even I would like that, I'd want to see some exclusive games there. Say Half Life 3.
But what do other companies, like e.g. microsoft do? Halo was exclusive and it was a really good game that made the xbox well known and successful. Now everyone knows what an xbox is.

Do people know what the steam machine is? It is still way too badly known.
Now, valve is one of the companies that surely has the funds to pay for exclusive material. They even make their own games.
I believe that HL3 is a title that has a really good history. Counter Strike and HL1+2 are very well known, and making it exclusive would surely lead to more advertising for a steam machine. So no windows, no xbox, no playstation.

What is to follow? A shitstorm, of course.
So I doubt they would do that seriously. And at the moment: personally, I don't care. Valve did so much to linux gaming like no other company has done before, they already turned into a class like shut-up-and-take-my-money. That's what happens.

I do have a xbox one, a 360 and the very first one. Guess what: all these were gifts, I never gave microsoft any money, I also had various other gaming machines.

My opinion is truly that the steam controller is by far the very best, the software is also better IMHO compared by e.g. xbox one menus. Some games are still missing - they may or may not come to linux, I don't know, at least there were announcements.
So by now, Valve has done a great job. There are minor things, bugfixes and stuff, and maybe something one may expect in SteamOS 3.0, we will see.

My steam machine cost me 600€ (4 core, 950 GTX + steam link + controller), I am satisfied very much with it, games run and they run very good and it even has multimedia (kodi) I installed afterwards.

Saying that, to answer the author:

1. make stuff like kodi "more officially available"
2. rumble and/or heavier force feedback is a feature that I miss at the steam controller
3. the boot screens should be replaced by something that offers full HD graphics, instead of the default plymouth debian linux start screen software with lowres

besides "get us GTA5" and a few other blockbusters, there is really nothing to add to it.
EagleDelta 19 Feb, 2016
For the Exclusives, SteamOS/Steam itself already has a couple killer exclusives:

1. Buy once, play anywhere. Not just the same vendor platform (Like what MS is doing with XBone and Win10), but ANY platform the game is on for steam, you can play it on that platform. Another nice little piece of the pie is that I never have to re-buy classics to play them again. My biggest complaint about the emulation of older classics on newer consoles is that they HAVE to be re-bought every generation.

2. SteamOS/Steam Controller is still not where it needs to be yet, but keep in mind that Valve is a long-term player in this field. They aren't trying to get the best thing they can to the market NOW and have it last 5-6 years like MS/Sony/Nintendo do. They're getting it out there now and actively improving it so that they can eventually be a serious player and stick around when others no longer are around. Valve, more or less, is the Google of gaming. They make their money from other party's sales and user generated content, they have a vested interest in reaching the widest possible audience (AND have the freedom to experiment). SteamOS will get there, just a matter of "when"
nullzero 19 Feb, 2016
I also miss media apps, but actually a few days a go I tried to put an SD card on my steam machine with FLACs and MP3s and went to the settings, added the directory and it got in the music tab (also disabled the games OST to clean it up).

Worked like a charm. I thought it would be harder and had to manually mounts the drives or something.

Today I wanted to listed again but the music button was not there... then I remembered I took back the SD card for my mp3 player...

Nyamiou 19 Feb, 2016
You can play Typing of The Dead (not a Linux game) with the Steam Controller onscreen keyboard :
View video on

So once you get used to it, I don't think any game that require a keyboard from time to time is going to be that much of a problem.

For me the biggest problem with the Steam Machines is the price, I would gladly pay 450$ for an Alienware Steam Machine but in France the basic one actually cost 600€ which is 670$, this is outrageously expensive for what it is. For comparison, a PS4 cost 350$ in the US, 350€ (390$) in France, so the taxes are not an excuse for Alienware to add 220$ which is almost a 50% rise in price. The Steam Machine is a way better choice for us (way more performances for the price), but it costs 800€ and I don't want to spend that amount of money right now.
zimplex1 19 Feb, 2016
Linux users have fought and are still fighting for inclusion in games as well as other software. I personally don't want someone who chooses to use Windows or Mac to have to ask or +1 for Development support.
I honestly just think that people aren't that interested in the whole "PC experience on a TV!" And if they are they usually already do it by actually hooking their computer to a TV. I don't think a lot of people are gonna buy a separate PC or "Steam Machine" just for that purpose.
mao_dze_dun 19 Feb, 2016
I agree about the media part. I waved the white flag and just put Ubuntu on the computer in my living room. It's easier to mod Ubuntu and Kodi to work with the Steam Client than fix Steam OS. And for that matter - the UI of Steam OS and Steam Big Picture is just terrible.
However, I very strongly disagree about the exclusives. If they ever make HL3 and make it an exclusive for SteamOS/Linux it would just hurt the game. Any console analogy is inherently inaccurate. Consoles have less games but sell more copies of a game. A lot more. The big money on PC are in microtransactions. On consoles - sold copies. GTA V was a smash hit on PC but the number of sold copies digital or physical was not even close to consoles even when you factor both Steam and Rockstar Social Club keys. I mean, it sold 20 million copies back in 2013 before it was even released. The only PC game that is non-free and at that number is CS:GO. And let me stress that - those were pre-orders. The original GTA V release on consoles made half a billion in the first week and I think a billion by the end of the month.
Consider all that and then consider that the share of SteamOS/Linux games on Steam is realistically around 1%. Who in their right mind would risk bombing their most beloved franchise on 1% of a market that is way more fractured than consoles and generally less willing to pay for full price games? Valve are smarter than that and if they don't do it - nobody else will. Exclusives are a dead trick - Xbox One has more and better exclusives than PS4. It still gets it's rear kicked by Sony.
What Valve should do is press AMD and Nvidia to get their sh*t with the drivers together and push companies that port games to SteamOS/Linux to do it properly. Then they need to fix the terrible interface of Big Picture and include easy access to services like Netflix and Spotify. Then they must find a way to decrease the price of Steam Machines because most models are absurdly expensive. And then, when it's all done they should have a proper marketing campaign explaining why 600-700 bucks is the Goldilocks zone of gaming systems.
GustyGhost 20 Feb, 2016
The author of this article is clearly thinking like a brainwashed console user. Exclusives will only hurt consumers in the end. It is a practice that must be stopped. You say that

Quote"I think this is negative for SteamOS; without exclusives there's little reason for anyone to try and use SteamOS or Linux"

but just spent the previous paragraphs describing why there is incentive for people to try SteamOS. It sounds more to me like you want to be sharing this with Valve marketing and development, not existing Linux gamers. Television is a great place to advertise if you want to reach out to baby boomers and geriatrics but I think the target demographic for Steam Machines are people generally savvy enough to seek out their own information online. Valve shouldn't waste resources on anything TV related. Just make the best damn product they can build.
Kimyrielle 20 Feb, 2016
Exclusives are a thoroughly evil and wicked form of marketing, and I really wonder when people start to realize that it doesn't do any good for customers. The word literally means "locked out". In that case from certain games that are not available on your platform of choice for no good reason other than a goon company throwing big money at a studio to exclude you and make you feel bad about not buying THEIR product. How again is that a good thing? I am glad that SteamOS doesn't do them. We can leave being evil to Microsoft and Sony.
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