It was revealed in September that Valve has been hard at work building its own “console”, but aside from that fact itself, we’ve known little else. However, with the recent launch of Big Picture, it’s become clear that Valve has big plans for its Steam platform on the TV. In a recent discussion with Kotaku, more of Valve’s ‘big picture’ was revealed by CEO Gabe Newell, and I have one word as a response: “wow”.
Let’s start from the top. Gabe admitted that his company’s console would be considered direct competition to the consoles from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo – which really isn’t much of a surprise. That means that there will be a need for congruency, where hardware sold either by Valve itself or its partners will have to adhere to certain guidelines. There’s a good reason traditional game consoles don’t release in wild variations: compatibility. To make sure that every game offered through Steam’s console service works on any “Steam Box”, we’re likely to see things like the GPU and CPU locked into a certain vendor, though different performance tiers could be offered.
This is what will make Valve’s console interesting. Gamers won’t have to purchase one through Valve itself, but have the choice of going with another vendor. If they happen to want a beefier option, they’ll be able to opt for it.
For a PC to be useful, it needs an OS. The leading gaming OS is of course Windows – so the choice seems natural, right? I’m not so sure. Valve’s interest in Linux has really accelerated this past year, and there’s even been rumors of the company wanting to make its own distro. Because a console needs to be tightly-controlled for compatibility’s sake, that could very well happen. Heck – we could even see Valve release the distro freely in case people want to build their own Steam console. Ahem, I’m getting ahead of myself.
If Valve’s console is to offer the best selection of PC games possible, it has to run Windows, but that brings a few issues. We’re not only talking about license fees here, but Valve’s desire – or need – to fine-tune the OS and the hardware just the same. Windows would require more effort out of people versus what’s required from a console, and Valve doesn’t want to resort to a simple overlay like Big Picture to run on top of Windows. The console needs to be focused. A common complaint from console gamers is that they don’t like updating drivers and dealing with other hassles that come with a PC. Valve has to make sure those same users won’t have to deal with any of that.
Linux isn’t a dominant gaming platform, and though things are improving fast, they’re not improving that fast. But this all assumes that Valve isn’t deep in discussion with other developers, which it could be. At the current time, only 29 Linux games exist through the platform (in beta), but that number could increase fast.
It seems like a pipe dream, but a couple of years ago I thought Steam on Linux was a pipe dream as well. If the Steam console does ship with Linux, game developers are going to have to take notice. Xbox Live has 40 million subscribers – Steam has 50 million. If you play a game like Battlefield 3 with a gamepad on a console, the prospect of suddenly being able to play it and many others at high resolution and detail will no doubt be tempting. Assuming pricing is in order, that is.
For gamers and Linux fans alike, these are some exciting times.