Interview: ORIGIN PC and Falcon Northwest chat about their Steam Machine plans

As promised, Valve used CES 2014 to reveal the 14 OEMs it has partnered with that will make Steam Machines; PCs that will run the Linux based SteamOS. The first of these Steam Machines will go on sale sometime later in 2014 and are supposed to bring PC gaming into the living room much like how consoles like the Xbox One and PS4 are designed.

Two major gaming PC makers, Falcon Northwest and ORIGIN PC, are among the Steam Machine launch partners. Falcon Northwest will offer SteamOS inside its small Tiki gaming PC (which we have reviewed in the past) and ORIGIN PC will add Valve's operating system in its CHRONOS case. We got a chance to ask Falcon Northwest CEO Kelt Reeves and ORIGIN PC CEO Kevin Wasielewski some questions about their plans to offer PCs with SteamOS and why they think it will be good for PC gamers.

First, let's discuss SteamOS. Did Valve come to you to ask if your company could sell a SteamOS PC?

Kevin Wasielewski - We approached Valve about it as soon as we heard about it. We wanted to be involved as early as possible. Actually when Valve first approached us it was in regards to their example boxes with production questions.

Kelt Reeves - The SteamOS project was already well underway, and our involvement with Steam Machines grew from those conversations. We had already been building our “Tiki” Micro-Towers for more than a year, and the example Steam Machine Valve made was so similar that we didn’t need to make physical changes to Tiki for it to become a Steam Machine. We already have clients using Tikis in living room environments with Steam’s Big Picture mode, and we designed Tiki with the low-noise priority of a living room environment in mind. So it couldn’t have been a more natural fit to turn Tiki into a Steam Machine.

ORIGIN PC's CHRONOS system for SteamOS

What's the most exciting or unique aspect of SteamOS in terms of PC gaming and bringing that experience to the living room?

Kevin Wasielewski - I’m most excited about the Steam controller. If it can actually replace a keyboard and mouse and act as a full blown gaming controller then it will be a revolutionary device.

Kelt Reeves - It's just so easy. If you’ve used Big Picture mode before, you’ll already be right at home in SteamOS. If not, it will take you all of 5 minutes to be comfortable with the interface. Want to install a game? Just click the picture. Like a console, there’s no need to learn a directory structure of even know what a C: drive is. Want to browse your games? Scroll thru the pictures. Finding and playing a game with SteamOS is as easy as browsing Netflix.

Some people might wonder why they need to buy a Steam Machine instead of a Windows exclusive PC. What do you think SteamOS and Steam Machines can do that a Microsoft Windows PC cannot do?

Kevin Wasielewski - I think it’s too early to make any comparisons just yet. At this point we are really exciting to offer new experiences to PC gamers.

Kelt Reeves - Steam Machines are squarely targeted at the living room environment, where Windows PCs haven’t had much luck gaining a foothold. It’s just not a natural environment for a keyboard and mouse. The Steam Controller is a very innovative attempt to overcome the keyboard/mouse barrier there, and the SteamOS interface is fantastic from a couch. But Valve has been very conscious of the Windows PC as the current standard, and the ability to stream games to your Steam Machine from a Windows PC I think will be key for a lot of people. You won’t have to give up your Windows game catalog playing on a Steam Machine.

Falcon Northwest's Tiki PC made for SteamOS

ORIGIN PC will offer a way to dual boot SteamOS with a Windows OS. Why did you decide to do that?

Kevin Wasielewski - One of ORIGIN PC’s core values is to offer the most customization options. We work night and day to validate as many options as possible and then let our customers decide on the configuration they want us to build for them. Dual booting to more than one OS will be an option on our Steam Machines.

Will Falcon Northwest offer a dual booting option for its Steam Machine

Kelt Reeves - The Steam Machine version of Tiki will boot to SteamOS, but dual booting any of our systems is already very easy.

We thank Kevin and Kelt for answering our questions!

Images via ORIGIN PC and Falcon Northwest

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It appeals to me i would dual boot from steam os for gaming and linux for everything else and finally ditch crappy m$. which i only load to play games anyhow.

Just not sure who these devices will appeal to. Gaming enthusiasts often build their rigs and more causal gamers will go to a PS4 or XBox One.

heatlesssun said,
Just not sure who these devices will appeal to. Gaming enthusiasts often build their rigs and more causal gamers will go to a PS4 or XBox One.

I agree with you. I dont know who will buy them either... But maybe they are making boxes to try and spur on the OS? Not sure why they would do that though unless they are getting some money for it.

How about the people new to PC gaming or want to get into it, but don't know a thing about building a rig, what to look for, and such?

That is one of the big answers I would like to see to be honest. This holiday season, we had a lot of people looking for a gaming PC, and sadly, the ones that don't want all the fuss of adding in a graphics card to a desktop seem to end up getting laptops, and because of the price, will sometimes settle for something like an A10 Quad-Core from AMD on an... ugh... HP, where the price is higher than it needs to be just because of a touch screen.

dead.cell said,
How about the people new to PC gaming or want to get into it, but don't know a thing about building a rig, what to look for, and such?

