Valve's long game could lead consoles to a more 'enlightened path'

Sweeney and Carmack chime in on Steam Machines

Industry heavyweights Tim Sweeney and John Carmack squared off over their views on Valve’s Steam Machine ambitions, with the Epic Games’ founder sounding more bullish than id’s code wizard.

The Steam Machine advertises a future where developers aren’t tied to the particular constraints of a given platform by bringing the flexibility of a Linux PC into the living room, along with a controller Valve claims will make mouse-driven games playable on the couch.

Carmack and Sweeney spoke at a panel at Nvidia’s conference in Montreal where they discussed some of the latest developments in gaming hardware; inevitably, someone asked about Steam OS and Steam Machines.

Carmack explained his current skepticism is mellowed by the memories of his initial reaction to Valve asking id if it was interested in offering Doom 3 as a Steam Launch title.

“We basically said, ‘Are you crazy? This would be nuts to try to tie yourself to this little notional digital distribution platform’, but clearly Valve has played a good, strong long game,” he related.

This doesn’t mean he’s eager to become an early adopter of Valve’s new hardware and operating systems.

“I’m afraid I may be at that same point right now where I’m like, ‘making your own sort of little console OS, are you crazy?” said Carmack.

“Maybe ten years from now they’re going to look like brilliant prophets again with it.”

Carmack has long been a Linux skeptic, and though he has backed off that position a bit as his opinion of OpenGL has improved, he’s never been one to pull punches when it comes to the issues of developing for a completely open platform.

“It still seems a little bit dicey to me – getting everything moved over to Linux,” he explained.

“But given their track record, I’m a little hesitant to be… If it was some other random company I would be pseudo-scornful, but it’s Valve, so I’m not.”

Sweeney then joined in, saying that his initial reaction was equally skeptical, but he noted that Linux is actually outperforming Windows in terms of downloads versus sales.

“I think right now in terms of market-share, month to month, in terms of sales Linux is actually the number one consumer operating system,” he explained.

“So it’s interesting. I think with Valve it’s not like a Sony or Microsoft launch where there’s this billion-dollar market event and suddenly tens of millions of players show up. I think Valve’s going to look at this, like you said, as a really long-term effort. They’re going to build it up over time.”

Sweeney pointed to the fear many major publisher and developers have of being tied to a platform that’s ultimately controlled by Microsoft or Sony as a long term strength for Valve’s ambitions with Steam OS.

“Absolute control over certification is scary, and their control over e-commerce rules out possibilities where we would like to have direct relationships with our customers, and they prevent it,” he said.

“The possibility of Steam as a real, genuinely open platform based on Linux with multiple manufacturers that’s jumpstarted by Valve, but isn’t absolutely controlled by Valve in the same way that Microsoft and Sony control their platforms is very interesting.”

In the end, Sweeney hopes that this could lead console manufacturers down a more “enlightened path”.

“I think it will also go a long way towards steering the console manufacturers into pursuing an enlightened path,” he said.

“Valve is a great factor in keeping all of them honest.”

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