In the first of three announcements Valve is running this week about gaming in the living room, they showed their usual modesty and restraint and announced an entire freaking operating system that can stream your entire game library. So what, precisely, is SteamOS? And why is it a big, big deal?
What It Is
SteamOS is basically a custom operating system built on Linux, that streams games on Steam, that Valve is giving away for free. A good analogy is to think of it as the Android of gaming PCs; Valve has publicly declared they’re handing it out to anybody who wants it.
This is important for two reasons: One, it means the operating system isn’t limited to one set of hardware. Unlike your PS3 or your Xbox 360, both of which are difficult to get running outside the environment specifically tailored for them, basically SteamOS is built to work on anything.
Secondly, SteamOS gets around some pretty severe problems with PC gaming in the living room by just streaming your games. That in of itself practically sells the OS to a lot of people.
Why It Matters
Because essentially it’s what will likely be the first step to making gaming genuinely hardware-agnostic. Valve is essentially trying to leapfrog to where the game industry is heading anyway.
Both the PS4 and the Xbox One are, in essence, streamlined PCs. That’s not exactly a coincidence; they were built, from the ground up, to make developing and publishing games cheaper and easier by making the architecture more PC-like. Part of the reason Sony is cuddling up to indies and Microsoft is talking up the sports and television aspects is that there isn’t going to be much different between the two in terms of actual games.
This trend isn’t going to reverse any time soon. AAA game development is costing more and more and there’s less and less return. And that isn’t just a problem for developers, but also for the people who sell video games. You know, like Valve.
Will It Work?
Let’s see, a free operating system that you can just throw onto pretty much anything with a processor powerful enough to take it, and boosts the value of your device? Yeah, that’ll do pretty well. Gaming PCs will probably ship this standard, and remember, Valve isn’t done with announcements yet; the next one comes on Wednesday.