SteamOS – What We Think
After Valve decided to unveil the SteamOS we here at The Reticule Towers thought we would come together and share our thoughts on this, the first of Valve’s three announcements planned for this week. We might also muse on what else they might reveal. We are pleased to welcome back previous, and most excellent, writer Steph Woor for a one-off piece of opinion sharing. Hit the break to read our thoughts.
One question I want answered: was the SteamOS announcement timed to contrast with Microsoft’s continued misadventures in personal computing platform ownership? Or did Microsoft deliberately schedule its Surface 2 launch to achieve some kind of perfect singularity of consumer apathy? Overpriced and irrelevant, it’s a double underline of exactly why SteamOS is necessary right now, which is an odd thing to say, because I can’t actually see why I need it right now.
Lacking the disposable income to build a new main machine and living in a home where I neither own nor use the living room television, SteamOS appeals only on that abstract level where companies I favour do things I don’t need but still make a lot of sense (see also: Nintendo 2DS). So Valve, I approve, and if your idea takes root I am more than happy to commit to the platform when time and money become available to do so.
Considering that we’re all dead certain that one of the two remaining Steam announcements will be an officially sanctioned ‘Steam Box’, a bespoke OS should have been expected from the start. We can definitely expect that hardware to arrive soon – without the hardware, I can’t see people making more than a casual commitment to the platform.
Which leaves us with the issue of the ‘third’ announcement. In the past there have been rumblings of controller biometrics, and Alex Wiltshire over at Edge seems to think that the controller will be worthy of its own separate reveal (it worked for Sony, after all). However, I am going to take a shot in the dark and suggest that perhaps one of the more surprising elements of the first reveal may be a hint at what’s to come.
TThe biggest trump card for SteamOS so far is the previously unheard of streaming tech. With it, your Linux-based, under-the-TV Steam Box can communicate with your good old Windows PC and stream you any game in your library. This already has implications for what form the ‘official’ Steam Box will take – perhaps there’ll be an ultra-cheap, low-profile, streaming focused version that’s aimed more at the Android GameStick/Ouya/Vita TV market sector. “Better than current gen” gaming on your TV until the end of time has to appeal.
But perhaps the streaming tech is bigger than that. Perhaps Valve, owners of the largest and most successful online game platform, has been quietly working on its own Gaikai or OnLive? Gabe’s keynote at Linuxcon emphasised the unification of mobile, living room and gaming – and a streaming service with the Steam catalogue at its disposal would certainly fit the bill.
That’s my theory, anyway. I look forward to being hilariously wrong in a few days time.
Another publicity stunt from another producer…. oh, wait… Valve you say?? Ye-Haw!
Ahem, in what is now, typical Valve-style they are coming up with new and exciting ways to interact with the public and media. They are currently teasing three announcements, over just one week, in an attempt to whip up a media and social frenzy over the news. Whatever it might end up being all told. And i’ll be damned if it hasn’t worked.
The first announcement, SteamOS, is exciting, not least in what it tells us, but in what it doesn’t tell us too. Now bear with me on this as there’s a logic (of sorts) to that statement. SteamOS is a very exciting concept, marred only slightly by the living-room focus, but if this could be a true alternative to Windows that would not only be awesome for gamer’s but exceptionally good for the market as a whole. Too long Microsoft have had a monopoly on computing space and with the recent abject mess that is Windows 8 (after the superlative Windows 7), it’s clearly time for some fresh blood.
The most enticing thing about SteamOS? It will be free.
But back to my ‘logic’. If Valve were indeed going to announce a Steam Box (a steam-console, if you will), then it wouldn’t make sense to announce the OS first. In fact, it wouldn’t make sense to announce the OS at all – the very existence of a Steam Box would imply an OS, and the logical conclusion would be that it would be proprietary to Valve, and ‘open’. So, for me at least, that takes the Steam Box off the table for the last two announcements.
What do I expect though? Well I know what I want; Half Life 3. I don’t see it as likely though. I want it to be the case so much it’s probably unhealthy, but I really don’t think it will happen- it certainly won’t be the second announcement. For my money, I’m going to go with the next announcement being a new Source engine.
The current source engine has been the workhorse of many a game and was at the time stunning from both an engineering perspective, and in graphical terms. But it has been around for nigh on nine years, and despite constant iterative improvements over time you can start to see the strain on the engine. Any announcement of a new Valve game, or IP would require a new engine. So that is my prediction for announcement number two. It’d be just as exciting as the first announcement, in the same vein, and would then leave the gates open for either a mysterious sequel (?!?!?!), or a new IP for announcement three.
Though that said, I am painfully aware that trying to second guess Valve is akin to trying to cover an eel in jelly, but there you go.
I’ve been wondering what to say since I saw Valve’s announcement, and I have to say that I still haven’t entirely made my mind up yet. Probably doesn’t help that I haven’t had much more than an hour all told to properly formulate and put my thoughts together. Here goes then.
I am not entirely convinced that the SteamOS idea is really aimed at Valve’s core user-base of PC gamers who make use of Steam for most of their gaming. I think the idea of the SteamOS, and in all likelihood the subsequent reveal of a Steam Box are more squarely aimed at the current console gaming crowd and maybe even the mobile audience. Hell, I honestly don’t think that SteamOS has been designed to be an immediate and all-conquering addition to the living-room environment. I think the reveal of the OS is simply Valve getting prepared to diversify their business model which has long been about more than just making and releasing games.
Despite the massive user-base on Steam, all the signs from analysts, sales figures and industry are that the traditional PC is slowly fading away against the mobile and tablet onslaught with the common public perception that an under the TV console is the best way to play ‘real’ games.
SteamOS is just the beginning and I am fully expecting the remaining announcements to surround a biometric based controller and the Steam Box itself. When we see that, we will know more. But a few more further reaching thoughts based on the initial announcement. I fully expect their to be an ultra-low cost Steam Box which will work like the upcoming Vita TV and will simply function as a streaming device between your PC and a TV. Imagine playing a top-notch PC title through your TV, being able to sit on your couch and interact with it using some magical biometric readings. I think that will be the first step for most people.
I can definitely see there being a more fully featured Steam Box which will run games native to the new Linux based system and will in turn make use of the purported vast improvements to video game processing capabilities. Whether that proves to be a success or not will come down to price, which will hopefully be competitive with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the announcement talked about SteamOS being designed for a living room, under the TV environment. Will it be suitable for use on regular desktop machines? I’m not sure on that. I have a fear that this move will only lead Microsoft to further continuing down the walled garden approach they started taking with Windows 8 and that we will ultimately be faced with an option to use Windows for day-to-day use and SteamOS as the gaming section.
Clearly, we need further details and information to come from Valve, and the next two announcements will provide that. I just hope things work out for the best in the long-run and that the PC gaming base doesn’t get fractured beyond repair.
Wait a minute, this isn’t Half-Life 3, I was promised Half-Life 3!