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The Genius of SteamOS

SteamOS. We’ve been hearing rumblings about this for over a year now, and we’re finally on the cusp of learning what Valve’s grand scheme is. The trouble with this is that a lot of people are simply unaware of what exactly Valve is trying to accomplish (besides entering the console market). This post is designed to give people a better understanding of the potential direction that Valve is currently heading in.

Who is Valve? Although ubiquitous to most, I still find myself having to explain to a lot of people who Valve is, and why they are currently in the position they are in. Here’s a bit of Valve History 101: Formed in 1996 by two former Microsoft employees, Valve has been a dominant force in the PC gaming industry for over a decade. Under their belt, they have some of the highest rated and bestselling games in the world. Half-Life 2 is still the gold standard for single-player FPS games. Team Fortress 2 is genre-defining class based multiplayer. Counter-Strike is probably the most competitive FPS game ever conceived. Portal 2 is one of the most imaginative and well-designed games of the last five years. DOTA2 is currently taking the entire world by storm, one million dollar tournament at a time. At the center of all of this is Steam.

Steam was originally created as a means to apply updates to Valve’s games in an efficient way. Despite the Internet’s universal love for Steam today, it did have a rocky start. In the last decade, Steam has gone from intrusive auto-patcher to premiere marketplace for PC gaming. Steam is currently home to more than 50 million active users, and it is believed that nearly 75% of all digital PC game sales happen through Steam’s marketplace. Steam is the service that Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network aspire to be. While Steam is far from perfect, it has an unbelievable wealth of content, features and options. Valve has a stranglehold on PC gaming – and I mean that in the best way possible. They’ve saturated their market and are looking to expand into new territory.

SteamOS is a two-pronged approach for Valve. By making a more living room-friendly gaming operating system, Valve aims to capture a chunk of the console market by offering a greater amount of freedom than Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo currently allow. By having a unified platform for third parties to target, Valve is inviting people to make Linux ports of their games. The current state of gaming on Linux isn’t that great. There are currently ~200 games on Steam that natively support Linux, and most of them are smaller titles. When developers start targeting SteamOS and SteamBox devices, that will increase the number of native Linux games by a huge amount. What about older games without Linux support? If you have amassed a sizable Steam library, there’s no need to fear. Any computer can use SteamOS and play your entire library of games – provided you still have a desktop. What SteamOS allows you to do is stream your games over LAN. Remember NVidia’s Shield system? This will serve the same purpose (but rather than streaming to a handheld device, it will stream to your SteamOS device). You now have access to Steam’s full library of content on your TV (sort of like Gaikai, but better).

Why is Valve making such a push towards Linux? The short answer is to retain control of their platform. The long answer involves some speculation into what Microsoft plans on doing to Windows in the next ten years. Right now, PC developers such as Valve are at the mercy of Microsoft. Even if they never directly interfere, there is always the threat that they will take Windows in some bold new direction. We’ve seen the start of that future with Windows 8. Many people see Windows 8 as the beginning of the end of the desktop computer. With a large focus on touch-screen interfaces, mobile-friendly content and the Windows Store, there is a looming fear that Microsoft will eventually close off the Windows ecosystem and turn it into something like iOS, where the only legal way to distribute applications for the system is through Microsoft’s storefront. If that happens, the era of the Windows PC is essentially over. SteamOS and popularizing Linux as a gaming platform is a preemptive strike against this possibility. If all this seems rather strange, here is an easy way to think about it: Valve is creating a safety net for PC gaming. In the event that Microsoft does something astronomically stupid in the next 10-12 years, Valve will already have a solution in place. If Microsoft never chooses to wall off Windows, then this simply exists as an alternative to Windows for PC gaming.

What about that SteamBox thing? At the time of writing, the SteamBox has not been officially announced. The rest of this paragraph is my own speculation. Treat it as such. I believe that Valve is doing to consoles what Google did to phones. A SteamBox will be a Valve-issued branding that OEMs can slap on a PC to indicate that it meets Valve’s certifications as a gaming platform. There will be a variety of different SteamBoxes to choose from, ranging from an entry level low-profile device built primarily for small games and streaming, to a high-end gaming PC that will be able to max out the year’s best looking titles. If this is not the case, then we can expect to have something more like Google’s Nexus devices. Every year, Valve will partner with a different OEM to produce that year’s SteamBox. For example, Valve could partner with ASUS for the initial 2014 SteamBox. It could feature a GTX 760, an 8-core CPU and 8 GB of RAM. It will be mass produced and cost around $600. This would serve as a direct competitor to the PS4 and Xbox One. You can expect to play games at a similar level of graphical fidelity as you would on PS4 and Xbox One, maybe even more. An added bonus of this is that this device can also serve as a general purpose computing machine. You can do your homework on it. You can use it as a desktop computer. You can literally do anything you want with this device, and it doesn’t cost much more than a PS4 or Xbox One. The best part is that it’s not a static box. Every year we will see a new iteration of the SteamBox from a different vendor with new features and new hardware. People suffering from the mid-generation stagnation will have an alternative. From now on, you don’t need to stick with your 5 year old console while you wait for the new one. You also won’t have to spend >$1000 to reap the benefits of PC gaming. Valve is creating a beautiful middle ground.

