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SteamOS Announced – What’s Next For Valve And Next-Gen Gaming?

Posted by Yogizilla on September 25, 2013

Today, the gaming world got a wonderful surprise from Valve when they announced that they are releasing SteamOS to make their games more portable and bring the PC gaming experience to your living room.  This comes at a perfect time as it is clear that the big three consoles aren’t doing much to innovate and drive value to the consumer.  That’s right, I said it!

As much as I am curious about the XBox One, I know that the only reason I will get it is to play games with my friends.  The other stuff I do not care about as I have devices that cover my other entertainment needs.  The same goes for PS4 and Wii U, except I would rather buy the latter than anything from Sony as a personal preference as it comes down to peripherals, games, and online play to me there.  Microsoft still dominates in my opinion there.

SteamOS will be a great thing for the marketplace for countless reasons but here are a few:

* You can enjoy the games you already own in more places.
* You can play these same games with more devices and peripherals.
* It will force the consoles to offer more value and innovate tons more.  Competition keeps people more honest!
* Smaller developers will have easier distribution channels, better tools, and greater market share to work with.  More variety and competition!
* Games will run more smoothly on a Linux based operating system built strictly for gaming and nothing else.

The implications of the news I have come across would have me believing that this will make Steam more valuable than ever for gamers looking for great deals and fresh content.  I also see that Valve is committed to creating their own ecosystem for gamers by gamers in many ways.  What’s more exciting is that we will see games natively supported for optimal performance and everything else played in a streaming or virtual machine format for portability/accessibility.  Awesome!

Valve has two more huge announcements this week.  It’s fairly obvious that the second one will be the expected hardware component.  But what is the third announcement?  It’s time for some predictions and wishlists!

SteamDrive: Official SteamOS Hardware?

There are a few things that can happen here.  The easiest opportunity would be to enter the home console market and make Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft step their game up.  The implications here are:

* Nintendo likely will not release another console after the Wii U.
* If so, Nintendo may go the Sega route or enter exclusive deals for leading platforms.
* Any hopes of Microsoft-licensed games on Steam may be shot.

There’s more but that is what comes to mind.  With the cost of home consoles, it’s hard for the market to really support more than three major platforms unless the gaming console in question offers a niche experience like Nintendo has been doing since the Gamecube.  Of course, we see what lack of third-party support can do to you there.  You can only milk exclusive franchises for so long, Nintendo.  We gamers demand fresh content to justify our investments!

With all that in mind, Valve may decide to simply release a thin client device along the lines of ChromeCast or Roku.  If such a device would be upgradeable, then gamers would have the option of streaming from their PC or installing/running locally.

Whatever route Valve takes for hardware deployment, I reckon PC gamers are ready to pony up more money and finally divorce home consoles if they haven’t already.  Just look at the Stem System Kickstarter project, where they set the goal at 250k and are close to 1MM in less than a month.  We PC gamers generally don’t blink when it comes to investing in our gaming rigs because we know they will last us a long time.

Even if Valve goes the safe route with a set-top box and peripheral(s) for SteamOS, it’s gonns be awesome. This also means the chances of a Half-Life 3 announcement are the least probable. After all, their focus here seems to be on living room gaming…

But Isn’t PC Gaming Already In The Living Room?

Some of us more cynical gamers may not be impressed yet. I mean, we have our gaming rigs hooked up to large TVs using HDMI or we’re using multi-monitor configurations so it’s not like we are missing out. Fair enough.

SteamOS seems to be more geared towards first giving existing users easier ways to enjoy their favorite games wherever they want. From there, I see Valve starting to tap into the gaming console market and converting people over to computers, not mere toys. Conversely, home consoles are becoming more media centers than anything else so it would be nice to see a more pure, dedicated gaming environment.

Steam has come a long way from it’s humble origins. It went from being a platform for curbing piracy and distributing Valve games in digital format to something much bigger. The only thing plaguing it now is having an OS that consistently runs games at acceptable quality and performance levels right out of the box, which is where gaming consoles have shined most.

Needless to say, I see great potential here!

Steam Channel Partners & How Consumers Benefit

I can see Valve pairing up SteamOS with established gaming hardware manufacturers as well as new players in the market. Razer, Sharkoon, Alienware, and even Asus come to mind. Of course, don’t doubt that Google won’t jump in somehow. What this all means is that smart businesses here will see the potential and jump in early. It also means better support for our favorite hardware because developers will have a vested interested in compatibility: more ways to play, more people buying!

