Last week digital games giant Steam announced plans to launch into the living room.
The firm unveiled its own operating system (SteamOS), announced plans for series of ‘Steam Machines’, and even showed off a new controller designed specifically for PC games and genres.
Sega went hands-on with the device at Valve HQ last week, and have told MCV exactly what it thought about the new products.
“Even though the controller was still in beta, it felt and looked fairly impressive,” said Sega’s digital distribution VP John Clark. “I managed to get a first hands-on session a few weeks ago when I remembered how sensitive the track pads were. Second time around I was able to gauge different levels of sensitivity within the trackpad.
“The important area is how well the developers explore its capabilities over the next few months; as you know we have some very strong PC games and seeing how the controller interacts with Total War: Rome 2, Company of Heroes 2, Football Manager and so on, will be a great measurement of its ability.”
Digital distribution director James Schall added: “It’s very much still in beta. It’s rough around the edges and there are functions missing. The first thing I noticed is that it feels very light, and the left hand touchpad movement feels very natural. It is incredibly fluid and intuitive right from the off.
“The right hand touchpad, which would normally handle your looking movements, was frantic and incredibly sensitive. It was tricky, but if you hone it down and manage the sensitivity, I am sure it will be better. You can tell pro-gamers will use this in tournaments.
“What it has got to do is become a ‘standard’
rather than be one of these fancy PC controllers
we see every so often. If you go back to when
Microsoft had the Sidewinder range, they
became the standard on PC and they were
very successful. But it doesn’t exist anymore.
Could this become it? They have a lot of work
to do. But the opportunity is there.”
James Schall - Digital Distribution Director, Sega
“The controller opens up a whole new world of games that you can play in your living room. Publishers tend to shy away from putting their hardcore strategy games on consoles because of the controls, but the Steam controller looks like it could smash that whole genre into the living room.
“What it has got to do is become a ‘standard’ rather than be one of these fancy PC controllers we see every so often. If you go back to when Microsoft had the Sidewinder range, they became the standard on PC and they were very successful. But it doesn’t exist anymore. Could this become it? They have a lot of work to do. But the opportunity is there.”
Rob Bartholomew, brand director on the Total War, also went hands on with the product and thinks it could inspire wide-spread popularity of PC titles: "I was pretty sceptical at first, seemed like a novel move away from thumbsticks at best, but after five minutes you can really see the potential, after 10 minutes I was won over. The biggest challenge I think Valve will have is getting the pad into peoples’ hands, once you’ve tried it you’ll definitely see where they are coming from.
"We have to abandon the idea that it’s competing with mouse and keyboard, if you want to play the best possible range of PC games in the living room there really isn’t a competition here, it will be the best option for widespread use.
"Even with the default set-up and tweaking a few button configurations on the fly, we managed to play Rome II within minutes. I can’t imagine it would take long at all for us to develop a recommended set-up that would interface well with Total War. The genius being of course that no one user would need to be stuck with that, they could adapt and share their own controller preferences as they liked."
As for the machines themselves, Clark, Bartholomew and Schall are unsure if they will rival the console market, but told MCV they offer a new angle for the industry to explore.
Clark said:“Would someone invest in a second PC? Would someone choose a Steam machine over other consoles? We welcome the launch of all gaming hardware. We have some real core PC franchises that have been built up over many years, with dedicated fans who play for hundreds of hours. These consumers expect performance, community interaction, content options, which have all grown with the PC. If Valve can take this PC experience to the living room in a way that enhances and broadens the experience, then we will have happier gamers.
“The ability to offer more access points to consumers’ gaming experience is something we hope will have a positive effect on them. And it’s an opportunity to bring in new players.”
Schall added: “I think Valve is focusing on the top of the pyramid, where the most committed, enthusiastic gamer is. The guys who are going to want to play League of Legends or Dota, or these more competitive titles.
“I also like what they are doing in getting feedback. They are not pretending this is the finished article. They are going to put this out there, let people play it in a beta, and improve it. It’s a really refreshing way of doing things.”
And Bartholomew imagines the device would be a big boost for the Total War series.
He said: "The controller makes putting Total War in the living room easier certainly, but we’ve never seen control issues as the biggest problem to overcome, it’s been a question of hardware that could do the game justice. So this step from Valve will certainly increase our ability to put the game into that environment in a widespread way for the first time.
"As a consumer, it’s exciting that there are real, affordable, well-supported alternatives to traditional consoles, the arrival of SteamOS could of course have implications well beyond that."