Since Gabe Newell first opened his mouth about the possibility of Valve hardware, the internet has been aflutter with debates, speculation, and skepticism. I’ll admit, the idea does sound strange. Moving your PC games from your computer desk to your living room is a rather large leap, even if they’re in the same general space. The two gaming realms have classically been separated, dividing the community with them. The Steam Box now promises to blur that line. Will it be all PC gamers want, or will it be as useful as WebTV?
|Valve hardware prototype from and employee’s Twitter last year|
Steam Box is a strange, hybrid creature, one that becomes more and more appealing as details about it emerge. Though it’s true Valve is building its own, proprietary hardware, it is allowing and even pushing other hardware manufacturers to come up with competing designs. Gabe’s philosophy of “good, better, best” allows room for a multitude of devices.
“Good” would see a local, high speed streaming device, a bit like OnLive without the internet, or the NVidia’s Shield and be lower cost, Newell’s measures around $99. “Better” boxes would have a dedicated CPU and GPU so things are done locally and would cost about $300. And “best” is whatever the consumer would pay for that OEMs deem marketable (water cooling, bigger hard drive space, optical drives, smoke machines, etc.). One such “best” product seems to be the Piston from Xi3, featuring a speculated $999 price tag. Gizmodo has a nice 360 degree interactive photo of the device as well.
Did you know Valve loves that idea and values those community members? Hell, toward his interview, Gabe even mentioned trying to find a way to reward players for being better and creating a better gaming experience by simply being pleasant. They’re practically begging for your input.Speaking of input, Valve is also looking at different controller options. Motion, Gabe thinks, is a moot point and one that cannot be pushed much further. Biometrics is something he has talked about consistently for the past few years and it seems they’re getting closer to figuring out how to incorporate your unconscious body signals, the way your hands grip, your heartbeat, where you’re holding the controller, all of that into the gameplay. Of course it would be up to developers to add support for that stuff in, but simply having the option is a great idea.
Let’s take a step back. This article has rambled on for over one thousand characters about how great Steam Box could be. All of this hubbub is assuming Valve meets their commitments and the public deems the product a worthy one. Though these ideas are great, implementation could kill them. Newell mentioned $99 “good” consoles and $300 “better” consoles, but would gamers want that? Will a PC gamer buy a Steam Box instead of a gaming rig now, and at what price point does it tip from cheap gaming PC to overpriced console? If faced with the decision of a PS4 or a Steam Box, are the features and price competitive enough to make a dent? For the sake of gaming innovation, I hope so. One of the other downsides I see is the strict EULA Steam has in which if you do not agree, any games you’ve purchased on Steam are locked away from you. Would that then turn my Steam Box into nothing more than an HTPC?