This week has been very eventful for the PC gaming market. Valve, the online game distribution juggernaut, announced three new products that they are hoping will change PC and Console gaming forever.
On Monday, they announced the development and imminent release of SteamOS, a new Linux-based gaming focused PC operating system (like Windows or OS X). It will be free and is designed to be used to hook a PC up to your TV. To facilitate plugging a computer into your TV, SteamOS is highly optimized, so you will be able to run better games on lower quality hardware (allegedly), and since it is Linux based and not all games run on Linux, it has a streaming feature where you can run Windows or Mac only games from your standard gaming machine to your SteamOS machine and play them on your TV. So, your Windows machine will be running the game, but your SteamOS box will be gathering the video and displaying it, much like the Nvidia Shield or the Wii U’s off-screen play.
To accompany their new TV operating system, Valve announced on Wednesday that they would be developing Steam Machines, hardware on which to run the SteamOS. There will be many different setups available for varying prices so you can “Choose the model right for you.” The FAQ that was included with the announcement reveals that the different models will be designed to help accommodate price limits, noise or size restrictions, and more.
And finally, today the final piece to Steam’s invasion of the living room was revealed. The Steam Controller (or, as it should be called, SteamPad or Steamtroller). It looks insane. Instead of using dual joysticks like every other modern game controller, the Steam Controller utilizes two high resolution track pads, like those on a laptop, for its input. Valve claims that it should be able to replace a mouse and keyboard, but this is something that I NEED to try before I can pass judgement. The controller also features a very PS4-esque touch screen in the middle of the pad, to allow for unique, context sensitive buttons.
Valve's attempt to expand into the living room space is no surprise to anyone. Last year they released a “Big Picture” mode for Steam, an interface that could be navigated with only a gamepad. Now with the SteamOS, Steam Machines, and Steam Controller, Valve has really taken it to the next step. They want you to have a PC hooked up to your TV, and they want to be the ones to do it. I am intrigued by this obsession. I played Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs for my review entirely on my TV, so I understand the allure. It is fun to have such a large screen for games usually allocated to a monitor, and I plan on dragging my computer down to my TV in the future. Valve would rather sell me another computer so I don’t have to move my desktop ever again, but the key to this entire plan is the cost.
While I dislike having to drag my desktop downstairs and relocate my mouse and keyboard, it doesn’t cost me anything. Valve’s solution obviously will cost something, so if they are asking too much I doubt there will be a huge market for it.
The upside, and part of the genius, of Valve’s movement is that it sounds like each section will be available independently of one another. So, while I might not buy a new Steam Machine, I will definitely install the SteamOS and see what that is about. If it ends up being as awesome as it sounds, then it might be the new OS I install on primarily gaming machines, or maybe use it to dual boot on Apple products, to increase their gaming capability. And I will definitely pick up one of those gamepads, if only to experiment with it.
Valve’s new project excites me. I love innovations and when companies take risks. Risks lead to game changing progression. The SteamOS project may fall flat on its face, true, but it could also be revolutionary. If nothing else, it proves that PC gaming is far from dead. Dead things have a tendency to not change or evolve. Also, I REALLY want to try out that crazy controller.