Want a Steam Console? Well, Hope You Like GameStop
New ideas can make strange bedfellows: The world’s biggest brick-and-mortar game retailers are teaming up with the online game marketplace Steam to bring Valve’s gaming hardware to their stores.
GameStop will be the exclusive brick-and-mortar retailer of Steam Machines and the Steam Controller in the US for this holiday season, with GAME UK selling them in the United Kingdom and EB Games in Canada.
Walk into participating stores on or after November 10 and you’ll spy areas devoted to Steam’s long-anticipated lineup of Steam-angled PC-based gaming boxes, set-top streaming devices, funky-looking game controllers and prepaid software cards.
With the rise of e-tail, traditional retail game sales have plummeted. GameStop took a stab at challenging Steam when it snatched e-tail service Impulse from Stardock in 2011, but the idea—briefly renamed GameStop App—never took, and the company shuttered the service in April 2014.
Retailers like GameStop have their PC gaming sections to tiny areas that mostly look like shrines to Blizzard. If you want access to most of the 6,000 extant PC games Valve currently stocks, it’s pretty much Steam or nothing.
On the other hand: GameStop, GAME UK, and EB Games (owned by GameStop) still have thousands of physical stores when combined worldwide, and Valve’s been selling Steam prepaid cards in some of these locales for years (the company claims they’ve been “increasing each year,” though doesn’t specify how much).
Valve, whose Steam-centric gaming PCs, game-streaming device Steam Link and unique touch-driven controller have been both lauded and criticized, needs a retail partner that speaks fluent enthusiast-ese. For the modern PC gamer, governed by Steam’s iron grip on PC games distribution, that’s clearly not the big box stores.
Whether Valve’s Steam Machines can capture PC gamers’ hearts and wallets is another matter. The company’s been quietly touting the idea of selling Steam-focused hardware and a special controller with circular thumb-driven touch pads for years now. But anyone can build their own “Steam machine” to taste, and probably for less money.
Valve’s shied away from making SteamOS (basically Debian Linux) its de facto operating system, let alone attempting to cajole other software makers into supporting it. Steam machines will run whatever operating system you care to, just like any other PC.
Valve and GameStop thus look to have an up-mountain extreme sports climb ahead, convincing a demographic that already skews do-it-yourself and bargain-hunter that paying the inexorable retail markup is worth it.