Valve made a rather subdued announcement in November 2018. It was a blink and you will miss it sort of thing. To make a story that wasn’t very long to begin with even shorter, the company killed the physical Steam Link box. Promises were made to support the boxes that are still out there and the app in general going forward, but the message is that this streaming frontier is dead. But, could this have a larger message for Valve game streaming in general?
There’s no right or wrong answer to that. The best I can offer is that it might. Especially given how unceremoniously the Steam Link was dispatched. Valve did not give anyone any warning that this peripheral was on the outs. Its announcement of its demise was brief and lackluster. We only learned Europe was completely sold out of the units and North America would soon run out in the update. There was no fair warning, which perhaps may have been an indicator of how this device had petered out.
But then, maybe we did see this coming. Valve has made some moves that, in retrospect, signaled its demise. During the 2018 Steam Summer Sale, someone could get a Steam Link for $2.50. (That is before shipping, of course.) They seemed to be selling okay? Maybe? I heard a lot of talk about people getting them for giggles, but only knew one person who took the plunge personally.
It was certainly easy to forget that it existed. Valve never went out of its way to majorly hype them up. Sure, when they first launched in November 2015, we heard quite a bit about Steam Links online, but they never had the same sort of real-world presence as gaming devices and accessories from other companies. I have seen more about things like the Nvidia Shield and Ouya than the Steam Link at the time. In retrospect, it does not seem like it had the same sort of concern and attention as some of Valve’s other offerings.
And, while Valve says it is going to support the existing Steam Link devices and apps, this kind of move might make people wonder. Look how quickly the Steam Link physical box died. Note that Steam Link is still not back on iOS devices, after being rejected due to purchase issues, almost six months after the initial issue. It is only functional on Android devices and Samsung Smart TVs, which could be considered a somewhat limited market.
I suppose the best thing to say is that this Steam Link story does not speak to game streaming as a whole. It only applies to Valve’s specific sort of streaming with a certain device. In November 2018, Superdata reported game subscription services made $273 million in 2018’s third quarter, with PlayStation Now alone making $143 million in that time period. That, combined with Microsoft launching and supporting the Xbox Games Pass, shows there is a market for game streaming in general.
If anything, the discontinuing of the physical Steam Link could be more of an opportunity than a setback. We saw that Valve took a step back from physical hardware and peripherals. We never hear about Steam Machines anymore, and more effort seemed to be put into the digital Steam Link apps than the physical device. It also seemed like people weren’t really as enthused about it. Maybe the company could take this as a sign to focus more on game development for a while. We could all benefit from that!