Like a techy version of Stars In Their Eyes, the smoke has parted to reveal Valve’s big announcement – it will be moving into the hardware market with its free SteamOS operating system, Steam Machine gaming boxes and the Steam Controller.
The trio of surprises is well-planned. Coming just before the PS4 and Xbox One are set to launch, Valve is not only convincing gamers that the PC is still the place to stay for games, but that it can take on the consoles – and it aims to win.
SteamOS is Linux-based – a platform renowned for its open-source freedom – and following in the wake of Microsoft’s backtracking on Xbox One DRM and other issues, Valve knows that by combining the operating system with its Family Sharing service, it can pull in console gamers by exerting a free and easy-going nature.
In a similar manner, the wide variety and upgradability of the Steam Machines look to undermine the hardware of consoles – which can’t be replaced and, in a fast-moving tech world, ages quickly. The Machines will present a living room box that has all the power and adaptability benefits of a computer, while using SteamOS and the Steam Controller to give a console-like ease of use.
The Steam Controller is the most fascinating device to be pulled from Valve’s sleeve. Taking on consoles directly, Valve says it removes the elements of controllers that PC gamers malign – input lag and accuracy – and uses two haptic trackpads instead of analog sticks. While Valve won’t live or die by the controller’s success, it could certainly lock horns with Sony and Microsoft if it works out, by potentially providing one of the biggest leaps in controller technology since the N64 analog stick and Rumble Pak almost 20 years ago.
I’ve already signed up for Valve’s limited hardware beta, which will take place at the end of this year, and despite the odds being stacked heavily against me, I hope to get my hands on a Steam Machine and Controller. Given Valve’s record of success in forward-thinking services, its entrance into gaming hardware could be more than noteworthy – it could be revolutionary.