REPLY TO ALL: Does Steam Big Picture Change Your Living Room?

Q: After the release of Steam Big Picture mode, if you could have a PC as powerful as the next Xbox/PlayStation, and money wasn’t an issue, would you choose a PC or a console for living room gaming? Why?

REPLY TO ALL – The Horrible Night contributors answer gaming questions and try to determine who has the right opinion. Submit your own question.

JP LaFrance – DocJPizzle
I am going to remain with the console setup and create a decked out room to play games in. I am comfortable and at home with a controller in my hand, and I am scared to venture into the PC unknown. Like most people I don’t like to leave my comfort zone.

Justin Lacey – JDevL
Even though Big Picture lets you play with a controller from your couch, it is still intimidating?

Brandon Coppernoll – h21
I’m going to come out and say it. I’ve been an Xbox fan for roughly 10 years now, but with the direction the console is going I’m heavily considering PC gaming again.

It’s not the Kinect. It’s not the apps that are coming online. It’s the damned ads. Steam has ads, but it’s never about that. It’s about the games. That single fact alone makes me interested in PC gaming again. I am already dipping my toes in the water, and if Big Picture is a big success then it may be bye bye consoles for me.

What I am about to suggest is brash, but why is Steam competing with consoles by creating a UI that looks just like a console UI? Just make the SteamBox and get it over with. Is this their way to get people to move a tower into the living room, and beta test a console UI all at the same time?

And yes I am still intimidated ….

Justin L
No downside, that’s why.

I understand the intimidation of moving to a PC. As console gamer, who became a PC gamer, and now identifies himself as a console gamer, I just like my gaming experiences to require as little effort from me as possible.

Steam Big Picture solves it for me on the software side. Steam is brilliant and keeps all of my games in one place while giving me back up options and easy access to past purchases.

Big Picture Input

Competition is a beautiful thing.

I think it is sly as hell for Valve to move into the console space like this. It requires zero hardware investment, keeps its hardcore PC gamers happy (since most of them love to tinker with their hardware setups on their own), and yes, it allows them to test the potential for a SteamBox with little overhead involved. Why wouldn’t Valve test the waters?

These waters need competition. Like Brandon said, just compare the Big Picture dashboard to that of the 360 and tell me you aren’t jealous.

My only hangup remains the time investment of selecting my PC components, but I can’t see a reason that I won’t be upgrading my PC the second I know the specs of the new consoles (if not sooner).

Justin Gifford – GiffTor
Boy. That’s kind of a difficult question. I guess that if money were no issue and had the kind of room where I could legitimately set up a desktop rig with keyboard/mouse & controller, I’d seriously consider it, particularly if I ran the thing on a giant ass 1080p screen. On the other hand, I’d be seriously bummed to miss out on the games EA and Ubisoft put out (assuming Ubisoft pulls its games from Steam a la EA). Despite how awesome a lot of the games coming out on PC are, there are two other barriers to me making that switch: One, it seems that PC releases of console games are often delayed in comparison to their console release date; and two, as some of the reviews of Big Picture come in, one thing I’ve seen mentioned several times is that a lot of games, particularly indie games, don’t support controllers; even with the existence of fairly easy-to-install add ons that allow you to use a controller, it’s one extra step I’d have to take and I’m not 100% convinced it would work smoothly with all the games.

So: I’d consider it. But even with money not being an issue, I can’t say it’d be likely. I like the ease of “Power on. Play.” without any of the PC-setup headaches.

I’m not jealous of the interface, (although the browser is neat). Just sayin’. I’m not in love with the 360 interface (although I think it has gotten better over the iterations), but when you said, “tell me you’re not jealous,” I was expecting choirs of angels or the 1968 Mustang Cobra in midnight blue. Truthfully, other than being a little more streamlined (less menu tabs), the Big Picture interface looks a lot like the 360’s, at least in the 5 minute video tour I watched.

Big Picture Genres

Familiar enough.

Ethan Moses – Wizardtrain187
I’ve set up a TV to play PC games in the past, so the concept isn’t so totally new.

The fact of the matter is, 1.) PCs will always be more powerful than consoles 2.) the indie scene is way stronger on the PC (controller issues aside) not to mention the mod scene that you console guys are missing 3.) with a PC, you are not limited by the functionality of consoles apps 4.) games are cheaper (though I will admit that the PC versions of console games can be a bit weak at times).

I think if you have the money, save yourself the space and go all in on a set up that can easily blend into any setting. There’s way more customization than you’ll have with any console and you won’t become a slave to a brand.