What if I’m already content with PC gaming? How does this affect me? If you’re like me, you’re the type of person that loves having a big, fancy desktop PC. You love all the freedom that PC gaming offers you. You might also be thinking that all this SteamOS hullaballoo doesn’t really mean a whole heck of a lot to you. To put it bluntly: SteamOS isn’t made for you. It’s made for console gamers that want an easier transition into PC gaming. The real meat and potatoes of this is that Linux can be a better platform for PC gaming than Windows ever was. The problem with Linux gaming right now is that it has very little support from NVidia and AMD because there is very little demand for it. Suddenly, there is a big demand for it. All the people that have used Linux in the past will tell you how much better and faster it is than Windows. This is generally true. Windows is fundamentally slower than Linux because of all the legacy code and layers of abstraction it carries with it from version to version. Linux will allow developers to aggressively optimize their game in a similar way to consoles, freeing up a lot of power for better graphics or greater performance on lower end machines.

Good lord, what does this all mean? What we’re seeing right now could be the start of a major disruption in the gaming industry. It’s no longer a three-way war. Valve has waged war on Windows and traditional consoles. Valve has potentially solved many of the issues that plague both PC and console gaming. Anyone opposed to this revolution should consider themselves misinformed. There are far-reaching implications for the entire industry that will become more apparent in the years to come. Console gamers will benefit from having a fourth alternative to the Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo oligopoly. Having Steam in the living room means that the big three now have to compete with Steam’s pricing (which could mean more deals and cheaper games for everyone). PC gamers and people willing-but-wary of PC gaming will now have a breadth of new options to choose from. People content with their current situation are not being forced into anything against their will.

How much of this will actually happen? Who knows? It’ll be an interesting few years. Get your popcorn ready.

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LostPotato1884d ago

I must be the black sheep of PC gaming as I still don't like Steam or any of the other online services. So boo get your pitchforks out and stone me.

In the words of one of my favorite indie developers-
"Steam is simultaneously enabling PC gaming on one hand, and choking the life out of it on the other."

SilentNegotiator1884d ago

PITCHFORKS HERE! Can't start a mob without pitchforks!

To be fair, I don't like the DRM that it imposes. It's the best of a bad thing, but a bad thing regardless.

But how much of a PC gamer can someone be if they DON'T use those services? Steam holds a massive chunk of all new games exclusively.

LostPotato1884d ago (Edited 1884d ago )

It's quite easy actually. I never said I'm not forced to use them just that I don't like them.

It's quite amazing how much of an monopoly they have,and makes me grateful for DRM-Free services like

The good thing about this is maybe Microsoft can finally get some serious competition for the Windows OS.

Pandamobile1884d ago (Edited 1884d ago )

Yeah, I can see how that is a concern. As long as Steam isn't the only way to buy games on a SteamBox or SteamOS I wouldn't worry about a total monopoly. Valve just wants to see Linux grow as a gaming platform.

SilentNegotiator1884d ago

We live in the age of the internet, my friends. There's always some alternative for digital content and we are lucky SOBs for it.

That said, alternatives don't beat substitutes and there's nothing to substitute Steam with.

thorstein1883d ago

I do like VAC servers though. Wish this were more prevalent across all gaming.

+ Show (1) more replyLast reply 1883d ago
thebudgetgamer1883d ago (Edited 1883d ago )

Can you tell me why you feel that way?

Nevermind you already did.

dedicatedtogamers1883d ago (Edited 1883d ago )

I've been a PC gamer since MS-DOS, and I have to agree with LostPotato.

I use Steam, but Steam is essentially just "Baby's first PC gaming". It mainly attracts people who are new to PC gaming and/or people who have predominantly played consoles but now have some extra cash and want to join the "master race".

