Multiple manufacturing partners and an open system – is Valve’s hardware dream taking it away from the consoles, asks Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin
After months of rumors and speculation, Valve has finally revealed some details about the so-called Steam Box.
Though more information is yet to be released, at this year’s CES we were finally given an idea of what the company could be planning in terms of hardware. Firstly, it appears that Valve is going in the opposite direction to Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony. Rather than operating within a closed console ecosystem that centralises everything into a single space, Valve is instead supporting a freer-model. By working with a plethora of different partners, Valve will compete in the market with not only a single platform, but several. Tying the entire thing together will be Steam.
In an interview with the Verge, chief executive Gabe Newell said, “What we see is you’ve got this sort of struggle going on between closed proprietary systems and open systems. We think that there are pluses and minuses to open systems that could make things a little messier; it’s much more like herding cats, so we try to take the pieces where we’re going to add the best value and then encourage other people to do it.
“So it tends to mean that a lot of people get involved. We’re not imposing a lot of restrictions on people on how they’re getting involved.”
Newell continued, stating that Valve’s own hardware goals would be to “build a thing that’s quiet and focuses on high performance and quiet and appropriate form factors.”
The hardware Valve plans to build itself will be sold direct to consumers and will run on Linux. PCs have always operated within an open, malleable system, with gaming being just one possibile use for them. Yet, lately, the Half-Life developer has been leading a charge to bring PC gaming into people’s living rooms – enabling Steam to more directly compete with consoles. Big Picture mode, a new feature that optimized Steam for televisions and controllers, has already been launched.
However, without its own line of hardware, Valve’s proposed integration would undoubtedly be more difficult to achieve because PCs have not been traditionally used in that way. But the developer appears to believe it has found a means to combine the malleability of a PC with the simplicity of a console. By having multiple partners, consumers will be given a choice as to what they want to spend on hardware.
The Piston - a new mini PC being developed by Xi3 with backing from Valve – is a sign of what the company might be trying to achieve. A seemingly powerful PC that’s designed to be used with a wide variety of screens – of course, being optimized for Steam’s Big Picture mode. What might other partners release? Certain devices might possibly be more powerful, yet more costly. Others may perform fine, yet might not have the same amount of processing juice.
Though time will tell what Valve’s full plans are, and while certain details still remain a mystery, the reveal may have just changed the gaming landscape. Have PCs and consoles finally formed into a hybrid? What impact could this have on competitors? The PC may very well become a much bigger player than it already is, making it a real force to be reckoned with.
Follow Marcus on Twitter: @M_M_DH