Valve have made a profound impact on the PC gaming market since they launched Steam. They have roughly half the PC digital game distribution market, they offer more games for under £4 than my local branch of GAME offers at any price, and they have up to 4 million users online at peak times. But while most still think of them as primarily a game distribution system, bits of news have trickled out of the last year which suggest that they are looking beyond that.
First up was the ‘Steam Box‘, a hypothetical console designed by Valve, to compete with Apple TV and the gaming consoles. Valve were quick to deny this at the time, however.
Now note the recent statement from Valve’s Gabe Newell that “Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space”, and more significantly the part where he goes on to say, “I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.” (Emphasis mine.) This is why Valve are taking a keen interest in Linux, porting Left 4 Dead 2 to Ubuntu (with significant success, it seems).
But there’s more: Valve recently talked about branching out into non-game software, which goes beyond merely protecting their game sales from the risks of a Windows 8 walled garden. Obviously they already have the means of distribution and bricks-and-mortar retail is suffering so this makes sense. But I think there’s more to it than this.
I suspect that Valve will do some variation on the following:
- Use their knowledge learned during the port of L4D2 to get their Source engine running all their back catalogue on Linux. Gaming on Linux has been mostly held back by a chicken-and-egg problem: because there’s no retail market for Linux games, publishers won’t spend money on Linux ports of Windows games, meaning there are few games available on the platform, which inhibits adoption of the platform by gamers. Since Valve is the combined developer, publisher, and distributor of these games, they can jump start this process with a stable of highly-regarded games.
- Take the abstraction layers they develop during the port to create a framework or library to aid porting from Windows to Linux (and possibly MacOS). This will probably be offered free to developers to facilitate them offering their games across multiple platforms. This will let them quickly fill the Linux Steam store with games without needing to do much work themselves. The success of the Humble Indie Bundles in recent years show that there are people who will buy games for Linux, and that the numbers are not too dissimilar from MacOS users (but with almost 20% higher revenue per user), so I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Valve have integrated the bundles with Steam.
- Intensify work on the Steam Box, with the idea being to produce an Ubuntu-powered system where Steam is the primary software delivery method. By this time they should have many games that exist in a Linux compatible form. The open nature of Ubuntu and Linux’s focus on the typical Intel architecture means manufacturing such a device would be cheap and easy compared to current or next-generation consoles with custom operating systems and architectures.
- Aim to position themselves as clear leaders in the home entertainment market by having the Steam Box be the primary open platform for games and other non-business apps. They will be able to offer a much wider set of game titles than the competition, a better social network, support for mods, etc. And the recent expansion into software other than games will help position it as a useful all-rounder device. Sticking to modular PC-style hardware and open development standards like OpenGL will also allow them to ship significantly upgraded versions of the Box every few years in a way that consoles with their proprietary APIs cannot, while benefiting from free updates coming from the Ubuntu ecosystem.
If done properly, it could certainly shake up the gaming industry over the next few years, disrupting things much like Google did with Android, possibly following a similar model of allowing multiple hardware manufacturers. There’s nothing amazingly revolutionary here, but when you’ve already tied up the software side you just need decent hardware to close the loop. It may sound a bit far-fetched to consider a Valve console, but some of us will remember a time when the idea of Microsoft launching one seemed crazy too. Valve look like being in a similar position now.
Not sure that I agree with the Ubuntu side of it, I mean, they’ll want it to be the “SteamBox” not the “Ubuntu-PC-with-Steam-installed”.
They’ll already have the Ubuntu+Steam side covered, by Ubuntu with Steam installed and the games they’re porting to Linux already etc. That’s just like Windows and OSX or even Android.
No if they go the SteamBox route then I’d expect it to be headless with just Steam itself replacing all of the usual linux-ey interface. So no shell, commandline, windows, etc. Just the Steam interface.
Having said all that… they have just announced the other app installations. I just don’t know if they’d want those on the SteamBox or if they’d just want to focus it intently on gaming and media consumption (DVDs, LoveFilm, etc) i.e: is it a competitor to XboxNext, PS4, Wii-U and Ouya for usage with a bloody big TV? Or is it meant for desktop gaming and replacing the PC?
If it’s the former I’d bet money on it being headless, maybe based on Ubuntu (but why bother?) with only the Steam interface. If it’s the later then yeah Ubuntu all the way.
If they’re serious about doing it then I’d only see them releasing a SteamBox as a games console (Living room + big TV) though.
Still wish they’d get the hell on with it and release it though 🙂
By Ubuntu I don’t really mean the desktop, more the filesystem, package manager, hardware drivers, etc. They’re unlikely to want to rewrite all that just for the sake of having their own system. Look at bank cash machines – they used to be fully embedded systems but now they’re just Windows PCs running a full screen app. I expect the Steam Box would do something similar, with the customisation mostly at the superficial level.
And then there’s this: What if Valve were making SteamOS
Yeah, spotted that yesterday. Nice to know RPS come to me for their articles now. 😉
It’s scary, almost like you had the same idea as someone reasonably intelligent 😉
Dota2 it bettr make it free.. i guess it ll have a lotta bugs till a couple of years. But many wont agree coanmripg dota 1 with 2.. coz a history cannot be recreated. better make it free r price it for 100$ not more than dat is worth it.. u neva created it, i was stolen idea just an increase of graphics. EA spends much more time in makin up crysis 2 for more than 2 years with imba graphic, just see wat happened to it coanmripg with 1. same problem will occurs here. i bet u . wat eva u do to prevent frm piracy u bitches cant stop it. der r many games wich valve release r cracked in d way dat it neva links to steam server. so d day it releases d nxt hour v guyz ll earn n piracy .. roflVA:F [1.9.11_1134]please wait…