Steam’s living room, uh, ‘thing’

Graphic by Roz Kirkelie
Graphic by Roz Kirkelie

Last week was a pretty mixed one for George. On one hand, there were Valve’s immense, incoming announcements regarding their new plan for PC gaming in the living room, all leading up to Senshi-Con during the weekend. And now that Valve has made their plans for Steam in the living room clear, both he and I concluded with the general response, “…Huh.”

For those who are in the dark, Valve’s Steam service acts as a digital distribution service for computer games on Windows, Macintosh and Linux. For the past year or so, Valve has been aiming to get rid of the PC gaming stigma — that is, hunching over a mouse and keyboard. They want to bring their service to the living room, the same environment that houses consoles like the upcoming PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Their response to that stigma last year was the introduction of “Big Picture,” where you could lug a PC over to your TV, plug in a USB game controller and use Steam’s services like you would a game console’s services.

How does an alien from a completely foreign landscape know all this? Well, George has such a setup at his pad. He fiddles with it and gushes over it constantly. I may as well roll my eye and play along as if my race weren’t capable of telepathic entertainment.

Anyway, Valve’s response this year is a bit more — well, exaggerated. They started by announcing “SteamOS,” which is based on Linux. Think Google’s Chrome OS, but based on Steam’s “Big Picture” mode instead of Google Chrome.

They then announced “Steam Machines,” which are specialized PCs manufactured by computer companies (like, say, Alienware). They’re meant particularly for gaming, and they carry SteamOS.

Then came what was arguably the strangest announcement: the “Steam Controller.” It forgoes control sticks in favor of laptop-style touch pads with haptic feedback, in addition to a touch screen in the middle. It aims to be compatible with every single game on Steam, even those that are meant to be
played with a mouse and keyboard.

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Obviously, this has been pretty confusing, even for someone as experienced with Steam as George is. This is due, for the most part, to Valve’s ambiguity regarding everything. For example, we know nothing about Steam Machines aside from the fact that they’ll exist next year, and there will be many different models.

The problem with multiple models is that they’re more difficult to develop for than traditional consoles, which are always the same regardless of how and when you buy it. This is a problem with PC gaming in general, and while I admire Valve for trying to simplify matters, I doubt it’ll work much.

As for the controller, neither of us really knows what to think. This isn’t a problem George has, because he has multiple controllers and input devices he can comfortably play on a couch. But for those who don’t have that luxury, George is optimistic that this is an elegant solution. I would feel better if he took a wait-and-see approach until he can test it, but you know him. He’s a fool in love.

At least we can both agree that SteamOS is pretty flipping cool. An OS that runs games more competently, and promises compatibility with future triple-A titles? That’s amazing.

If George can run his more-than-300 Steam games that are already compatible with Windows, all the better.

George is hyped about the whole thing, but I see it as a company trying to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. Gaming consumers who use consoles and consumers who use computers are two very different beasts. Some gamers prefer a mouse and keyboard, and some prefer the convenience of consoles. That’s fine. To each his or her own. But George still can’t let go of the idea that all gamers should experience the joy of PC gaming. The openness and competitive nature should appeal to all, he thinks.

Huh. So we’re both in favor of total assimilation. Maybe we have more in common than we think.

Oh hey, that reminds me:


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