Justin G
<makes pc-gaming fanboy fapping noise> in response

Oh GiffTor, you’re a lawyer. You can come up with a better rebuttal than that ;)

Justin L
Does anyone else have my issue of having a primary gaming setup in one room (the living room) and a secondary setup in another room for when the main TV is occupied? Mobility became a concern for me and is another small advantage to the consoles.

For me it comes down to the ease of use and setup of the hardware. Like I said, Big Picture seems to have solved my many software/interface problems with the PC. But at this point I can get 2 360’s for the price of a PC upgrade.

Andrew Cooper – Coopopolopolis
Ease of use is pretty big for me, too. That’s where the Xbox slightly wins. Every game that I have bought for the 360, I’ve been able to pop in and play. The console is 7 years-old, and every game that continues to come out for it will look as good as it was intended on the console. Sure, PC games can look better. But load up Skyrim on a machine you built in 2005 and see how it looks. It’s probably safe to say that it’ll look worse than the current Xbox version.

Now, I can’t say that the thought of having PC quality graphics on my TV isn’t exciting to me. It could even be something to get me over my gamerscore addition. But as a recent example, I plugged my laptop into my TV. I launched Steam in Big Picture mode. I found a game that wasn’t installed yet. After launching it, it boots me out of big picture mode and brings up some .NET framework installation window that I needed to click next on, so I had to get up, find my mouse, and work my way through that. At the end of this, I didn’t feel like playing the game after it was actually ready to play.

Big Picture Mode Home


Justin G
I think Coop’s experience is exactly why, at the end of the day, you won’t find me shifting over anytime soon. I don’t have to shell out the cash to upgrade as often, (the cost of buying a new console, even right when it comes out, may be cheaper in the long run), the consoles are sleek little boxes that don’t take up much space and I don’t have to spend an hour screwing around trying to get the latest patch to make my video card and the game play nicely together. It sounds like I’m hating, but I’m not; there’s just not enough reason to get me to shift over. I’m still blown away by how good games look on consoles now, a slightly higher frame rate or better anti-aliasing isn’t going to get me all hot and bothered.

This is assuming, to some degree, the next-gen consoles aren’t going to be $500-600 minimum. I also look at cost of video games for the next-gen versus platforms like Steam. The console might be “less” than that new PC build initially, but if you’re buying a lot of $20-30 games versus possibly $60-70 it evens out.

Justin G
Flipside, though – if you upgrade your PC to medium/high specs, is it going to play the latest and greatest 7 years down the road (within the consoles’ life cycles) without another semi-expensive upgrade?

Good point. Depending on the build of your PC, you may be able to upgrade parts and pieces at a time. Of course I defer to our in-house PC Guru Josh Lee. My interpretation though is an upgrade of $100-200 in 5-7 years could be possible.

I think over the life cycle of a console, you’re going to have to do at least 1 major video card upgrade if not 2 if you want to stay on the cutting edge with what new games will be pushing, which will cost a minimum of $200. I think those upgrades are offset by the money you’ll save on games, but your initial investment will still be higher than that of a console.

We are however getting off topic. I think money wasn’t supposed to be an issue. And that seems to be what we keep going back to. Money aside, I think I could go for Steam again. Even if the next-gen consoles catch up to PC, it won’t take long to flip the table back. It always does.

Justin G
Oops. If money’s no issue…I’m still staying console. I’ve rage-quit installations before because of driver issues/patches; I just don’t think that slightly shiner graphics make up for the convenience issue for me.

Steam Big Picture Living Room

Gather ’round and check out all my gaming bros.

Justin L
Gifford is cracking me up because he sounds so unreasonable, but at the same time, I’ve ragequit building a computer before so it’s completely reasonable.

But ya, I didn’t exactly enter into this console cycle expecting 5-7 years of gaming. I also know when I buy a computer it’s a 2-4 year investment. But because of that it always stands the chance of being ahead of consoles. I’ve just never gotten to enjoy that upgrade where I enjoy playing games, in my living room, until now. Which is why this is so appealing to me all of sudden. That hurdle is gone.

I am going to defend Gifford (not that he needs it). The ease of use is where this conversation starts and ends with me. As previously stated you plug in two or three cords and your console can run the discs you put in it. I hate having to do the ‘math’ and figure out if a game will actually work on my PC. I want something I can use until I am told that it is time to move on to the new version of the hardware, and I’ll purchase the new hardware after it is a year old. Call me what you want, but that is how I like it. Yes, PC games tend to look better than console games, and titles like Crysis (historically) push the limits of PC capabilities. If I were to adopt the proposed model in this conversation, I would have to tinker my set up every time a new Crysis game (and I really like the Crysis games) is released. The simple fact that I would be required to tinker and maintain my system to make sure it is running at peak performance is enough to turn me off. I don’t have the time to do that nor do I enjoy tinkering with hardware. I am a video game doctor, not a video game surgeon! I want to get in, play my games, and get out. Video card transplants/implants are not my thing.

