We’re all aware of the looming console wars. Both Microsoft and Sony have announced their next generation console and are gearing up for their impending releases. The tit-for-tat marketing is in full swing and the pre-orders are already in. It’s unlikely that there will be an outright winner – the consoles are fairly equally matched and they both offer a similar package at similar price points. So far it has been a two horse race but recent events may change that. Last week Valve made some very intriguing and interesting announcements related to their Steam service which may have a significant impact on the impending battle.
For those of you who aren’t up to speed, Steam is an online service offered by Valve. It is a distribution platform which allows you to buy, download and play games. Prices are very reasonable and in some cases games are even free. It also allows you to take those games with you to any machine you may want to use them on. There’s no physical media involved, it’s all done on-line. The service is also cross-platform being available for operating systems such as Windows and Linux. Currently not all games offered on Steam can be used on all platforms but Valve are aggressively working on this to ensure maximum availability for all the games they offer. While that’s all well and good, you’re probably asking how this will impact the next-gen consoles.
So what did last week’s announcements bring to the table? First to be announced was the SteamOS. So far Steam has been a service, or piece of software, which users install on an operating system much like any other program. With SteamOS, Valve will be offering a full Linux based operating system with the Steam service tightly integrated within it. It will be designed for use with televisions and best of all it will be free to use. SteamOS wont be restricted to games either, you’ll be able to enjoy other media too.
Next they announced the Steam Machines, though I still prefer the name SteamBox. Having been rumoured for some time, this is a gaming PC designed for the living room, obviously coming with SteamOS installed. In contrast to consoles, this will not be one machine. Valve will recommend and classify specs but it will then be up to OEMs to develop and market the machines. Different machines will be made available to suit different pockets and different gaming styles from the casual to the hard core gamer. They will be fully upgradable by the end user – another major difference over consoles. Just before I published this article, Valve announced some eye-wateringly brilliant specifications for the prototype Steam Machines. The specs look good and I’m hopeful the machines they come up with look something like xi3’s Piston PC – that would like very nice under the telly!
Last to pop up was the Steam controller. Probably the least interesting of the three announcements, it may very well be the most challenging for Valve to pull off. This is game controller much in the same mould as you would find with a Xbox or Playstation. The challenge here for Valve is that the games on Steam are designed with a keyboard in mind. A controller which can take over from a keyboard will need to be much more flexible and configurable than the standard controllers we see with the other consoles.
What we have here is a serious challenge by Valve. While the next gen-consoles will be out before Valve’s Steam trinity, I think any serious gamer will need to sit back and have a good hard think before parting with his or her pieces of gold. From what we know so far, Valve will be offering something that will offer the best of the PC gaming world and the best of the console world. In particular it will be possible to keep hardware up to date allowing the gamer to always enjoy the best in gaming graphics, as well as enjoy those games in the living room on a HD TV and have access to those games from anywhere. There can be drawbacks too, the hardware upgradability in particular being a double edged sword. While I’ve recently moved to consoles, I come from a PC gaming background and this really intrigues me. I had been considering an Xbox One till these announcements were made. Now, I’ll be holding on to my hard earned cash and will be watching how things develop with Valve’s Steam ecosystem very closely. I think you should too. It looks like a third horse will be joining the race!
- PC gaming’s future is no longer tied to Microsoft (gamesradar.com)
- Valve’s Steam Box won’t challenge consoles, says ‘Borderlands’ studio boss (theverge.com)
- Valve Gaming Console Targets Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox (usnews.com)