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Is Steam’s new in-home streaming a genuine threat to PS4 and Xbox One?

The latest phase in Valve’s bid for world domination went live yesterday: Steam In-Home Streaming. The feature, built into the Steam platform, will allow PC gamers to stream games over a home network from one PC to another. It’s the next step in getting PC gamers off their computer chairs and onto the couch. The question is, will Steam’s new features and the various available and incoming Steam Boxes shift PC gamers to the traditional domain of the console: the living room?

Valve recognises that PC gamers are a varied lot, and Steam’s campaign against consoles tries to target them with differently implemented features. It’s an approach that Sony and Microsoft experimented with in their systems, including the streaming service between PS3 and PSP Vita, and cross-platform multiplayer between Xbox and PC versions of Microsoft exclusives.

In-Home Streaming targets PC gamers who have a gaming rig and a media centre PC connected to their TV. Using In-Home Streaming you can launch a game on Steam on your gaming PC, then settle down on the couch and control the game using your media centre's inputs. The network transfers the commands from the media centre’s peripherals, and all the graphics are streamed back like a movie. It’s convenient to make gaming a more household social experience with your loved ones, though I can’t guarantee the cat on your lap will improve your kill count.

Cables and limited entertainment unit space mean having a full-sized gaming PC under your TV isn’t always convenient, especially if you have to contend with console bricks. Clearly, In-Home Streaming is a sweet alternative for the gamers who currently have their PC physically attached to their TV all the time. With most AAA titles releasing on multiple formats, and with the added bonus of merry discounts in Steam Sales, this could really bring back some PC gamers who had converted to consoles. I was certainly excited to play Dishonored on Steam in the living room, though I felt sorry for my then-neglected PS3.

The only downside I can think of is that both PCs will need to be on in order to play, and the success of the stream is completely dependent on the speed of a player’s home network. Testing will determine if online games will suffer lag from transfers around the house, and how much interference (if any) will come from local devices. Wouldn’t want your mum’s dodgy mixer--that makes the TV crackle when it’s on high--interfering with in an otherwise splendid game of DOTA 2.

Another interesting feature, probably aimed at parents, is Family Library Sharing. This function lets users share access to their library with a select group of family and friends. Although you can’t co-op, your guests will have unique save files and their own achievements on their own connected device. Combined with In-Home Sharing, it could mean that your guest--be it child, spouse or friend--can play games on the TV while you are using your PC for other non-Steam pursuits.

Having previously dominated the TV, this sort of inclusive connectivity should make the console giants start to worry about Steam sales and the eclectic range of PC games to entice Indie and hardcore gamer alike. That's not to mention the boost it could give PCs in the ever-lucrative kids’ and family game market. It’s also worth considering the time gap between release on console and PC. With the exception of Ubisoft and Rockstar titles, the gap between AAA releases is shrinking, and there are a lot more indie games on PC than on the consoles, despite the PS4’s much vaunted Indie revolution.

The ultimate gamble in Valve’s war on consoles is the Steam Box, which may be the weakest link compared to other features, blurring the line between console and PC in a currently unclear way. A great advantage of PCs is that they are much more than just gaming machines, so the success of Steam Boxes will depend on their versatility, configuration, retail availability, upgradeability, and price. Though Steam Boxes replicate console convenience and connect seamlessly with Steam’s Big Picture mode, the certainty surrounding how ‘real PC’ may make hardcore PC gamers wary until the fog lifts...

Will Steam conquer the living room? It’s still uncertain, but all the right pieces are slowly coming into place. ‘Slowly’ is certainly the operative word, but like the turtle and the hare, slow and steady might win this race. To crack the nut of console TV exclusivity, Valve's salvos will need to be carefully planned. So even if you’re a resolutely couch-based gamer, it’s becoming increasingly appealing to think about saving your pennies for a decent PC rig, rather than shelling out on new-gen consoles. Either way, Microsoft and Sony should be watching very, very closely.

29 comments

  • AdonisX82 - May 26, 2014 9:38 p.m.

