Last week, the world of console video games got some serious new competition.
PC gaming juggernaut Valve, which operates the popular Steam digital distribution platform, announced that it’s coming for your living room with a new operating system and devices that will play games on your television.
The company, whose Steam service is basically the iTunes for selling video games, made the announcements in a series of revelations on its website.
“Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world,” Valve said. “We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.”
Earlier in the week, the company announced plans for its SteamOS, a game operating system that will bring PC gaming to the couch and television.
It’s a similar strategy to how Google entered the smartphone market — design an operating system, leave the hardware to others.
It’s potentially a major shift in console gaming, which has been dominated for years by Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, all of whom produce their own locked-down consoles that only play company-approved games. That’s typically meant big-budget titles like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” although the Big Three have made overtures in recent years to indie developers.
Valve, by comparison, is a proponent of open source development, as evidenced in its announcement.
“Q: Can I hack this box? Run another OS?” the company said in a Q&A section. “Change the hardware? Install my own software? Use it to build a robot? A: Sure.”
Steam has provided a huge boost for indie development, since it allows them to sell directly to customers without a traditional publisher.
That means gamers will have a lot more options. It could also mean indie games that have made their name on Steam will now be more accessible to console players as well.
Patrick Curry, CEO of Austin developer Fun Machine, said the announcement is “really exciting.” While there have been other open-source devices like the OUYA, which have attempted to emulate consoles, Valve “not only brings the Steam platform and community to the table, but also a huge back catalog of their own hit games, and practically everyone else’s,” Curry said.
That’s a big selection; there are nearly 3,000 games currently available on Steam. That decimates the libraries of the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U.
“While it might initially be easier for indie games to get noticed in entirely new ecosystems like the OUYA, the size of the Steam audience has made it the must-be-here-to-matter store for PC games,” Curry said. “If Valve keeps supporting and improving their indie-outreach efforts, like Greenlight, then SteamOS and Steam … could mean great things for developers who want to sell their games directly to gamers in their living rooms.”
Jeremy Strauser, co-founder of Austin developer Bee Cave Games, said Valve has “great cred” with developers, but he sees an even bigger fish on the horizon.
“Personally I think Apple is the sleeping giant in the living room,” he said in an email. “Already have a $99 box (Apple TV) with 13 million sold that could possibly run iOS apps using iPhones and iPads as remotes. That would be a living room revolution.”
Valve’s announcement also met with a huge response online. The online community Reddit — one of many forums for gamers — immediately began dissecting the news.
“This is actually really exciting,” user C_Coolidge wrote on Wednesday. “It opens all kinds of doors. The barrier to entry into the console market just got a lot lower.”