An OS is not a gaming platform. As PC gaming continues to overlap with console gaming, Steam will be cannibalized by what Sony, Microsoft, Apple, Nintendo, (and more to come?) in the following years. What is so odd to me is how the gaming community absolutely murdered Microsoft's original incarnation of the Xbox One, and yet that's really all SteamOS is: DRM on PC. Yeah, it comes with great features (just like the original X1 idea did). Yeah, it will have a lot of advantages and perks (just like the original X1 idea did). But it's still DRM. Why is the gaming community so accepting of it?

Unfortunately for a lot of so-called "PC gamers", they don't realize that PC gaming is so, so much more than just Steam.

iamnsuperman1884d ago

"Having Steam in the living room means that the big three now have to compete with Steam’s pricing (which could mean more deals and cheaper games for everyone)"

Well not necessarily as you still need to fork out a lot for a decent PC system for this to work/be beneficial. The mass market is with console as it is cheaper and easier to get into. I think this is great optional thing for PC gamers but I don't see this having any impact outside of the PC gamer.

Pandamobile1884d ago

Having a separate computer won't be as big of a requirement in a few years provided Linux support becomes a big thing.

Sarick1884d ago (Edited 1884d ago )

I'm not really a PC gamer I played a few MMOs on windows XP and tuns of DOS games but once windows started taking over I moved to console for single player games.

I see it like this the PC market needs more alternatives. Having one popular OS ran by a corporation that has been known to implement changes to suit gain at the expense of its loyal customer needs to stop.

The current trends of digital technology are like a cancer eating at the rights of customers under the guise of anti-piracy or anti-consumer DRM restrictions. The only thing most of these do is create a whack-a-mole environment that punishes the loyal customers.

The companies leading the way exploit excessive control over their operating systems and/or hardware. This isn't a good thing because that means they can keep extorting money from their customers on a regular bases and outright control the devices we own.

Having an open system such as linux means that we'd be using open source code for the OS. This also means its free to both the public and private. It also means that its support becomes the responsibility of the community.

I'd rather have freedom to use my hardware the way I want to. The direction we're headed takes those rights away from us. The forefront of that direction is lead by closed operating systems that charge excess amounts of money for their proprietary hardware & software.

I do agree with the writer of this blog. The general direction that Microsoft is taking will lead them to a stare front dominated marketplace. Where they'll have ultimate control over what products or services are allowed. They'll also want to take advantage of that by attaching fees or certifications to them. Here is a prime example.

licensing fees could be created to force companies to remain on their compatibility list. Companies and developer who don't pay would have no alternative outlets. Not saying value can't do the same with there steam engine but at least the market would have alternatives.

If the linux open source community gains a greater market share of support for applications and hardware this competition will help protect against anti-customer policies that exploit customers. Not only will reduce the foothold on the industry but open it up for freedoms we've become accustomed to on PCs. If this current trend continues as people keep opening their wallets to corporate greed, these freedoms will soon be lost.

This comment isn't solely reserved to PC it involves the future of gaming in general. Just look at my blog about copy protected game saves.

I'm interested in discussing this more in PM provided it's a civil discussion. There clearly aren't enough bubbles to openly discuss this publicly even if they where maxed out.

Good day, and don't forget to have a sense of humor.

Sarick1883d ago

There they are. The SteamBoxes are ready for testing.

-Gespenst-1884d ago (Edited 1884d ago )

I'm pretty sure the next announcement is the hardware- probably the SteamBox. I know this is a pretty common prediction, but I realised something looking at that countdown page. The first symbol, representing the Steam OS, is that circle with the two small gaps at the top and bottom. The second symbol, is that SAME circle, but ENCLOSED with brackets. That to me suggests some sort of enclosure or piece of hardware which could pioneer use of the OS. Steambox anyone?

As for the third symbol, well that's anyone's guess. It's the same circle as before followed by an addition or plus symbol, followed by another of that same circle. Going by my interpretation that means SteamOS PLUS SteamOS, or plus some other OS, but that's nonsensical. Perhaps it means SteamOS plus some other manner of software? A game or multiple games? H-half Life 3...C-confirmed??

thebudgetgamer1883d ago (Edited 1883d ago )

The biggest drawback of this from what I have seen is not every game will run on Linux. I am fine with that, as long as some of the bigger games get ported over and a bunch of Indi games I will be happy. It's not like I'm going to buy thousands of games anyways.
I also really like using Linux.

DomceM1883d ago

same. linux is boss. Open, free, secure, and efficient.

Just has to get even more user friendly. Ubuntu is headed in the right direction.

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