A world powered by Steam?

Posted: September 27, 2013 by ryanlecocq in Technology
Tags: , ,

SteamController

Where we’re going, we don’t need thumbsticks.

If you logged into Steam today, you probably noticed the huge ad for the upcoming move by Valve to enter the living room.  Valve is releasing a home entertainment box that will run on it’s own OS and feature it’s own (very) unique controller.  I won’t deny I was more than a little bit excited by this.  Steam is my gaming platform of choice and there is really no comparison in price, service or library to XBL or PSN.  As much as I have loved their past hardware, I feel that this generation was a lame duck offering from each for their new consoles.  I would not be surprised at all if Valve’s “Steambox” does everything Microsoft and Sony are trying to do for cheaper and with less invasion of privacy.

Now all of that being said, the rest of this article is about the serious challenges I see Valve facing with this venture.  Don’t get me wrong, I obviously support them as a company.  To be realistic though, great companies have tried to fight the console wars and great companies have failed.  Even though Valve is touting some line of it being an entertainment box, let’s be real: It’s a game console.  All three of the big companies in consoles broke into the market at some point though, so Valve has as good a chance as any.

 

Does it run Crysis?

The big question on many people’s minds is how much performance will Valve offer and at what price?  Many of us older than 25 are thinking “this could be as bad as 3DO” where there are a bunch of different models by different companies, all overpriced compared to a Nintendo.  I don’t think that’s very likely though.  AMD has a stranglehold on manufacturing the other consoles.  Intel and nVidia now find themselves in a difficult position, where if they don’t find a way to stay relevant, most games will be designed for AMD hardware this generation.  So backing Valve is pretty much their only move to maintain their position.  In order to stay on top in the PC gaming market, Intel and nVidia need to count on Valve breaking into the console market.  So you can bet they are going to offer Valve one hell of a deal on hardware, just like AMD has done for Microsoft and Sony.  This could lead to the Steambox being more powerful while similarly priced to the PS4 and Xbox One.  Since most Steam systems will likely not feature disk drives, they will also be compact as well as saving costs.  Since Blu Ray’s market penetration still isn’t nearly as big as Netflix, it’s not a bad sacrifice if you mostly want to play games.

 

Hard Cider

The second huge part of it’s performance has nothing to do with raw hardware power.  The other big question is how well will Valve’s Linux based operating system run games?  While Linux gaming has been a recent big push on Steam, it’s still nowhere near the compatibility and performance of Windows.  Since Linux gaming relies on a process kind of like emulation, it is by nature less efficient if the game was initially designed for something else.  So if Windows is going to remain the main platform, this means that Valve is either going to have to develop their own base development platform, like Sony and Nintendo, or use DirectX in some way.  DirectX is a Microsoft thing, so that isn’t likely.  Whatever route they choose, Valve is going to need pretty much 100% compatibility on day one, if they want to meet the sky high expectations of PC gamers.

 

Control Issues

When I saw the designs for the controller, I must say I was impressed.  Personally, I think it’s brilliant and can’t wait to start using it.  I am faced though with the same concern that I had with Windows 8: as an intelligent person, I can see what they’re going for, but as a realist I accept that most people are not intelligent.  To this day I run into people who are not senior citizens yet can’t handle dual thumbsticks.  If just using both thumbs simultaneously is too much, then that controller is going to be one huge mindfuck for many.  People are going to be having existential crises just from trying to understand it’s purpose.  Maybe I’m just extremely pessimistic about the human race, but I don’t think so.  It took ten years just for game developers to fully grasp the transition from one thumbstick to two.  This new controller has like half a dozen changes of that magnitude.  I really, really hope it works as I feel limited by all current methods of control, but I’m keeping my hope well guarded.  I’m sure Valve will offer full support of keyboard+mouse as well as xlink controllers though, so I don’t think it will be a game killer if it doesn’t succeed.

 

A matter of precise timing

Also it should be mentioned that Valve is going to have to be perfect in the timeline of their launch as well.  The next console generation is now fully ongoing with the release of Microsoft and Sony’s new systems, so Valve is going to be late to the party.  That may not be a bad thing depending on how this holiday season goes.  While in the past, the last system released has not often caught up in sales, this may be a very different console generation.  Many have some serious doubts about both new systems and how they don’t really seem like such a giant leap, especially if you already have a modern PC.  In the past new consoles have featured games that most people could not even run on their current PCs.  This new generation the consoles are actually less powerful than most gaming PCs at the time of their release.  So if Valve has something that is both powerful and revolutionary on the horizon, people may wait out the holidays without feeling pressed to make a decision.  Most hardcore gamers are adults, so they can easily buy other devices for their eager children this holiday season and buy themselves a Steambox next year.  If both Microsoft and Sony suffer a lackluster holiday and Valve is a clear culprit, it will be a huge feather in their cap.

 

Overall I would love to see some change in the gaming industry.  Just last night my friend and I were talking about how much we loved Steam compared to XBL or PSN as we were enjoying a free weekend of Dead Island Riptide.  If you don’t play PC games, what that means is that we got access to the full version of a game for free for 3 days.  We just logged in, downloaded it and started playing co-op, for nothing.  This happens all the time.  That and many, many other reasons are why PC gaming is making a comeback.  Because when the cost of doing everything else is so much lower, the price of putting a better CPU and GPU in your PC no longer seems so high.  With the rapid advance of computer performance, it doesn’t even take much.  You can build a PC for less than the cost of an Xbox One that is more powerful.  That sounds to me like a great time to release a Steambox.  Good luck Valve, may the Force be with you.

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Comments
  1. Jim Carry says:

    For most games I would say console is the way to go, but for stuff like WoW there is no way to even do it without a computer. Console=Skill
    custom gaming pc

  2. […] unexpected.  I did an article a while back on what are now officially called Steam Machines (https://bleedingedgegaming.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/a-world-powered-by-steam/), so I’ll try not to just repeat too much of it.  A Steam Machine is a home console powered […]

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