Valve has quietly removed links and references to Steam Machine game consoles from the hardware section and drop-down menu on the Steam site, raising new questions about the future of the influential gaming platform’s third-party hardware initiative.
The references disappeared sometime around March 20, as reported by PC Gamer and other sites over the weekend. You can still find five available options for Steam Machines for sale on Steam if you search for them via Google, but the removal of the direct references and links is being taken as a sign that Valve, at best, isn’t putting a priority on the game consoles, and could be moving to phase them out.
Unveiled in January 2014 by Valve’s Gabe Newell, Steam Machines represented not only Valve’s entry into the PC hardware market, but an attempt to bring Steam and PC gaming into the living room. Before then, “couch gaming” — playing on a big TV, from your couch, with a controller — had been considered the exclusive domain of consoles like the PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo consoles.
Steam Machines were all built to be small enough to sit in your entertainment center and hook into your HD TV, letting you play your vast library of Steam games on PC with a wireless Steam Controller from the comfort of your couch.
However, in the intervening years, the Steam Machine failed to gain market traction. Valve has never released any official sales data, but journalists have theorized that under 500,000 Steam Machines were sold within seven months of its debut, despite Steam having as many as 125 million registered users. Part of the problem may have been that Valve’s own Steam Link does much of what you’d want from the Steam Machine — streaming games straight from your PC to the TV in your living room — for a bare fraction of the price of a Steam Machine.
The most crucial problem seems to have been, simply enough, that the SteamOS initially didn’t work very well; many developers didn’t support it, and many games took a sizable performance hit when running on SteamOS.
If you’ve bought a game for your PC in the last ten years or so, there’s a good chance it was through Steam. Since October of 2005, Steam has evolved from Valve Software’s exclusive software client, intended to make it easy and painless to push patches for their games (Half-Life 2, DOTA 2, Left 4 Dead, etc.), into an international online storefront. Steam makes billions in annual sales via digital distribution, and has changed the face of how video games are made, marketed, and sold.
Back in July of 2012, Valve’s Gabe Newell spoke at the Casual Connect conference about his company’s dissatisfaction with the then-new Windows 8, infamously calling it “a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space.” Due to what they saw as Microsoft exercising a worrying amount of control over PC gaming, Valve’s goal was to promote gaming on the open-source operating system Linux, in order to “continue to make sure there are open platforms.”
This led to the development and release of the Steam Machines: a line of custom-made miniature gaming PCs, each built by a company partnered with Valve, such as Alienware or Syber. Each Machine runs SteamOS, Valve’s own custom operating system based on Linux (more specifically, it’s a Debian-based Linux distribution, customized for gaming purposes), and many of them don’t do anything besides run games through Steam.
On the upside for Valve, while the Machine seems to be dead, the Steam Controller is still doing quite well, with nearly a million units sold by the end of 2016. Valve’s push towards Linux has also done a lot of good for gaming on that operating system.
We’ve contacted Valve for comment on the disappearance of the Steam Machine references, and will update this post with any additional information.