    I honestly don't know why this is a big deal. I've had my PC hooked up to my TV for 7 years. I wouldn't go back to NOT having it that way. Only recently have a gotten my PC to a respectful gaming configuration ( radeon 7850, 8gig ram, higher end i5), and I game on it a lot, on my 50" tv in my living room, sitting in my comfy recliner chair with a PS3 controller in hand (sorry elitists, i'm not fond of the mouse and keyboard) I also have a PS3, 360, and PS2, all hooked up to the same tv, with a tv stand that doesn't take up much room (it's not even as wide as the tv) everyone's talkin like this is the future. this is my past 7 years. and I ain't some high rollin baller and those steam machines are way to expensive for what you get, I think that's been established.
  • Spetnazadventurer - May 25, 2014 5:16 p.m.

    No, nobody cares about Steambox nor is there ANY kind of need for it! Valve is simply throwing away money on a pipe dream instead of using their money wisely for other purposes. Consoles dominate, PC's are good in their own right (I have and play it occasionally), we don't need anything else! My living room is perfect already with what I have.
  • fearlessfox - May 26, 2014 2:36 a.m.

    Things change my friend. Consoles in their current form are not going to dominate forever. One day, an innovation of some kind will render them obsolete, Just a matter of time.
  • Vonter - May 25, 2014 12:42 p.m.

    I suppose it's not an issue or it's because I don't watch TV anymore. But, I see little to no ads for steam and have just know it by word of mouth. I've tried the service, (having just bought one game), but, I'm pretty unaware if it has games I'm interested in (japanese, or light hearted ones). I've also need to get a game controller, maybe it could be an excuse to get the Wii U pro one, I've heard it works fine and I could use it for coming Wii U games.
  • SomeOddGuy - May 26, 2014 9:47 a.m.

    I suppose I could divulge on answering your inquiry. While I can't say for certain how massive the Japanese developer support is for the system, I can say that the Japanese indie support there has been pretty well maintained. While it's only been recent that more high profile titles like Dynasty Warriors have start to hit the marketplace there, there have been smaller titles like Half Minute Hero(and its previously unlocalized sequel) and Sine Mora that have hit the service. Skullgirls even managed to find new life on Steam as a testing ground for its new content, letting all of its players test out characters before they're ready to hit the main game. I suppose it's a matter of just stumbling upon the right game at the right time since the service can be a little bit of a dumping ground for titles to easily get lost, but without a doubt, there's something for everyone there, no matter how big or small.
  • Vonter - May 26, 2014 10:07 a.m.

    I'll have to dig deeper, since like the eShop it seems titles can get buried in favor of the most popular ones, and the tagging system is very flawed.
  • BleedingHatMcGillicutty - May 24, 2014 4:21 p.m.

    I love steam. I love consoles. I find the idea of streaming cool, but is it currently a threat? No. There are multiple reasons for this, but the biggest reason I'm not on board yet is bullshit data caps. My internet provider charges me extra if I go over 250 gigs in a month unless I needless upgrade my speed. I'm already struggling to stay under until I find an alternative so I'm not in a position to start streaming games on top of everything else.
  • betjaardejoe - May 25, 2014 8:25 a.m.

    I have a feeling you're confusing "streaming" with "in-home streaming". Latter, the case here, shouldn't affect your data cap, because it only uses your home network (LAN or Wifi or watnot).
  • kevin-dorland - June 12, 2014 2:57 a.m.

    This is streaming through LAN basically or your own wifi router. That does NOT substract from your data cap. This isn't a connection ''through your internet provider'' basically. It's just through your intrAnet. You don't need to pay a subscription to use public wifi channels on a non-subscription phone now do you?
  • Steambox - May 24, 2014 12:29 a.m.

    By reading your comments most of you I think don't understand the purpose of steambox Its designed to make linux go mainstream in gaming and it already has done it. Improved graphic cards support from Nvidia,Intel and AMD.More games for linux including AAA games like MetroNight,The Witcher,Unreal Tournament etc. More engines like leadworks,crytech,unreal,torque are now available for linux. So steambox has already accomplished its goal. Also pc does have a mascot its a penguin called Tux
  • Vonter - May 23, 2014 8:11 p.m.

