During the 'Steam Machines in 2014 - Opening up the Living Room
' presentation made as part of the recent developer-only Steam Dev Days event in Seattle, Valve Software's Greg Coomer confirmed that the Steam platform holder is working on tools that aim to aid consumers in choosing the right Steam Machine for the games they want to play, and to help developers decide what specifications to target.
When Valve somewhat formally unveiled 14 of the so-called Steam Machines during a surprisingly brief presentation at CES 2014 last month, with such a wide variety of performance specifications and predicted pricing, many observers were left wondering how they were really any different any other PC. The correct observation was that they are all PC's of course, just ones that are being tailor-designed for the purpose of living-room gaming, primarily running Valve's new Linux-based SteamOS.
With compact form-factors and a user-interface designed for large television screens, Valve's intention is to bring our PC games into the room of the house traditionally inhabited by games consoles, but the question remained as to how they could hope to match the user-friendliness of single-spec consoles with the vast array of hardware configurations of the Steam Machines initiative.
While Coomer stopped short of specifically describing the solution that Valve has in mind, several comments throughout the presentation confirmed active development on tools for consumers:
About how customers are going to understand which Steam Machine is right for them: we really think this question comes down to a simple issue, and that is that customers are smart. We have a lot of experience on Steam that reinforces that assumption, and we think that absolutely applies even in the living room, where companies often assume that it isn't safe to assume that -- we think it is absolutely safe to assume that.
Customers are going to have a lot of ways to make choices, to help figure out 'what is the right Steam Machine for me?'. In part though, we think that this as a to-do item for ourselves, as platform holders really, that we need to make sure that there's an incredible amount of transparency and tools on Steam that help people understand this landscape, and what is going to be the best kind of price/performance trade off for them.
Steam is pretty well positioned to build tools like that, being able to harvest real-world performance data from how games are running on actual hardware out in the world, and pipe that through to show end users what that picture looks like, and compare machines. So we're in the process of building a couple of versions of tools that will be as simple as we can make them, but also provide a tonne of value and help people with that decision making.
How will developers know which spec to build to?
There are specific tools and transparency that we want to put into your hands, so that you can say 'ok, here's the landscape, I'm going to draw the line at this point, or I'm going to choose specific machines to make sure that customers are having a good experience on those machines. There's more data that we will be putting into your hands -- the same type of information that goes to customers, but in a more robust, granular way, so you can query that data -- and we're going to be working with you to design that experience on the developer side.
Responding to an audience query as to whether said tools might resemble something like the Windows Experience Index, which assigns a number value based on the combined performance of a given PC's components, Coomer was unable to clarify:
We don't have any specific announcement for how those tools are going to work for cross-comparing in the ecosystem. We're going through a design process right now, and we're going to... the details of that really matter, so we know that we're probably going to be iterating on those tools quite a bit, and we need your help as well, thinking through how that information should get presented to end users.
An accurate rating system for PC performance would remove a huge amount of the fuss involved in purchasing the right PC or upgrade components to run the games you want to play at a quality level you're satisfied with. Let's hope Valve can come through with the goods.