“Valve is releasing a console” Gabe Newell announces to an ecstatic crowd at E3 who are cheering, phoning their loved ones and making sweet, sweet love in the aisles of the expo conference room. This revelation, as Valve probably knows, will mark the end of the long-waging console wars and bring about a new era of gaming that returns to its roots.
After years of anticipation, Valve have released the Steam Box – a home console with enough kick to provide everything gamers want, as well as a sizeable hard-drive to store all their gaming goodness. Reasonably priced at the £200-£300 mark, the console is essentially “Steam in a box” as the name suggests, allowing players to access everything the Steam service has to offer whilst playing from the comfort of their couch.
With no one-off or regular subscription fee, millions of new players buy a Steam Box and sign up for a Steam account, excited at the prospect of being able to enjoy any game they purchase from the Steam Store on their PC or their brand new console. No double purchases necessary. All DRM free.
With gamers flocking to buy a Steam Box, publishers shift their focus from producing retail copies of titles to a purely digital distribution service. It’s not the end of retailer exclusives though as those outlets who have grasped the importance of a strong online service begin to sell games through their websites – continuing the price and incentives battles that gamers have grown accustomed to.
Gamers aren’t the only ones who have been waiting for a console like this, as many developers are just as eager to get gaming back into the hands of gamers. The Steam Box Developer System allows developers to update and patch their games quickly and easily, with minimal cost and no long-drawn out turnaround. An integrated version of the Greenlight platform has also allowed the indie game developement scene, already on the rise, to explode – the majority of the profits going straight to the creators.
No longer having to wait for the next-generation of a console to be released in order to get access to upgraded hardware, the power returns to the gamers who use the sizeable amount of cash they would normally spend on a new console to upgrade the Steam Box graphics card, RAM and other components. This leaves developers with a completely open development platform without having to worry about the hardware restrictions of consoles.
The console controller has often been a heavily-weighted decision factor for consumers when it comes to the purchase of a new console. The open source design of the Steam Box has put hardware development into the hands of third-party producers who are now able to create controllers to suit every type of gamer. Simply download the accompanying software and select your controller layout from the games settings to enjoy your title the way you want.
Steam has previously delved into the world of video distribution, and with a shift in focus on games consoles over the years to serve up more than games, the Steam Box has joined the fray. Premium video streaming services such as Netflix have teamed up with the Steam Box to offer anyone access to their library. All you need is a free Steam account and an account with your premium streaming provider – no additional purchases necessary.
Continuing with the theme of the games console becoming an entire entertainment hub and an increase in making everything we do online social, the Steam Box features a fully integrated chat element. The rise in popularity of using services like Skype and WhatsApp to talk to friends and family has also moved into the console realm and offers a cheaper alternative to keeping in touch – even for those without a Steam Box. Third-party hardware and software makes this a snap.
Hard-drive space restriction has also become a thing of the past with plenty of options to install and upgrade your own HDD as you please. For those who don’t want the hassle of installing a HDD, the option to keep your game library stored in a limitless cloud keeps things tidy and running smoothly. It also allows you to access your games and saves from any Steam Box or PC with an internet connection, or by putting them onto an external memory drive and plugging them in. Yes, there’s LAN too.
Obviously the above article is mostly a work of fiction (Valve are indeed working on a Steam Box with third-party developers), but are we really that far away from this future? In my opinion, the majority of the features gamers want are already built into PC gaming and a smaller, portable, easy to use console version of the platform could very well be the future for couch gaming.
Of course, it would be a miracle if we ever see a world where we as gamers aren’t having to battle with strict DRM, retailer exclusives and the rising cost of games into this general “hippy-love” vibe of gaming where everybody works together for the best of the gamer and developer. But it’s certainly a nice utopian future we can hope for and, with the success of Kickstarted open-source projects like Ouya, we might just get it. One day.