The article is titled “Exclusive: Valve said to be working on ‘Steam Box’ gaming console with partners, could announce at GDC”. Well, let’s jump right into it:
Recently there’s been chatter that Valve — the company behind the massively popular gaming service Steam — has been considering getting into the hardware business. Specifically, there have been rumors that the company has been toying with the idea of creating a proper set-top console which could potentially pose a threat to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell even recently told Penny Arcade: “Well, if we have to sell hardware we will.”
At a glance that would simply be interesting fodder for a gaming forum debate, but we’ve uncovered information that suggests that not only has Valve been secretly working on gaming hardware for the living room, but that the company is actively pursuing a strategy which would place Steam at the center of an open gaming universe that mirrors what Google has done with Android. Backing up that concept, in the same interview we quote above, Newell says that Valve doesn’t really want to do hardware on its own, stating, “We’d rather hardware people that are good at manufacturing and distributing hardware do [hardware]. We think it’s important enough that if that’s what we end up having to do, then that’s what we end up having to do.”
Interesting. Maybe that’s what Big Picture Mode is all about, and maybe that’s why they’ve been so silent regarding it.
According to sources, the company has been working on a hardware spec and associated software which would make up the backbone of a “Steam Box.” The actual devices may be made by a variety of partners, and the software would be readily available to any company that wants to get in the game.
An open console? That does sound like Valve’s MO, but I have to admit, I’m not convinced. How would Valve go about juggling two separate audiences on two separate platforms (three audiences on three platforms, if you include Valve’s ongoing PS3 support)? Extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence!
Adding fuel to that fire is a rumor that the Alienware X51 may have been designed with an early spec of the system in mind, and will be retroactively upgradable to the software.
I have no idea what this means, so we’re going to skip it.
Apparently meetings were held during CES to demo a hand-built version of the device to potential partners. We’re told that the basic specs of the Steam Box include a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GPU. The devices will be able to run any standard PC titles, and will also allow for rival gaming services (like EA’s Origin) to be loaded up.
Part of the goal of establishing a baseline for hardware, we’re told, is that it will give developers a clear lifecycle for their products, with changes possibly coming every three to four years. Additionally, there won’t be a required devkit, and there will be no licensing fees to create software for the platform.
Very interesting. Not sure what they mean by “changes” – a new edition of the console? I also like the specs for that thing – although it reminds me of a time when Valve and ATI were so close, that the 2003 HL2 leak had problems running properly on NVIDIA hardware. Times sure have changed!
We’re hearing that a wide variety of USB peripherals will be compatible with the boxes, though it will likely ship with a proprietary controller. It’s possible that the controller will even allow for swappable components, meaning that it can be reconfigured depending on the type of game you’re playing. Think that sounds odd? Well Valve filed a patent for such a device last year.
As a matter of fact, they did. Click the link and you’ll be taken to Valve’s official patent for a game controller that includes swappable parts. Let’s take a look at some of the diagrams included in the patent:
If I’m not mistaken, Valve filed for this patent in November of 2009. That’s a… pretty long while for them to have been thinking of a console, though. In 2009, Steam was barely a shadow of what it is today. It’s also a really long time to keep a mere controller secret. The controller seems interesting – obviously inspired by the shape of the Xbox 360 controller. The idea of swappable components is pretty awesome - I’d definitely love to see that.
Additionally, we’re told that the kind of biometrics Valve uses in game testing will somehow be incorporated into these devices. Sources of ours say that the realtime biometric feedback in games will be a sea-change for users. To put it more succinctly, the sentiment we’ve heard is: “You won’t ever look back.” These biometric devices could come in the form of a bracelet, or be part of the standard controller.
The consoles will also take advantage of Steam’s “Big Picture” mode, a feature Valve touted last year at GDC, but has yet to release to the public. According to the company’s press release in 2011 “With big picture mode, gaming opportunities for Steam partners and customers become possible via PCs and Macs on any TV or computer display in the house.”
Well, they sound like practically the same thing, so I’m not too sure about that. The biometrics thing, however, is super-interesting.
The most interesting piece of this puzzle may be related to that statement. According to sources, the Steam Box isn’t intended to just clash with current gaming consoles. Rather, Valve wants to take Apple and its forthcoming new Apple TV products head-on. Newell has clear questions about Apple’s strategy, telling the The Seattle Times “On the platform side, it’s sort of ominous that the world seems to be moving away from open platforms,” adding that “They build a shiny sparkling thing that attracts users and then they control people’s access to those things.”
Well, thank god Apple hasn’t made a games console yet, despite all the rumors to the contrary. Maybe that’s just why Valve might want to move into the consoles sector.
The Steam Box could be unveiled at GDC, though we’re also hearing that the company may wait until E3 this year to show off what it’s been working on.
Well, let’s hope… to be honest, I have no idea what to hope. It’d be a pretty big slap in the face to everyone, no doubt about it. Many would interpret it as a sign of Valve moving away from the PC world. Whether that would be correct would remain to be seen. But it does sound intriguing, and it does sound really impressive. I’m split on this issue, and not just because we have no idea how it would work (Would have its own OS? How would game devs develop their titles for three Steam-supported OS’s? If it ran Windows, what would make this worth buying or worth developing for?). Moreover, how would they attract PC gamers (since this is built on and for Steam, using PC technology and PC games) when they have their own systems, that work just as well?
What if this flops? Like when Apple created a game console of its own, which flopped so horribly they haven’t returned to the market instead (and this Steam Box, and the Apple Pippin have some very remarkable similarities)? Or, what if it slowly burns up on the launchpad, like Valve’s failed networking initiative, PowerPlay? What if, quite frankly, this console doesn’t actually exist? There’s so many “what ifs”, so many variables in this equation, that I don’t know what to think. In fact, I think I’m not even going to think about this.
Head over to Vox Games’ original article for the full posting, and for some funny GIFs in the comments section.