Alienware Exec: Steam Machines Lost Priority

PCGamer has come up with an interview with Frank Azor from Alienware (co-founder), covering the Steam Machines and the recent lack of news related to such hardware and SteamOS as a whole. After the lukewarm launch from Valve, I’d call it hardly surprising, but anyway.

frankaznor

Here’s what he shared:

Frank Azor: I think the landscape two years ago was very different to what it is today. The catalyst for the Steam Machine initiative was really around what Microsoft’s decisions were with Windows 8, and if you remember that operating system, it really stepped away from gamers in a big way. We were concerned as an industry that we were going to lose PC gamers on the Windows platform to any other platform that was out there, whether it was console, Mac OS X, Android.

 

So that’s where the partnership between Valve and Alienware really initiated around the Steam Machine concept. We said: ‘Hey, we can’t lose Windows as a gaming platform.’ We had to take matters into our own hands because we couldn’t rely on Microsoft. So we did that, and we started pursuing the path that we did.

 

Valve ran into some delays with the controller, and while that was occurring, Windows 10 was being released. I think Microsoft learned a very valuable lesson – a lot of valuable lessons – with Windows 8 and tried to correct those with Windows 10. It’s more gamer focused, I would say. Every subsequent release has focused on gamers. Although their execution isn’t perfect, it’s definitely improved compared to Windows 8.

While Windows 8 was certainly a pretty bad experience, I am not sure why Windows 10 is necessarily a better option for gaming. Sure, it now has a Windows Store as well as DX12 support (that some games require nowadays), but there is virtually no other difference with Windows 8.

Frank Azor: I think the need right now, for Steam Machines and for SteamOS, isn’t as great as it was two years ago, and that’s contributed to the reason why the momentum has faded. We still offer SteamOS and the Steam Machine platform with the new version of the Alpha – the new Steam Machine R2 – and we still sell hundreds of units, thousands of units every month. But it’s not a major initiative for us like it was two years ago because it’s not necessary right now. We’re in a good place with Windows.

Oops, that was an indirect confirmation that the sales of Alienware Steam Machines are very low. Several hundreds to a couple of thousands every month don’t make it look like they sell more than 50 000 of them in a year. Probably much, much less. And if we believe some of the Amazon reviews, a lot of purchasers of the Alienware Steam Machine end up putting Windows on it.

Frank Azor: We’re seeing the Windows version of Alpha significantly outsell the Steam Machine version because there is a lot of interest in taking PC games and putting them into the living room. We’ve made that a reality with these platforms, but I think the Windows platform continues to outperform the Steam[OS] one simply because it has a bigger library and a little more flexibility regarding what controller you can use.

Funny that they don’t touch on the performance aspect. On something as limited as the Alienware hardware, some AAA games run much better on Windows than on Linux (we are talking about having steady 60 fps on Windows vs not having it on SteamOS) and that certainly is one reason for gamers to reject SteamOS on that kind of fixed hardware platform. As for the library gap, it’s undeniable that it still exists and is not going away anytime soon, but there are now many great games one can play on Linux too.

Frank Azor: Maybe then Steam Machine could overtake [Windows 10] Alpha sales, but it could take time, and I don’t think anyone is in a hurry for that to materialize. I think what’s more important is that Microsoft continues to pay attention [to the fact] that they are at risk of losing Windows as a gaming platform if they don’t continue to invest in gamers. I think Steam Machines and what we did with Valve is a reminder to Microsoft, a kick in the butt, so that they realized what they could stand to lose.

Maybe Alienware is giving themselves too much credit here. There was no indication ever that Microsoft was feeling at risk of losing anything to SteamOS/Steam Machines, because of the sheer control they have on developers and toolkits. Ultimately it’s not Microsoft who decides to support Windows as a gaming platform, it’s developers who know the market and target the Windows Gaming crowd to ensure they can make a living. That is not going to change overnight, and any progress from the Steam Machines or Linux in general will only be very, very slow.

What is positive, however, is to see that Alienware is not dropping the ball completely, and Azor’s comments make it sound like they will continue supporting Steam Machines for the foreseeable future. It’s not essential for the Linux Gamers crowd, but having a box you can buy with proper Linux hardware support, on the market, is certainly desirable.


