Valve has become used to suceeding at pretty much every endeavour it undertakes. From trading cards to Steam workshop to Big Picture, we’ve lapped up everything they've thrown at us. Over the past month, however, Valve made three announcements regarding its move into the realm of game consoles - the living room, but we're not sold on the idea just yet.
The first of the three was Steam Machines, PCs of various configurations that the company was working on with several vendors, which would be tailormade for Steam. These devices would span across price bands and would also be upgradeable. Valve didn’t announce launch plans, but a testing phase involving 300 Steam users is set to get under way soon.
The second announcement was SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system developed by Valve that can be installed on all computers, including Steam Machines. Being open-source, it would allow developers to create their own applications for SteamOS.
The last was the Steam Controller, the most radical take on the gamepad yet. It replaces the thumbsticks with two circular, high-precision trackpads that aim to deliver the sort of accuracy and intricate controls PC gamers are used to receiving from the keyboard-mouse combination. It also includes a touch-screen that pulls up a graphical overal on your TV screen when used. It’s all very ambitious, but it remains to be seen if it will pull players away from the keyboard and mouse.
Valve has probably thought each of these moves through thoroughly, but what they may be asking a lot of consumers. For one, for anyone who already games on PC, plugging their computer to a TV via an HDMI cable immediately eradicates any need for a Steam Machine or SteamOS. You already have a Steam-compatible machine that plays games, and you’ve got Big Picture mode built into the Steam client to make PC gaming on TV more comfortable. Plug in an Xbox 360 gamepad, or even the Steam Controller, and you’re good to go.
So the people Valve is really targetting with this triple threat is console gamers, and that’s a whole other ball game. Steam Machines and SteamOS have several advantages over the PS4 or Xbox One. The open-source nature of the OS lets anyone create apps for it, making Internet usage, media streaming, and a host of other features way more convenient, and it’s all without the need for a PSN or Xbox Live-like subscription. Steam Machines will also be available for various budgets, so we could well see some that are significantly cheaper than the PS4 and Xbox One.
What Valve doesn’t have is a name synonymous with living room gaming, or a set of exclusive system-selling games to push that name. With next-gen consoles coming out later this year, there are only so many gaming devices people would like in their living rooms. When Steam Machines and SteamOS come out next year, it may already be too late. And we still don’t know what SteamOS will be like or how its Linux-based operation will be perceived by living room gamers.
There’s little doubt about whether Valve can deliver what it’s promising. The problem though is that what its offering may not find too many takers. Selling console gamers on what is essenitally a living room PC with a Steam-driven operating system is going to be a tough sell.
Now, If they were to make Half-Life 3 exclusive to SteamOS, that might change things.
Sign up for the free MCV India newsletter here.