It turns out that the Steam Machines aren’t dead. Yet.
Over the weekend, several websites, the first of which appears to have been Gaming On Linux, noticed that video game giant Valve had quietly removed all overt references to the third-party living room gaming PCs, the Steam Machines, from the Steam online storefront. The Steam Machine project had been troubled from near the start, but the cleanup spurred widespread speculation, some of it from us, about what this meant for Valve.
As it turns out, not much. Valve broke its silence on the topic today with a post on Steam’s forums, written by Valve coder and developer Pierre-Loup Griffais, that detailed Valve’s internal thinking on the topic.
Officially, the Steam Machine was removed from the menus due to a lack of traffic. As we noted previously, you can still find five available options for Steam Machines for sale on Steam if you search for them via Google.
Griffais writes, “While it’s true Steam Machines aren’t exactly flying off the shelves, our reasons for striving towards a competitive and open gaming platform haven’t significantly changed. We’re still working hard on making Linux operating systems a great place for gaming and applications. We think it will ultimately result in a better experience for developers and customers alike, including those not on Steam.”
Since the Steam Machines run a custom Linux-based operating system, a side effect of the Steam Machine product initiative has been the rapid progression and development of gaming software that uses Linux as a platform. As Ars Technica noted in its own eulogy for the Steam Machine, Valve’s work in the field has resulted, just a few years later, in Linux developing a respectable native software lineup, as opposed to the bare handful of games it had in the 2000s.
Valve has also put in a lot of work on supporting the Vulkan application programming interface (API), the Khronos Group’s intended successor to OpenGL, including the recent announcement of a free-of-charge, open-source Vulkan driver for MacOS and iOS. This puts Valve firmly in Vulkan’s corner against Microsoft’s DirectX 12.
Griffais adds, “We also have other Linux initiatives in the pipe that we’re not quite ready to talk about yet; SteamOS will continue to be our medium to deliver these improvements to our customers, and we think they will ultimately benefit the Linux ecosystem at large.”
If you’re wondering why Valve is doing this in the first place — why it’s putting so much time and effort into expanding Linux as a viable games platform — you can chalk it up to an ongoing struggle between Valve and Microsoft over who gets to control digital games distribution. Valve currently has the upper hand in that conflict thanks to Steam, but by encouraging developers to work with an API that isn’t DirectX and providing players with a viable, free, open-source operating system that’s just as viable for games as Windows 10, it can keep throwing roadblocks in Microsoft’s path.