There may be a Steam Box sometime down the road, it seems it won't be the Piston though.
You may remember back in January I mentioned that during the CES Valve gave some comments that indicated that they might be looking to make something of a Steam Box. These comments were nothing new in and of themselves, however, it seemed that they were drawing closer to reality thanks to the help of Xi3, a manufacturer that was designing a small, customisable gaming computer they dubbed the Piston. Valve was rather vague about many of the details, neither endorsing nor denying any sort of claims that Piston may be the Steam Box, and also citing that there could be multiple incarnations of the system.
In light of recent developments, the $1,000 price point of the system being a particularly key one here, it seems that Valve's decision was a fortuitous one for them, as they are now distancing themselves from the system rather quickly. Doug Lombardi, the VP of marketing for Valve, seemed to leave no wiggle room when he told Eurogamer that, "Valve began some exploratory work with Xi3 last year, but currently has no involvement in any product of theirs."
It seems rather strange that after showing off the Piston at CES that Valve would so suddenly distance themselves from it, but again, the price point coming to light was likely a huge motivating factor in the sudden lack of support from the company. If Valve is indeed aiming to compete against the next generation of consoles then they would need a way to lower that price point fairly dramatically if they want to catch the attention of the more console oriented crowd.
I did mention that the biggest problem insofar as price point and marketing would be that at $1,000 dollars they aren't going to appeal to those looking for a no frills console system, nor will they make any inroads with the people that are willing to spend two to three times that much for a cutting edge gaming rig. They would end up in a no man's land of being unappealing to both audiences, something that would be less than favourable, and it would appear that when that tenative price tag became less so that Valve may have come to the same conclusion.
Xi3 isn't taking this shunning sitting down though. Jason A. Sullivan who is the founder, president and CEO of the company has fired back by saying that Valve not only asked them to make the Piston, but also told them to keep it quiet:
"We reaffirm the fact that we received an investment from Valve Corporation (as we previously disclosed during the 2013 International CES trade show), and we did so with Valve's written permission," said Jason A. Sullivan, founder, president and CEO of Xi3 Corporation. "Second, we were asked to build a product specifically for Valve, and both companies showcased this product—the Piston Console—in their respective booths at CES 2013.
"Then, during a meeting with Valve at CES, Gabe Newell personally asked me that we not disclose additional information about our relationship with Valve. We have honored that request and will continue to do so. That said, there are other items we need to cover."
How Valve will react to being put on the spot like this will remain to be seen, but the rest of the letter that was sent to Kotaku seems to make it clear that Xi3 will be going ahead, full steam or not, with Piston, and that the system will provide Steam support regardless of whether or not they actually have any partnership with Valve.
Whether or not strong pre-order support or other future surprises regarding the Piston will change Valve's mind remain to be seen. It certainly wouldn't be unusual for Valve to also be in talks with other manufacturerers in hopes of getting something that appeals to them more than what they currently see in the Piston. Either way, as Sullivan concludes his letter, so shall I include the article, by stating, "what Valve does or doesn't do with its Steam Box will be up to them. So Gabe, it's up to you. The ball is in your court."