I know I would love to see Valve team up with Razer. Razer peripherals have always showcased great engineering in terms of look and feel. There’s no arguing that their stuff is responsive but the software is always a hit-or-miss proposition. Valve can help there and rally third party form developers.

Imagine having your favorite peripherals and accessories supported natively. No more messing with macros/mappings, clunky drivers, third-party tools, and messy configurations. Just plug the stuff in and get some gaming in!

This approach will make PC gamers less on the fence about where they will focus their resources and playtime. The more native support and out-of-box functionality we get with an official SteamOS device, the more convenient it is for us.. and the less relevant gaming consoles as we know them become.

Of course, open source means we will still see finer performance tweaks and streamlining for the power users who want to squeeze out higher bit rates, consistent frame rates, and stutter-free gameplay. Mods and user-generated content will reach a larger, more dedicated audience. Yes, PC gamers are generally more hardcore but this will seal the deal for those of us that have become more casual due to the headaches involved with getting computer games to play nice.

What’s Next For Valve, Steam, And Gaming?

Now there’s the third and final huge announcement Steam/Valve has under wraps. Considering all that we have discussed, I think the smartest move would be to expand the Steam Workshop to make it more accessible to small dev shops and the average user. I’m talking about rapid development tools and training resources that will ensure Steam content never goes stale and every title has a real shot at developing a captive audience.

If Valve succeeds at opening up the Steam and SteamOS framework enough that updates are more steady and more quality games are released (and not abandoned), this would be a huge game changer. Think RPG Maker or any extensive object editor from a game like Hammerwatch, Scribblenauts, Starcraft II, or Warcraft III. In fact, I can totally see Valve pulling a Google by buying out or at least partnering with the developers behind RPG Maker, Blender, Physx, Unity3D, etc.

Imagine a complete software RDE, not just a simple SDK, with seamless integration with Steam and SteamOS. Steam Greenlight and Microsoft Indie Games are great indicators of this bake a bigger pie (thanks Guy Kawasaki) approach. We see that smaller developers can produce better games than Triple A developers when given the tools. We also see the mod community is going strong as well.

There are people with great vision out there but no means to really materialize those things without jumping through hoops. The Steam ecosystem will provide the development tools and the monetization and funding paths as well. I think Valve had this planned all along, just based upon the evolution of Steam itself. It’s become an ecosystem for game distribution, support groups, community events, and so much more.

So the third announcement could very well be that they are releasing a cross-platform agile development programming suite. Perhaps that is wishful thinking but this would complete the trifecta of development, distribution, and delight for me. If it’s not this, then what else?

The only logical choice that is left is attacking the mobile space. Seeing Steam co-exist with Google Play and iTunes is likely a tall order to fill so that leaves me to think that there is a chance we will see a gaming-optimized tablet running SteamOS. It may not play today’s high-end games but there is still great value here:

* Using mobile devices to enhance core experiences, much like Dreamcast VMUs and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles did (and how Wii U promises to do, if Nintendo ever gets online play right).
* Offering a dirt-cheap alternative to the major tablet computing devices (i.e. Samsung G-Tab, Google Nexus, Apple iPad, and Windows Surface).
* Playing games like Scrolls, Magic the Gatherinf: Duels of the Planeswalkers, and Scribblenauts, which likely will work better with touch screen devices anyway.

It may seem a bit grandoise to think this big but that’s just the kick to the arse the gaming industry needs right now to get back on track. We’re seeing too much of a focus on regurgitated content and dollar bills. It’s time for change!

Other things Valve may announce are still floating about the interwebz. Perhaps we’ll see a full-scale loyalty/rewards program with tons of freebies and perks, further incentivizing supporting smaller developers and clocking in more gaming hours. There’s also the pay-what-you-want and support-your-favorite-charity trends to consider but perhaps Humble Bundle should be left alone to rock out what they do best there.

Whatever Valve has in mind, we know it will cause great ripples in the gaming industry. I know they have the collective gonads to take some big risks and they also have the money to reinvest into massive projects. Things are looking mighty encouraging as we approach 2014 and the next generation of gaming.

Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft: take notes!

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