That is one of the big answers I would like to see to be honest. This holiday season, we had a lot of people looking for a gaming PC, and sadly, the ones that don't want all the fuss of adding in a graphics card to a desktop seem to end up getting laptops, and because of the price, will sometimes settle for something like an A10 Quad-Core from AMD on an... ugh... HP, where the price is higher than it needs to be just because of a touch screen.

I can totally see that scenario and have actually. This and the other steam machines probably wont fit the solution though. They are geared towards the living room and what do you do when they ask what SteamOS is and whatnot? And why they cant install their Office program on SteamOS, etc, etc.

I think people who want to move into gaming have their best bets with researching gaming desktop computers and finding companies that build them if they dont want to build them themselves =).

dead.cell said,
How about the people new to PC gaming or want to get into it, but don't know a thing about building a rig, what to look for, and such?

That is one of the big answers I would like to see to be honest. This holiday season, we had a lot of people looking for a gaming PC, and sadly, the ones that don't want all the fuss of adding in a graphics card to a desktop seem to end up getting laptops, and because of the price, will sometimes settle for something like an A10 Quad-Core from AMD on an... ugh... HP, where the price is higher than it needs to be just because of a touch screen.

Those people can get a PC with many of the same vendors for years, it's not like these models are much different from the models currently being sold by the likes of Alienware and some of the others. The difference is that these PC's would be delivered with Windows, so the availability of games would be much better.

If you don't try to break into a market, you never will.

There's selling it as a device you plug in to your tv, not computer that also hooks to the tv.

As a tech minded person, I think pc hooked to tv, however a lot of people think device you plugin to the tv it's an appliance.

I think Steam OS has the potential to succeed where others have failed.

I also think the ability to stream windows games to your tv via a steam box may be more succesfull at first vs linux native games.

Time will tell.

Exactly. I remember laughing at the idea of an Xbox when I heard of its coming. Between having a Playstation and Nintendo who'd been around forever, why would I need this so called "Xbox"? Now look at them!

I'm curious to see where this will take us.

In all honesty, I think the steam machines will end up like ouya. Hype to extremes, but will falter in sales and remain a niche device.
It's as if these machines are targeted toward people who do not realize the existence of an hdmi cable..
You got a pc you already use for gaming? Get an hdmi cable, plug it into your tv from your pc and bam, you've got a steam machine.

too expensive for a console, too limited for a PC. seems like they took the worse of both and combined it, then crippled it by what amounts to a valve Trojan horse, and slapped draconian DRM which goes far beyond what xbox one original DRM ever did.

"The Steam Controller is a very innovative attempt to overcome the keyboard/mouse barrier there,"

Right, of course the current consoles did achieve this years and years ago.

In fact, there are even some people (myself included) who have a Windows PC in the living room, of course here there's no keyboard + mouse either, we operate it using a remote control on an interface that looks awfully familiar to Steam's Big Picture mode. For reference, I am talking about Windows Media Center, released over a decade ago.

And in fact, I can game on it to using an xbox controller. Of course I and people like me are exceptions.

People don't want a pc in their living room, that much we could have learned in the last 10 years. Windows Media center usage has been ultra small, even though the system actually is really good, especially since it can handle your cable tv signal completely, including guide.

People do want a console, a console that is simple, without having to worry about what GPU should be bought, what drivers should be loaded for what games and other silly stuff. Developers can targeted these consoles without having to worry about multiple hardware configurations, and the support issues involved with them.

About the games that will come, I have serious doubts about the willingness of major developers supporting this platform. First there are almost no users, (including the small percentage of people currently using the Linux Steam client), and the chance people are going to move to this platform without even a single Triple A game being announced or even available at launch, is slim to none. Secondly, developing a game for a console, that would be the exact same across the board, makes it much better to develop for than the all over the place hardware configurations steamboxes are going to have. As such Steamboxes remove one of the biggest advantages of consoles right away.

The absence of games is what will hold this back, Microsoft has shown how this can be fixed (they did so with the Xbox), it requires huge amounts of cash to entice developers, it will require taking a massive loss on the hardware to entice users. It also took them quite a bit of years if I remember correctly.

Valve is a much smaller company, so the question would be if they have the cash required to entice developers. Since they themselves don't make the hardware, the second part isn't even possible for them.

I can't see this working to be honest.

As for trying to compete with Windows, that doesn't make much sense, not only due to the fact that for Valve it shouldn't matter on which OS people run their steam client on, but also the availability of games and running old games would be a reason for people not to move.

Streaming Windows games sounds like a nice idea, but this would work only when people have two devices (the steambox + their PC), it wouldn't work if people only use one device.

Edited by sjaak327, Jan 9 2014, 12:13pm :

The games will come once the target platform is released. It will be easy to get Mac/Android/PS4 games running on it, and from the point of release, developers will be able to build games with this platform in mind, just like any multiplatform release. Personally a hassle-free console with curated software geared towards gaming, and driver/software updates that happen behind the scenes, that can play PC games sounds good to me.