Xbox isn’t a machine anymore. Not in a marketing bullshit, ‘Coca Cola is a feeling’ sort of way, but in the tangible, ‘I’ll never need to buy a Series X’ sense. It’s always been the case that an Xbox was just a standardised PC you couldn’t play Minesweeper on. But as Microsoft pushes Game Pass and prepares for a game streaming future, the new console seems less important than ever—one of a number of Halo-ready devices that includes the PC.
The device I’m choosing as my new Xbox is the desktop in my study—the one built for reviews, with a keyboard that has the WASD keys rubbed off. It’s already lashed to an Xbox One controller, and so the next step is to somehow transport its display to my lounge, without moving the monitor. It’s not console gaming unless I can give myself a crick in my neck from clouching (couch slouching). That’s where streaming comes in.
Companies like Stadia talk about game streaming as if it’s an option for everyone right now—it’s not. 5G is not a given in most parts of the world, and thanks to Trump, has been delayed in the UK. The phone line that supplies my home is older than America’s outgoing president, and until this year I limped along with a 3Mbps connection that made Warzone downloads a multi-day marathon.
That personal slog is over now, though: my new internet is streaming-capable, and so the last piece of the puzzle is to find a doohicky that links Steam to my telly. A sort of Steam Link, if you will.
It always leads back to Valve eventually in this hobby, doesn’t it? Gordon’s gang invented the Steam Link in 2015. It’s a thin black box, about five inches across, and when you plug it into your TV it connects to your PC via wi-fi. The computer display pops up on the telly screen, and you can plug in either a controller or a mouse. It’s simple and immediate.
For me, it’s been an opportunity to benefit from the work Valve has put into Big Picture mode over the years. It’s now a very decent console UI, and best of all, gives you easy access to the many custom controller configurations other users have made—making even shooters that predate pad support playable. I've been lucky with latency thus far, and so fast action games have been just as viable as Gears Tactics.
Here’s the weird bit, though: while it’s the key to my gaming future, the Steam Link is a relic of the past. If high-speed internet is a luxury now, it was only moreso in 2015. Valve stopped making the device two years ago, selling off the last of its stock for a pittance. A friend was kind enough to post me his, and that’s the only reason I have one.
Ironic though it is, the Steam Link makes more sense now than ever. Microsoft has pledged to release all of its next-gen exclusives on Steam, which means my strange setup will carry me through Halo Infinite, Psychonauts 2, and whatever Obsidian do between now and the heat-death of the universe. No duplicate hardware required.
The only sticking point is Game Pass. If you’re planning on playing Xbox games over the coming years, Microsoft’s subscription is pretty astounding value. The company recently acquired Bethesda, too, which means its games are likely to show up as part of the deal at some point. But I can’t get my Steam Link to play nice with the Xbox App. I’ve tried importing its games into Steam, with no success. I’ve even minimised Steam while it’s displaying on my TV, then booted up Halo Wars 2 via Game Pass. I got as far as seeing Spartans and Warthogs on the main menu, but the game wouldn’t register my input. So near, yet so fartan.
It’s worth noting that alternatives to the Steam Link do exist. PC Gamer’s hardware team recommends the Nvidia Shield (opens in new tab), which is sleek, shiny and reliable. But it’s also three times the price the Steam Link ever was, and I still like the idea of Valve affordably revolutionising the living room, even after the Steam Machine.
So, Gabe: bring back the Steam Link. Do it before Christmas. Not that I wish to imply you have been sleeping on the job, no one is more deserving of a rest. And all the effort in the world would have gone to waste until—well, let’s just say your hour has come again.