Coming to a Living Room Near You

posted by on 31st October 2013, at 4:51pm

If you haven’t heard by now, Valve is making the move to bring computer gaming to the living room…or at least providing the option to do so. The largest digital distributor of computer games, Valve wants to make their Steam platform available anywhere you have a TV in your house, not just on your computer. This move is not that surprising given what Valve has been doing in the last year or so, but for those of you just getting the news, no need to look up old news articles. Below, I have pieced together a timeline of Valve’s progress towards bringing PC gaming into the console domain.

December 3, 2012-Valve releases Steam’s Big Picture mode. Big Picture allows gamers to bring Steam to the TV. With a unique interface designed to maximize using a TV screen, no longer is the TV just for consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation. Now, Steam users can leave their computer rooms and game anywhere a TV is. Not only that, but they can also have access to decent internet browsing and use whatever type of controller they prefer when using Big Picture. It was the first sign that Valve wanted to expand beyond the PC and into the console realm.

January 8, 2013-Valve unveils Piston, a small PC box. The Piston, though only a development state system (aka prototype), showcases Steam’s usage on high-definition TVs using  Big Picture on a small piece of hardware. Putting it another way, the Piston demonstrates that a desktop or laptop are not required to run Steam on your TV. Rather, all you need is a small PC, even something the size of a grapefruit. You don’t need a large piece of equipment to game or even browse the internet in your living room. Besides saving space, the cost for such a device would be much less than a full laptop or desktop (although currently, the Piston from Xi3 costs $1000!) and likely comparable or cheaper than other gaming consoles.

February 14-Valve releases the Steam client for Ubuntu Linux, an alternative operating system to Mac and Windows. Up until now, Linux users have rarely been catered to in the terms of gaming support. However, Valve wanting to change this works together with Canonical (the developers of Ubuntu) to make Steam and PC gaming work on Linux. Though the user base is not as large as Windows or Mac, Valve makes it clear that Linux is their favored operating system and one which they believe is the future of gaming.

September 11-Valve introduces Steam Family Sharing. Family Sharing allows friends and family members to share Steam libraries with each other. In a sense, Steam accounts and game libraries are no longer bound to one player. Multiple users can use the same account or library of games, but have their progress kept separate from others using the same library. Want to share a single library with friends and family on different computers? Family Share is the option for you. No longer does every member in a household have to use the same computer to play on the same Steam account. Nor does everyone have to have their own Steam account with multiple game purchases. Everyone can share the same library on multiple devices. Although two people can’t play at the same time using a shared library, it’s a great way for family and friends to share one library of games if time using the library is scheduled out. It is no different from friends and family fighting over who gets to play on the Nintendo 64 next. And if one person does not like sharing, they can always get their own Steam account to buy and play the games they want.

September 16-Gabe Newell, co-founder and executive director (CEO) of Valve, gives a presentation at LinuxCon outlining his and Valve’s vision of helping to develop support for Linux, including gaming development. Valve already uses Linux on many of their dedicated game servers. Newell makes it clear that Valve wants to continue developing support for Linux as well as work with the Linux community to improve game performance and compatibility on Linux based systems. Newell also believes that gaming should be an open and developer friendly industry, not a closed and proprietary one.

September 23-Valve announces it will make three announcements soon to reveal how it will bring PC gaming officially into the living room. The first announcement they make that same day is the development of SteamOS, a Linux based operating system strictly devoted to PC gaming through Steam. SteamOS is designed to provide a simple and functional operating system strictly for using Steam on the TV. In simple terms, if Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo can use the TV, why can’t we? No longer do players have to buy a console in addition to the games they have. If they already own some type of PC hardware, all you need to do is hook it up to your TV and play the games you want through Steam.

September 25-Valve announces plans for a hybrid PC/console for 2014 with prototypes to be available to a select few (about 300 gamers) this year. Attempting to compete with other gaming consoles and to minimize hardware requirements for PC gaming, Valve aims to develop or support mini PCs using their aforementioned Linux based SteamOS to make PC gaming in the living room a reality. With fewer hardware requirements, gamers won’t have to spend as much money to have a console like device in their living room to support gaming on the TV.

September 27-Valve reveals the Steam Controller, a new kind of game controller, to accompany its new hardware systems. A wireless device that uses trackpads instead of joysticks, the Steam Controller attempts to mimic the feeling of a mouse and keyboard in the form of a single handheld controller. Game controller design has remained mostly static with little innovation or change from the button, trigger, and joystick configuration. However, by taking away the joysticks, the Steam Controller shows Valve’s risky move to revolutionize game controllers. Only time will tell if this is a good improvement over typical console controllers.

October 10-Though not of direct importance to Valve’s intentions to bring PC gaming to the living room, Valve announces it will be holding Steam Dev Days, “a two-day game developer’s conference where professionals can meet in a relaxed, off the record environment.” Off the record means no press will be in attendance at the event to relay news to the outside world. During January 15 and 16 next year, developers will be able to come and meet with other developers along with the Steam Team to discuss topics such as “game economies to Virtual Reality, Linux/OpenGL, user-generated content and more.” Not only will this help developers meet each other and discuss ideas, but also give Valve good feedback on their announcements as well.

But what should gamers take away from all this? Has the death knell rung for console gaming? Are Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo doomed to face a huge decline in sales due to competition with Valve and PC gaming? Well…probably not, though these changes could pose a serious threat to consoles without counter-innovation. Although these are huge strides taken by Valve to bring PC gaming into direct competition with consoles companies, consoles are likely to continue on. Most have loyal fan bases that enjoy their proprietary gaming titles, keeping gamers coming back for more. There’s plenty of time for console manufacture’s to react and “up their game” before the release of Valve’s new hardware and software.

That being said, console manufactures are not as flexible as Valve. Time and time again, Valve has shown its adept ability to listen to the players and give them what they want. From the Steam Workshop to voting on games for the store and beyond, Valve has more and more put gaming into the hands of the gamer and unlocked the potential gamers have to make gaming a more immersive and involved experience. Console manufactures have done the opposite trying to limit and restrict gamers access to games, creativity, and involvement. For now, gaming stands at a crossroads. PC gaming, once in decline due to console dominance and piracy concerns, is now coming back strong as a viable alternative to console gaming. For now, we’ll have to wait and see whether gamers accept and embrace this new push by Valve or double down on console favoritism.

If anyone is at all interested in these announcements and news articles, I’ve included links throughout my article for you to check out. While finishing up the article, I also came across a nice demonstration of the Steam Controller on YouTube. I recommend watching it for yourselves to see how it works.

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