Video Games

The Xi3 Piston – Impressions and Doubts

UPDATE (03/13/2013): OH SNAP. Xi3 backhands Valve in a recent press release. Valve too busy making virtual hats to comment/care.

Over the weekend at SXSW, Xi3 displayed their showpony, the Piston X7A modular computer. After viewing an audience-recorded demo from Chief Market Officer David Politis and his PowerPoint, I felt like I was served a double-dip ice cream cone of Very Cool and Meh, topped with a sprinkling of What The. In short, the Xi3 Piston is cool, but not ready to be the One True Messiah for those itching to get their PC game-freak on in the living room.

[pullquote_right]Xi3 is not really making a “Steam Box” in the true sense of the term. They are making a Box that runs Steam.[/pullquote_right]Forget its insane price tag. Forget its puny SSD size. Forget the pre-order request despite no launch date. Xi3 is not really making a “Steam Box” in the true sense of the term. They are making a Box that runs Steam. And Origin. And Gaikai. And all your pirated MP3’s and porn. And it’s just a little, but impressive, computer. That’s the truth of it and it’s kind of lame. Valve was always very clear that there wouldn’t be One Box to Rule Them All, embracing an open pseudo-PC/console Rosemary’s Baby that came with different demonic superpowers.

Doug Lombardi, the head of marketing at Valve, told Eurogamer today that the software and distribution giant was only tangentially involved with Xi3 and Piston anymore:

“Valve began some exploratory work with Xi3 last year, but currently has no involvement in any product of theirs,” he said.

Well, that was awkward. It’s like showing up drunk to a party, chatting up all the guests saying you’re The Boyfriend, and then having the host saying, “Uh, I don’t really know them that well”, following by a painfully un-watchable, Todd Solodnz-esque break-up.


xi3 piston
“Is it someone else?” – Xi3 “No, it’s just you!” – Valve


I’m glad that’s sorted out! I hope they can still be friends. Oof. Despite this sudden clearing of the air, and after all the tears have been shed, let’s look at the Xi3 at a potential multi-platform computer for your living room gaming in the harsh light of truth:

1. Too goddamn expensive.

Wow. I said this in my last post about this, but it’s worth repeating. A thousand dollars for a little powerful computer. They’re asking Macintosh prices for a Linux machine. At this price point, you are never going to convince a single console-exclusive gamer to give up their Ps4 or Xborks 720. If this is their strategy, they are fucked, plain and simple.

If that’s not their strategy, they’re failing to convince me otherwise to move my tower into the living room.

2. No idea how to message this to PC gamers.

A living room PC box, that’s powerful, small, modular, and upgradeable, successfully merges the benefits of the console and the PC better than anything else out there. There’s a lot going right for this thing.

David Politis of Xi3 (pictured below), despite being their head advertising executive, seems incredibly uncomfortable placed in the same room as the PC gaming public. He’s just… the wrong guy to put out there. He doesn’t know how to communicate with the poors. Put a hipster out there in a hoodie talking about how they’re developing a fun, retro non-DRM platformer or a hardcore space RPG specifically for the couch.

Sorry Dave, I know you’re trying hard to sell this thing the best you can, but we’re not a board of directors or an investor pool. We need more than buzzwords and PowerPoints. They need a collective of game developer fan-boys to crowd around this thing, like the Oculus Rift, and Valve backing off very slowly from Piston indicates they’re not going to be its cheerleader. Xi3’s marketing is all wrong, they’re focusing on the hardware specs and size (which are still important) but not enough on the experience itself.


xi3 piston
“I too listen to the,uh, hip-hop!”

(via VentureBeat)

3. A lack of focus on the gaming experience.

The aura of a Steam Linux-powered OS gave the Piston that sense of glory it needed. Even the name “Piston” sounds like it came from Valve’s electronic womb. Digital distribution has few equals at this point. Origin, that classmate with glue in his hair, is an abomination after its disastrous SIMCITY launch last week. Ubisoft’s uPlay is kinda meh, like cold mayonnaise on white bread. Gamestop’s platform (formerly Impulse) is apparently still in existence, I was in doubt of this until I actually logged into it yesterday.

No one’s going to drop that kind of coin unless they have a device specifically geared towards a great PC gaming experience, and very few platforms except Steam can pull this off. All of those other companies are mainly console game developers, with their PC ports being afterthoughts (Ubisoft’s FARCRY 3 is a notable exception). Steam is the only platform from a developer dedicated almost entirely to the PC experience, and the Piston is not going to deliver that focus. It will still be a cool, kinda expensive computer, and you’ll still be able to run Steam on it, but sorry kids, it’s not what you were expecting.


About the Author

Carl Wilhoyte makes funny on the Internet. Complain about how much he sucks, is dumb, and a spawn-camping n00b on the Twitters at @carlwilhoyte.

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The Author

Carl Wilhoyte

Carl Wilhoyte

Carl Wilhoyte is the Video Games Editor of a class warrior poet who writes about all things video games. He's sure everything is not under control and is not going to be okay. For a good time, follow his angry rants and smart thoughts on Twitter: @carlwilhoyte.