Daily Reaction: Valve Steams Up Next-Gen

Daily Reaction is a PSLS exclusive feature where Sebastian Moss & Dan Oravasaari discuss today’s most hard-hitting topics every single weekday.

The biggest story of today is undoubtedly the reveal that Valve is developing its own hardware, with a job listing saying “we’re frustrated by the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space though, so we’re jumping in”. So what does Valve’s entry into the hardware-side of the games industry mean for PlayStation and the market as a whole?

Seb: Never underestimate Valve, they went from a top notch developer to king of the PC games ecosystem. They are a billion dollar juggernaut with a huge number of fans and they have the best developer support and relations a company could wish for. But now they are planning to shake things up and not just make a new PC, as their ad says: “Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven’t really changed in any meaningful way over the years. There’s a real void in the marketplace, and opportunities to create compelling user experiences are being overlooked.” That means there’ll be some kind of new interface, which will obviously need lots of support from developers to be worthwhile. So the real question is whether their new gaming interface is a) compelling and b) supported. Another issue is that this device will probably be primarily aimed at power Steam users, namely PC gamers – so Valve will have to make a high end device that can run the latest games, but that can also be upgraded like a normal PC. And then there’s the problem that, if it’s like a PC, why should people not just buy a PC and whatever peripheral makes their interface special? They have to make a device that takes the best of PC, without making it too much like a normal PC for it to be worth buying.

Dan: Well given the little bits of information that has been pieced together regarding the “Steam-Box”, or whatever they are planning on calling it, Valve might actually be able to bridge the console PC market. As we have seen this generation, with the PC GPU market actually being slowed down by the extended lifespan of this generation. It could be feasible to create a hardware box that runs all of the Steam products for a comparable amount of time as most home consoles. As realistically, technology cannot outpace the development of the standard games lineup, since higher end productions require bigger budgets that cannot be supported by a fragmented install base. Although, being a PC product, it could allow for late life graphic card upgrades, supported much in the same way that PC games have variations on texture resolutions and polygonal output. So besides standardizing the output in the early stages of production, the other potential benefit of this project comes from the potential ease of installation of PC games. As numerous games are now requiring so many different levels of installment from updating DirectX, to specific anti-cheat software, the ability to just plug and play on PC’s is so far from the console market. If Valve, can find a way to bypass all the erroneous software packages required by most PC games, I would gladly take a look at their product.

The only issues that I can see from creating a product that walks the line between PC and the console market, is where the line is drawn that makes the “Steam-Box” not a PC. The capabilities of a PC extend for most people far beyond the capabilities of of just an expensive gaming machine. The ability to install random bits of software to make your system a personable experience, is completely what is at the heart of owning a PC. So if Valve is going to try to produce a product that closes the door on outside development and not allow me run PhotoShop or ZBrush, I do not know if I’d be willing to pay PC prices. Namely, because of the exact same thing you said – why would I not just buy a PC that is able to run Steam, and use a shell for the interface that can boot up all of my favorite programs?

Seb: Presuming Valve can overcome these issues – and they’ve proven that they aren’t dumb – this could have a profound effect on the games industry. The job listing specifically mentions openness, and that’s something a lot of people and developers crave. Think Ouya, but actually having a chance at being successful. Potentially, this could drive Sony and Microsoft to open up their platforms to a certain degree, or lower the % they charge to sell their games on PSN and XBL. Interestingly, Google used nearly identical phrasing about how they were ‘frustrated by the lack of innovation in the browser space’ when they launched Chrome. Now Chrome is the largest browser in the world.

But I don’t buy Valve’s saintly sounding ad that makes out that they simply want to make gaming better. This is a direct reaction to Windows 8, the upcoming OS that will have its own integrated games selling platform and is far more closed than any Microsoft PC OS before it. The platform was openly criticized by Gabe Newell, and this is one of the ways they are fighting back. It’ll be very interesting to see how this develops, although we just have to hope they pay more attention to deadlines with the development of this hardware than they are to Half-Life 3

Dan: I do not doubt that these factors are going to pass-by Valve unnoticed, but the biggest hurdle they will have to face will be the price point. PC components are namely priced due to them being a Frankenstein of components from various manufacturers, and Sony and Microsoft had to invest billions to create an infrastructure that could produce cheaper streamlined hardware. For Valve to create a PC competitive product they will have to figure out a way to include high end GPU’s and CPU’s at fractions of the cost. Otherwise Valve will just price themselves into a niche market, and lose out to Windows 8’s brand power and normal market saturation. I do not doubt Valve can do it, as they have some of the greatest resources available (short of Apple) to produce a new console. I just do not know how they are going to be able to do it at a reasonable price-point, but I will look forward to watching this unfold – as this has the potential to change the industry as a whole.

Are you interested in the GabeCube? Are you getting all hot and steamy thinking about a Valve-developed piece of hardware? Or are you satisfied with the thought of a PlayStation 4? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and make sure to open yourself up to Seb and Dan for hypnosis.