Valve has always been pushing the envelope in gaming products and innovations.
From the revolutionary PC game series Half-Life, multiplayer gems Team Fortress Classic and its sequel, the addictive puzzle solving Portal and Portal 2, to Steam, the best gaming download platform in the industry, CEO and co-founder Gabe Newell has always had Valve at the forefront of technology and the gaming industry. However, they plan to completely change the way you look at entertainment as well. They want to make your living room ‘Steam’-powered.
In the last week, Valve has made three announcements that will expand the Steam-universe and make it your go-to entertainment platform. In 2014, Valve wants to launch their new Linux-based operating system SteamOS, a new entertainment-based console for your living room called Steam Machines, and a new Steam Controller, which they believe with its functionality and “hackability”, will be the best way to play your Steam-powered games. This is an expansion on the ‘Big Picture’ update that Steam unveiled earlier, only now, this is providing more than just streaming from your PC and projecting onto your television. This is delivering a tangible device and OS to your home theater.
For those that haven’t experienced it yet, Steam is software for PCs and OS X systems that began as a platform to help update games automatically and control anti-piracy and cheaters in the multi-player community. This was about the time that high-speed internet was taking off so Valve wanted to take measures to protect their interests as well as their gamers. Soon, it began to partner with other publishers to use as a platform to download games and provide an online shopping hub so everyone could get their gaming fix faster and publishers could avoid the retail circuit, thus making more money. It has transformed into one of the biggest online gaming sites and software that accounts for the vast majority of online gaming sales, as different features such as gaming matchmaking and cross platform support for Apple and the Playstation 3 would arrive to increase their influence and accessibility.
Valve felt it was not quite finished yet. Despite Portal 2 for the Playstation 3 providing the gateway to the home console machine, the company wanted to make more of an impact in the living room. They hope to be the one place that both gamers and casual television viewers go to for their entertainment. With the Playstation 4 and Xbox One consoles making their system intentions to deliver a product that will act as the one and only entertainment hub, Valve has jumped at the chance to throw their hat into the ring and deliver their innovation into people’s home systems.
Valve wants SteamOS to facilitate your entry into the future of gaming. SteamOS is an operating system for your living room machine that uses the Linux architecture and the functionality of Steam to make your television the hub for all things media. The goal is to deliver your PC or Mac games to your television without the sacrifice of buying a new system or games you might already own on your PC or Mac. With this operating system, Valve has tweaked their new OS to become more efficient in graphics processing and audio performance so that you still get the more enhanced version of gaming we typically see on the computers as opposed to consoles. It allows new access to the casual or television customer and opens up the marketplace for new opportunities.
SteamOS aims to deliver four new features that will focus directly in optimizing their product for the living room. In-home streaming is one of the main focuses, as you’ll be allowed to play your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine. All it requires is for the existing computer to be online and running Steam, then using your home network to deliver the games straight onto your television. Valve has also taken steps to target music, TV, and movie services so that you’ll be able to stream all those media platforms with the popular programs you’ve already been using.
Also, Steam will be implementing a family sharing system so that you’ll avoid the previous headache of not being able to share games and having them unique to each individual ID through Steam. You’ll still be able to save games individually, but won’t have to worry about each person in the household having to buy their own version of the game. SteamOS will be free to download soon so people will be able to explore the new possibilities this OS can provide.
In addition to the announcement of SteamOS, we’re also getting another entry into the next generation console war. The Steam Machine is Valve’s answer to the console. For years, people have been trying to get their PC games delivered straight to their big screen television in their living rooms in an efficient way. Valve has reached out to several hardware companies to allow for customization for people’s entertainment setups, all of which will be powered by SteamOS. Of course, Valve will be beta testing Steam Machine prototypes, so gamers can run them through the rigors and help design a better system overall. For the other consumers, the aim is to get the system out by 2014 and also have multiple manufacturers so that people can choose the system that best fits their needs and wants.
With all that, we need a controller to harness all the gaming goodness in front of the television. Well, have no fear because the Steam Controller is here. In building this controller, Valve wanted to keep the key mapping and customization that computers have while delivering a device that will fit console gaming as well. With most PC and Mac games, a mouse and keyboard is the go-to combination, but to avoid the clunkiness of that, Valve came up with something innovative: Dual trackpads.
With the way that analog sticks have become the norm in gaming, this should come as no surprise. The sheer potential of these dual trackpads are impressive, and could possibly revolutionize the controller. Not only will the pad be able to keep up with the motion of your thumbs, but by adding the clickability, they can act as buttons in order to bridge the gap to console gaming. Essentially, you’ll be able to get your mouse and analog console stick gaming in one package. Expect fans of first-person shooters to jump on board as they’ll be able to get the precise control aiming with a mouse on a console television stage. The controller also will sport a touch screen in the middle that will be clickable as well. It could be used as another menu of commands, pages of actions, maps or any other custom game mechanic that the gamer or developer can think up.
The key word here for these features is customization and creativity. Being able to map out your own configurations or add other elements to the “hackable” controller will provide a new stage for the gamer to make it truly their own. As with the Steam Machine, the controller will be going into beta and some lucky few will get a chance to experience and tinker with this new innovation.
With all of this, Valve is making a bold statement saying they belong in the home entertainment venue and are willing to bank that Steam is exactly what the home consumer needs in their living room. Time will tell but from the approach, you can bet that Valve wants the creative nature of the gamer to come out and make your living room combust with Steam power.