Valve Corporation has been getting a lot of love from the press and the worldwide gaming community, as of late. It has formally announced a couple of things that might just spell the end of the computer gaming industry as we know of it today (particularly the PC segment), and usher in a new age in which Steam is conveniently located at its nexus.
First, there is the unveiling of the SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system that focuses mainly on content delivery for games and other entertainment right into your living room. It’ll run on PC-based platforms (and possibly other kinds of systems, given that it’s Linux), and it’s pretty much Valve’s full realization of their present Steam client.
Some might consider this analogous to what Google did with Chrome OS and Chrome (Chrome OS is also a Linux flavor). Just as Google released the Chromebook, Valve will apparently do something similar…
The second announcement was about Steam Machines, the hardware component of this grand scheme by Valve. Apparently, they will partner up with a handful of electronic hardware companies to have several models out sometime in 2014.
They will be units at distinct price points, each varying in their hardware capabilities, and of course, the more premium packages will offer a better overall user experience. Of course, the truly hardcore enthusiasts will opt to build their own Steam Box rigs; it’s still a PC, after all.
It Might Just Work
This multi-prong approach to what appears to be a campaign to take over the PC gaming space shows promise. While Microsoft has been mostly lukewarm relationship with the PC gaming community (especially since MS appears to want all of them to just capitulate and move over to their XBox console offerings), Valve has been one of the few companies that champion the cause of the gamer, as well as the developers that make the games people truly enjoy.
Many an indie developer has made Steam their home, launching their low-budget but very high value games via the Steam service. There have been many attempts at replicating or exceeding Steam’s success (like EA’s Origin), but the combination of convenience, insane discount offerings, and a huge selection of titles has rendered Steam unassailable, so far.
The Complete Package
SteamOS looks to be the full realization of the Steam client, offering a complete software platform for consumers to download and play their games, and given Valve’s focus on living room gaming, this definitely means that they are also out to take a bite out of the console gaming market’s territory.
Given that any PC can be made into a Steam Box, this is truly a real threat against console dominance in the living area. Both the officially endorsed Stream Box units and the enthusiast-made custom rigs will probably make it easier for anyone to consider throwing out all the other consoles from the home entertainment center by keeping the units small and ergonomic, utilizing Mini ITX form factor motherboards, compact components (some of them previously made for laptops and notebooks, like slim DVD players), and an appropriately compact chassis to house these veritable consoles-on-steroids.
An Already Extensive Library
Steam already has thousands of games within its service, and the promise of even more sales will help it convince the developers of these games to get them to migrate these games to work in their own operating system, SteamOS. The few Linux-compatible titles won’t have to do much, but the majority of the games are coded for Windows, and that’s probably the biggest challenge Valve has in this endeavor.
Big GPU makers nVidia and AMD, given that they rely on gamers to buy their products, are sure to follow suit and offer more support to the Linux and Steam developers in making their video cards work (and work well) on this new platform.
The main hindrances to these plans by Valve are those parties that will be adversely affected. Microsoft looks to have the most to lose if SteamOS succeeds, since it will eat into their Windows OS sales, and their XBox consoles can also stand to lose some market share.
The other game publishers (EA, Activision, etc.) are also under threat from this, as they will simply have no role in this new gaming ecosystem; Steam’s going to be at the center of things.
The other console makers, Sony and Nintendo, have the same reason to fear as XBox. The Steam Box platform is more flexible in that people can literally assemble their own with parts they can buy for the best prices. If they’re not inclined to build one themselves, some companies will be able to offer fully-assembled Steam Boxes at many price points.
Expect the smear campaigns and the PR stunts to be epic. This is going to be one bloody battle.
Ultimately, the gamers win. They get an inexpensive, upgradeable, and widely-available gaming platform that offers a dizzyingly wide array of games from all kinds and sizes of game developers, streamed right into their gaming rig, bypassing the clutter of having to wait in line to buy a DVD.
In short: less hassle, more gaming. What could be better?
About the Author
Stacey Thompson is a professional writer, marketer, entrepreneur, and a lover of weird little animals. She is based in San Diego, California, and works on her gal gang’s group blog, Word Baristas.