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9 Comments

  1. What does THIS mean?
    “…any progress from the Steam Machines or Linux in general will only be very, very progressive.”

    Did you mean “very slow” instead?

  2. Valve can’t even be bothered to remove Steam Machine listings for MAINGEAR (“This product is no longer active in our catalog” @ maingear.com), Materiel.net (“Ce produit n’est plus disponible à la vente” @ materiel.net, although as of the time of this post there is a refurbished unit for sale on materiel.net), NEXT (“Prodotto attualmente NON presente a listino” @ nexths.it), ALTERNATE (“Coming Soon, This item is not yet available; Release Date: Nov 2015” @ steampowered.com), Digital Storm (“Coming Soon, This item is not yet available; Release Date: Nov 2015” @ steampowered.com), and Webhallen (“Coming Soon, This item is not yet available; Release Date: Nov 2015” @ steampowered.com) from the Steam Store.

    Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that ZOTAC has released several new E-Series models of ZBOX that share the NEN’s dimensions (specifically the MAGNUS EN1070, MAGNUS EN1060, and MAGNUS ERX480), yet hasn’t updated the NEN at this time. The last generation’s MAGNUS EN979 was basically the non-Steam Machine version of the NEN; it had the same hardware configuration, minus the HDD and Steam Controller.

    “I think Steam Machines and what we did with Valve is a reminder to Microsoft, a kick in the butt, so that they realized what they could stand to lose.”
    I think he is giving Alienware credit it doesn’t deserve. Face-saving gesture or delusional?

    Maybe one of these days Valve will get serious about Steam Machines. I won’t hold my breath, given that the Steam Link took the living room space from Steam Machines, and right now VR is a bigger focus for Valve (https://www.reddit.com/r/Vive/comments/4odsce/ive_sent_gabe_newell_an_email_asking_for_valves/). I remain a skeptic with regard to how much market penetration VR will really see, but that is another conversation.

    • Yeah Valve’s attention to Steam Machines was super temporary and seemed to have faded completely – as you point out most of the listings are completely outdated, it really sounds like there is absolutely not once at Valve who is even checking that category on a regular basis.

      And Alienware is seriously having an ego trip (“we scared Microsoft” LOL) – that’s not very credible seeing that they were offering their Alpha with Windows a year before the SteamOS version – it’s not like they waited for SteamOS at all.

  3. Valve’s focus should be on their SteamOS distro and getting as many Linux games as possible. New AAA titles preferably and popular older titles as well. Other titles should follow once the platform gains momentum.
    VR is nice but due to space requirements more likely to be a niche product.

  4. Valve has quietly been doing a LOT of work getting games working. Too many people expected this to suddenly work but that’s not the case. Valve likely should have been a bit more clear as to the roadmap though.

    Porting DX11 and previous games isn’t very practical. Valve said they don’t intend to use WINE, and I wonder if there are any licensing/legal issues with that anyway.

    The success of SteamOS is largely tied to gaming on normal Linux distros. Once it’s made easy enough, and has sufficient VIDEO DRIVER support from AMD/NVidia it will start to pick up.. uh, Steam.

    I think it will find its niche, even if it’s only as Steam on Linux as there will be sufficient people who want to get away from Windows that it will work.

    Either way, this is a YEARS long project. VULKAN is really the key for the future of Linux gaming, so do the math on how long it takes to make a game etc. There is not going to be a “we made it” date but rather a small series of improvements.

    Another thing of note is that it’s taken so long to succeed that Windows and gaming consoles are getting better. We still don’t have consistent 60FPS gaming on console but that should be mostly sorted out with another large update in a few years.

    Microsoft is also integrating XBOX and W10 functionality. So SteamOS is getting better, but so is the competition, thus the advantage of SteamOS is starting to erode (i.e. it needs to have the ease of use of consoles, but some flexibility and performance of PC gaming).

  5. @Jeffrey
    Agreed, it’s going to take at least 10+ years before we see the impact of SteamOS and Vulkan on Linux and gaming as a whole. This is not going to be a 1-2 year all or bust project. It’s impossible to make a dent in Windows dominance in that short a period.

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