Life Tech The future of gaming is Steam powered
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The future of gaming is Steam powered

SBX Steam box
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A new player is gearing up to storm the gaming console market with its latest release, dubbed “the Steam Machine”.

Valve has already revolutionised the gaming world with its Steam website, which allows users to download and play games directly to a computer, often at a fraction of what it would cost to buy the same game on a CD.

Not content with shaking up the computer game market, Valve is working on prototypes of the Steam Machine to compete with the other gaming behemoths like Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo for pride of place beneath your TV.

Fourteen companies have been licensed by Valve to build the custom-designed machines, which are generating huge buzz. The one pictured above is manufactured by SBX.

If Valve’s current popularity is anything to go by, the Machine is set to be a big hit. The Steam online gaming portal has so far amassed over 65 million users, which already puts it far ahead of the estimated 50 or so million on Xbox Live (although the Playstation is the clear winner with over 100 million active accounts).

Customisation seems to be the key selling point, with wide variance expected between the different models on offer. Prices are expected to range from $500 up to a luxury $6000 model.

Since the Machine is similar to a computer tower, parts that become outdated can be swapped out, eliminating the need to buy a whole new console so quickly (although this feature is unavailable in the models produced by Alienware).

But playability could be a major problem. Since most Steam gamers currently play on their desktop computers with a keyboard and mouse, they are likely to trounce whoever picks up the controllers, which look slightly more unwieldy.

Steam has tried to prevent this problem by building mouse-like pads into their early mock-up controllers, which will mimic the experience of using a mouse pointer, except with your fingers rather than your whole hand.

Much of the Machine is still in the testing phase, and it remains to be seen if Valve can gouge a huge market share.

But given that its Steam products are all about freedom, it’s sure to be popular among those annoyed by the increasing restraints and incompatibilities enforced by the other big gaming companies.