    Not a complain, but what I'll like if PC had more of a face or mascot. Nintendo has Mario, Microsoft has Halo, Sony has... Uncharted/God of War... the one with the Naughty Dog games and console JRPGs. I think in that sense the PC mascot may be Blizzard, but that's mainly because their art direction stands out more than other studios exclusive to the platform.
  • shiny-vaporeon - May 26, 2014 6:32 a.m.

    Half-Life. TF2. pretty much anything by valve actually. also league of legends, Blizzard's stuff (like you said), probably some F2P stuff like maplestory or warframe.
  • Vonter - May 26, 2014 9:46 a.m.

    I suppose but it's hard to pinpoint a mascot, is what I'm saying. PC seems more about the general picture than a particular individual or character. Mainly the game worlds are more in the foreground than the characters.
  • Relzen - May 23, 2014 2 p.m.

    Steambox will never catch on because there is absolutely no audience for it. Anyone who cares about Steam already has a gaming PC so they wont buy it and the average console gamer does not give a shit about Valve. I hope this whole thing is a tremendous failure because maybe that would force those lazy jerks at Valve to make Half-Life 3 instead of nonsense no one wants.
  • db1331 - May 23, 2014 1:28 p.m.

    "...this could really bring back some PC gamers who had converted to consoles. " I recognize these words, but their order makes no sense to me.
  • ObliqueZombie - May 24, 2014 4:34 a.m.

    I'm one of them, actually... Not permanently, mind you, but moving around in college and having no one to play with (if I did, they wanted to play nothing but Dota 2) made it hard for me to stick with my large rig. So I sold it for $500 and got myself a PS4 as a replacement... And honestly, the few computer games I liked that are actually on it are playing VERY well, so I hope this is a trend. Warframe post-update-13 runs like butter and FFXIV is an excellent port. Not to mention the streamlined video recording and couch/living space friendly space.... Fear not, I'll come back soon. When I've graduated and have a place to stay!
  • Divine Paladin - May 23, 2014 11:19 a.m.

    Is it good news? For PC gamers, yes. Is it a threat? Lolnope. Steam is a service that only PC gamers and some hardcore console gamers care about. The casual gamers are picking up the new consoles like they're free muffins, and the non-core audience DOES NOT CARE ABOUT PC GAMING. Hell, I'm a core gamer, who majors in Computer Science, and I don't give two shits about PC gaming. I prefer not having to worry about the intricacies or spending hundreds on parts, as do a hefty amount of gamers. (Plus I really dislike what Steam does to developers, but that's a personal complaint that not many share.) I've said it before and I'll repeat: Steamboxes are pointless; those that use Steam have PCs good enough that a PC console is pointless to them and those that don't more than likely don't want one. This service is the same way - it's nice for those PC gamers with two PCs, one of which is hooked up to a TV, but it's not for anybody else really. (Besides, who hooks up a second PC to a TV? Either they do that with the first one or they use Chromecast.)
  • db1331 - May 23, 2014 1:30 p.m.

    (Plus I really dislike what Steam does to developers, but that's a personal complaint that not many share.) You dislike how Steam helps them sell way more copies of their game than they would have sold on their own?
  • Divine Paladin - May 23, 2014 3:24 p.m.

    I dislike that Valve tmakes a large percentage of the profits and will slash the prices of games at their own will. New games can get really shafted by an early sale, and have on some occasions. Selling more copies is fine for an older, generally "dead" game, but Valve will come in occasionally and drop the price HEAVILY on a game that is selling well just to get a few more sales. That benefits nobody except the player (and I'm all for benefiting the player, but if it's at the expense of the IP holder against their will, I don't support it). Yes, the developer/publishers sign up knowing this, but it's this Apple-like stranglehold that I'm not a fan of. In cases like the Humble Bundle I'm more accepting because the developers are putting money to charity and willingly so.
  • shiny-vaporeon - May 26, 2014 6:41 a.m.

    it's easier to have a big $3000 rig in one place in your house and a tiny $100 box to stream to. Also if you think steam treats devs poorly, you need to take a look at Xbox LIVE arcade.

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