Valve normally deals in bits and bytes, but it’s now in the physical business of computer hardware. And it’s already having to deal with something its Steam digital-distribution channel never has: limited supply.
The publisher and game distributor has sold out of the “get it early” Steam Machines offer that would put the game-optimized PCs into your hands a month early. Now, even if you preorder, you’ll have to wait until Nov. 10 before you’ll get your system. Up until this morning, Valve’s deal would send the preordered Steam Machines, which run Valve’s Linux variant SteamOS, to customers Oct. 16. But the company has sold out of that allotment in less than a month — showing that Valve may indeed have a chance at cracking into the $55 billion console industry.
Valve is working with third-party vendors like Alienware and Syber to create new Steam Machines that work more like the traditional gaming systems from Sony and Nintendo. These PCs boot straight into an optimized version of the Steam gaming client, one that works best in a so-called “living room environment.” These boxes are also capable of streaming games from another local PC, since the Steam Machines can only play a limited number of games that have Linux versions.
The Steam Machine hardware ranges in price from $450 to $1,500. We still have a lot of questions about what spending that kind of money will get you because it’s unclear if these systems will have all the features required to replace something like a PlayStation 4 or a standalone gaming PC. A big part of proving the viability of the Steam Machines will come in terms of whether major third-party releases start supporting Linux. Another big part is whether or not the Steam Controller, which Valve also recently started selling, can enable keyboard-and-mouse games to function better on a joypad.
But even while we’re asking these questions, plenty of gamers are obviously willing to plunk down their cash to act as early adopters. It’s up to Valve and its partners now to convince those who have already preordered that they didn’t waste their money.