CES has come and gone, and we’ve learned a lot more about Valve’s Steam Box hardware/software standard. And honestly, for everything declared “the future of gaming”, this is it. This is the actual future of gaming.
Microsoft’s Phil Harrison pretty much revealed he has no idea of what Valve is actually up to by basically sniping at Valve over the hedge in Eurogamer:
“Entering the hardware business is a really tough business. You have to have great fortitude to be in the hardware business and you have to have deep pockets and a very strong balance sheet. It’s not possible for every new hardware entrant to get to scale.”
Well, yeah, Phil, if Valve were building a Steam Box (and they are) and only Valve, you’d be right. But they’re not.
Here’s the essential difference between the Steam Box and other consoles: Anybody can make a Steam Box. In fact, Valve met with a series of hardware manufacturers about building Steam Boxes. Valve is developing the software, but they’re building it around Linux, and a Steam Box is just a hardware standard.
This makes sense because of Valve’s approach. Valve has made a fortune serving as the middleman for PC game developers, and they’ve got no interest in cutting off their market to put out a console. All of the consoles are built in the exact opposite way: Sell the gear, and then lock in the consumer by buying software. Microsoft doesn’t let anybody else build Xboxes, which is the entire problem.
Valve wants to sell you the software, and lock you in by, uh, making it easy to play the game wherever you go and choosing the console you want to play it on. There’s no reason smart TVs, tablets, phones, anything with a processor really, couldn’t be certified as a “Steam Box” or at least be allowed to download specific games from Steam. There’s no reason you couldn’t build your own Steam Box and download the software. Valve doesn’t care: They’re just creating a standard to make it easier to sell games to you and use them where you want.
In other words, the Steam Box is the future of gaming because it’s cost-effective, easy to make, and not proprietary in any meaningful sense. It means high-end set-top boxes can be Steam certified. It means tablets can get a little Steam badge on the box.
Essentially, it means that unless Microsoft and Sony have something killer this year, they are in a lot of trouble.