But … money not being an option means that I can be ridiculously frivolous and hire someone just to maintain my PC set up for me …

Anyone looking for a job?

Justin G
I appreciate the support, JP; Coop’s experience trying to get Big Picture on his bigscreen is the clincher for me. When I want to play some games, I want to sit down, turn the power on, and play. Not dig through the forums or pester harder-core PC gaming friends as to how in the hell I make Game X work with my setup.

Big Picture Games

I could get used to this.

I love PC forums, they make me feel dumb.

Devil’s Advocate: Big Picture is still in beta.

Justin G
Devil’s Advocate’s Devil’s Advocate: Big Picture going full-production isn’t going to magically fix driver/patch issues in individual games; I think Big Picture, the program/client is going to be awesome.

The Devil Himself: My advocate says until this case is closed I should not speak to the media about Big Picture and its functionality.

Devil’s Advocate’s Devil’s Advocate’s Devil’s Advocate: Steam Box end user beta tests …

Josh Lee – joshleedotcom
It’s hard for me to jump into these conversations, because I have so much trouble seeing things from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been building and maintaining gaming PC’s for 15 years.

I can tell you two things.

1. The amount of troubleshooting that needs to be done to get a game up and running can be reduced to almost zero if you both run a clean and up to date system and wait until 7 days after the game’s launch. Running a clean and up to date system (see: driver updates and no malware) scares most people. The funny thing is all of it can be automated, but most people don’t know how. Steam is even starting to do video card driver updates for you. Then you have the odd game issues at launch. These get patched so much faster on the PC than consoles due to lack of red tape. Just wait a few days and it gets fixed. I would guess that all of these issues get almost completely resolved within the next year or two. Valve will do away with mouse-required prompts, streamline the driver updates and most games will have pre-order induced betas that squash the big bugs.

2. Using a mouse and keyboard on your couch sucks dong. Yes, a wireless Xbox controller will do wonders for all those multiplatform games. What about all those other games that you can’t even play on the consoles like strategy and MMO titles? That’s where Valve comes in. That hardware beta Jeri Ellsworth is talking about for 2013 is going to be some sort of control device that attempts to resolve this issue. Considering that she’s a self taught electrical engineer who’s resume includes homemade light gun games and commercial C64 all-in-one devices, you can probably expect something super geeky. Don’t ask me what the device will look like. I’d expect it has to have a keyboard attached and something to control the mouse that isn’t an analog stick for starters. She/they will iterate, though. That you can count on. Getting in on that beta test should be a real treat.

Big Picture mode is a necessary piece of the living room gaming PC puzzle, but it’s not the only one. For those of you with “bah humbug” attitudes about PC gaming in general, stay away for now. You’ll just get frustrated. For everyone else, just buy a long HDMI cable from Monoprice and go for a cheap trial run.

There’s my opinion and advice. That’ll be two cents, please!

Justin L
[Drops the mic]

Oh Josh Lee…that’s at least worth a nickel.

Valve War

This next battle is gonna be fun.

Even though I hate admitting it, Josh is right. I think there is definitely an over-exaggeration of how difficult it is to get a game running on a PC. People hear one horror story like Rage, and all of a sudden that must be what happens for every game. I also have always built/maintained my own machines and gaming rigs, and can concur that I don’t have many of the issues that other users seem to have. We also like to forget about the issues that we do have with consoles. Fez has booted me out of the game and into the home screen so many times it isn’t funny. Valve will figure out a way to streamline the driver and framework updates to make PC gaming more seamless.

Justin G
If we all said how it’s not really that difficult and I admitted I have a passable gaming rig that I put together in a little over an hour that has had no significant obstacles to playing anything I’ve downloaded on either Steam or Origin (and that Steam provides updates quickly and seamlessly) and is in a black, shiny case that would look just as good next to my TV as my Xbox, this would have been a really boring conversation.

Of course after bitching in a preview message about getting kicked out of big picture mode to install a framework update, Valve goes in and fixes that. I just installed Super Meat Boy on my PC at work, and it did the framework installation right there in mode. Go Valve. I guess we know what their dedication is to having the best user experience.


Giant Bomb (images)