Today, Valve announced SteamOS, a brand new Linux based operating system for bringing your Steam library into the living room. As my friends and Twitter pals know, I’m a pretty serious gamer. However, the last few months have been lackluster in my personal gaming life. In 2013, we’ve seen some incredible titles such as Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, and most recently GTAV have . I’ve had the opportunity to play those games and I’ve really enjoyed them, however, they are probably the last console games I will ever buy.
The Console Model is Broken
I love playing on consoles – I have had a game console around me almost my entire life. My earliest childhood memories include playing Super Mario World on my brothers’ Super Nintendo. There are several flaws with consoles today though – from business models to distribution of games to what the consoles themselves do.
Microsoft and Sony are about to release their next generation consoles that rely on discs as their primary playing format. The thing is, disc based distribution is dated. I love having a physical copy of something, especially if it is a game that I find myself emotionally attached to. Distributing games via retail outlets and shipping them on discs is just stupid. Game publishers now must continue to produce, package, and ship games that could simply be downloaded on day of release. Costs are high on the publishers, thus they release expensive $60 games that could easily be cut down to $50 by reducing manufacturing costs. Fast download speeds are becoming more common everyday. Even if sales go down because you’re losing a market of low speed connection users, were those users making the company any money anyway?
Video game consoles are evolving. I get that. Microsoft and Sony are focusing on more than just the core gamer. Consoles are adding social features and even more entertainment features like watching live TV, managing your fantasy league, and even steaming music. I have no quarrel with these features – they’re great! Consoles no longer focus on the core gamer though, and that’s where Valve comes in.
Valve Wants to Save Gamers
It may not be blatantly obvious, but I think Valve’s transparency and openness about their upcoming plans are a great reason to trust them. Yes, we’re still awaiting two more announcements related to SteamOS and the living room, but they’re releasing SteamOS for free. Both for users as well as hardware manufacturers. Valve isn’t looking to monetize directly from SteamOS – they have seen that the core gamer has been left out. Gamers got the short end of the stick, and Valve is going to take advantage.
Last year, we saw the release of Steam’s Big Picture. Big Picture is a user-interface tailored for televisions and gamepads, and a great one at that. The Xbox dashboard UI is a mess of navigation boxes, advertisements, and access to different “apps” on the Xbox. It’s a simple UI, but the ads are horribly annoying and get in the way of everything. Playstation has a cleaner text based UI. It is simple to navigate more or less, but being text based means it requires a lot of reading, thus making it hard to scan the screen to find something quickly. Big Picture fixes a lot of the issues I have with console UIs. It’s quick and simple to navigate. It has big images that identify what games are in my library. Most importantly, it separates the game store from my game library and the rest of the interface. I love that I’m not completely shoved with advertisements of other games or movies when I launch Big Picture.
SteamOS Gets “Features” Right
I will admit it. I love being able to play GTA5 on my Xbox and quickly switch to Netflix to watch something. Thankfully, as a basic must nowadays, Valve is “working with many of the media services you know and love”, bringing Steam closer to the average console experience. It’s a nice feature, but nothing to get excited about.
With SteamOS, Valve is bringing in-home streaming to the table, having the ability to stream Windows and Mac games to your SteamOS based machine. Valve will also be implementing their recently announced Family Sharing, allowing users to take turns playing one another’s games. There will also be new family options such as having control over what games get seen by whom.
A Hope for the Community
I’m aware of the Sony and Microsoft fanpeople out there – I’m not bashing either company or their products. They simply don’t care about gamers anymore. Microsoft and Sony wants to make as much money as possible, with as many customers as possible. Sure, Valve’s end goal is to make money too (that’s what a business does), but they are serving a market that has been left out to dry by big console developers who want everyone in the world to buy their products.
I have faith in Valve. I hope they make this living room experience the best they can possibly make it.