The Verdict on Valve

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Throughout the last week Valve made three big announcements, dishing a little bit of dirt on three forthcoming products that everyone has been suspecting for varying degrees of forever.

First to hit the fan was the Steam OS, an operating system combining the existing Steam client with the Linux operating system. Then came the Steam Machines, trampling over everyone’s established opinion by ditching the word ‘Box’. Lastly came the Steam controller, a logical inclusion to the line-up that inspired Photoshop users the world over with it’s weird little owl eyes.

Now if asked to define myself as a gamer, I’m primarily a console person, but I like and enjoy Steam as much as any other person with a half decent PC. I consistently buy games in the sales and never play them, gazing longingly at some of the titles in my library before booting up yet another session of Civ IV.  I’m not a Steam nut, but I’m not ignorant of it either.

So as a console person with a bit of a PC tint, what do I think of Valve’s triumvirate?

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The main thing that sticks in my mind is the ballsiness of the controller. Neither Sony nor Microsoft has been particularly innovative with their controllers recently, and Nintendo is off in its own little world as always. Valve’s controller, completely lacking in sticks and instead complete with two touch pads with haptic feedback, is quite clearly staking claim to its own unique patch of turf. Yes it has a touch pad like the PS4 controller, yes it keeps the general shape, but do you see any of the other hardware companies completely ditching a staple of the last three generations of controller design?

Obviously I haven’t used it, so I can’t comment on its effectiveness as a controller, but as a statement of intent I think it’s great. What concerns me about the game industry and even other forms of media is the current trend for churning out more and more of the same old stuff in both software and hardware. It’s safe. It’s boring. That thing up there is not.

What else? Promoting your operating system as free, your hardware as hackable – it flies in the face of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo’s tightly controlled console environments. Valve has a history of inviting their consumers to mod their stuff, and with this hardware release they aren’t abandoning that principle – even the controller will eventually be moddable right down to its wiring. That’s madness to a console gamer, fantastic madness.

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I don’t know if I’ll get myself a Steam Machine because heck, there’s not enough info yet. But does it look like a viable option to me? Yes. Will it cost me less than a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? I would bet yes. Are there cheaper prices in the Steam store when compared to the ridiculous Australian games market? Yes.

Steam Machines are unlikely to kill off consoles, and certainly not right off the bat. For console gamers the next Sony and Microsoft machines are always going to have star power, and pending any enormous PR or hardware failures that is not going to go away. People need time to start identifying with a hardware brand, to become an Xbox person or a PlayStation person – or a Valve person. Of course there are already some devoted Valve people out there in the form of Steam’s millions of users, but these are PC people we’re talking about, and they don’t change for anybody.

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Loves – sci-fi, gaming, movies, purple, photography, David Tennant, reading, doodling, writing.
  • Guest

    Gay

  • Axe99

    Some good thoughts in general, but I’m not so sure about:

    “Will it cost me less than a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? I would bet yes.” The consoles both have manufacturing economies-of-scale that help push costs down, as well as generally have a hardware subsidy. With Steam relying on numerous third parties to provide different hardware solutions, and no mention of a hardware subsidy, then it’s going to be very, _very_ hard for the hardware producers to match the capabilities of the PS4 and XB1 at the same cost. The edge they’ll have will be in the reputation of the Steam shopfront.

    • Grim

      It’s true that without hardware subsidy it might be hard to make cheap PCs that can play like next gen consoles – something that I’m sure Valve is well aware of. But let’s overlap this with the Apple VS Samsung battle. Apple is the juggernaut with a single product(s) approach while Samsung is able to match its sales by releasing tons of variations. Steam is probably imitating the Samsung’s way of business by slapping Steam certification on an extremely wide variety of hardware configurations versus the next gen consoles’ singular, enclosed system.

      A long standing reputation, an open system, a wide range of certified hardware and a nice “come and join us to build this” kind of attitude while MS is doing quite the opposite. I believe that would help Valve a lot.

      • Axe99

        Maybe – there’s actually far more (and often better) games on iOS than Android, because of the multiple configurations of Android machines (as opposed to Apple’s more standardised hardware). I’ve got an Android phone, and it’s a great OS for smartphone stuff, but the range of games is a shadow of that available on iOS.

        There’s a real risk for PC that with both Microsoft and Sony dropping barriers to entry with consoles, and with the hardware subsidy (Apple’s the opposite here, they charge a premium and rake in the dollars) it could see the smaller devs that have kept PC afloat during the great adjustment to digital start to favour console.

        All in all, lots of change and interesting times! I think console and PC will both be fine over the next gen of consoles, but we could deffo see shifts in the balance.

        • Grim

          Yes, true. iOs kept getting a lot of exclusive apps, e.g. the iFruit from GTA V while Android got nothing…which exactly mirrors what’s happening with the PC and Consoles. Then again I thinks that’s the path Steam is actually taking for the Steam Universe. Like Sony recently announced, it’s marathon, not a sprint. Well, for next gen it’s sprint at the start and then a war of attrition between the console makers for the rest of the cycle while PC, it will always be a steady walk through tech evolution.

          • Axe99

            Aye, that’s it – PC muddles along, tends to be relatively stronger at the end of a console cycle, then a bit weaker at the start of the next (brace for the “PC is dying” articles in a years time, which will be just as accurate as the “consoles are dying” articles from a year ago ;)), but muddles along, while console tends to have big starts, post-start slumps, then strong middles (the tails can be mixed – Playstation’s tend to do very well in the tails, Nintendo consoles less so, and Xbox hasn’t been around long enough to draw any conclusions – but the 360 tail should at least be a fair bit stronger than the original Xbox’s!). Have seen it all before more than a few times over. Would expect a Steambox to behave like a PC in this instance, as its strengths and weaknesses will be those of a PC, rather than a console.

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