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Valve goes full Steam ahead into the Living Room

07 October on Blogs, Editorial  

Valve has always been extrememly proactive with Steam, its digital distribution system - it appeared years before other competitors to sell games over the Internet, and continues to receive new features every year. The most recent additions happened in three consecutive announcements to show that the company is making a huge bet to conquer the living room - and consequently compete directly with consoles.

Some years ago I mentioned that Google should just do another daring acquisition like YouTube and try to do the same with Steam – despite the chances of Gabe Newell selling his company being almost nil. My idea was to expand the system to open doors for indie devs through a community system to test and publicize games. Greenlight appeared the following year, a different beast from my concept, but still a very interesting proposal. Valve's triple announcement comes at an opportune time for both the company and the consumer – and opens doors so the PC can compete directly in the lucrative segment of TV devices.

The first announcement was the Steam OS: Linux-based operating system that runs some of the games natively, while the remaining ones (for Windows and Mac) can be made to work through streaming from another computer within the local network. Some of the details suggest it will run apps like Netflix and will be easy to use like a console, making it easy to use and bringing all your library to the confort of your TV.

The second one were the Steam Machines –a standard to create machines that work well with this system. This reminds me a lot of Trip Hawkins's plan, what the EA founder tried to do with the 3DO, but in an even more open attempt. It's not only more open, but also less less of a financial compromise, and brings a software library that would make even the current consoles envious.


controllerThe last part, and potentially the most curious one, was the proprietary controller that Valve plans to sell, trying to create a hybrid that allows you to control traditional mouse and keyboard-based PC games, as well as offering an alternative to console controllers.

These three elements put together allow the user to recreate the main advantages of consoles: ease to connect to a TV and fit the living room, simple and direct interfaces, lack of unnecessary elements of PCs to reduce costs, Friend list/Achievement APIs and intuitive controller. But as I have suggests, some other elements of Valve's timing could not have been better.

The first big advantage is in the fact that two of the new consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One, are not using x86-based CPUs – making PC ports much simpler and easier. But AMD's Mantle API also offers an alternative to DirectX that is not Windows-dependent – and since it's based on the same hardware mentioned above, it again makes porting easier. It's true that Valve's prototype have NVIDIA-based GPUs, it still is a big help to developers. And despite Nintendo and Sony having opened doors for indie devs (unlike Microsoft), Steam is still the go-to entry for game publishing.

We still know little about Steam OS's streaming mechanism, but it could conceivably open door for a simplified box that is computer-dependent, allowing for a Steam Machine in the same price range of an Apple TV, even cheaper than consoles. Other small incentives, like Family Sharing, Wishlists, Badges, Gifts and the Workshop only give more reasons to adopt the platform.

Since Steam offers easier certification, agility for patches and smaller royalties – and no need to pay for expensive devkits. These reasons are sure to attract big and small developers alike, even more so in the era of raising game prices, drowning consumers in DLC and creating things like Online/Season Passes... any way to increase margin will be welcome.

It's still soon to say if Steam Machines will have the same penetration of consoles – even without repeating some of the more serious mistakes of the 3DO, they will still suffer from not offering so much developer support and marketing. But having yet another alternative in the market is always a good thing, even if only to increase competition.

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

Author, freelance videogame journalist, cinematography major and a little insane.