Despite only having been formally announced and demoed, Valve‘s Steam Box is already earning supporters who are anxious to access Steam‘s digital marketplace in a more console-like experience (provided they haven’t already discovered Big Picture Mode). And given the newest details from Valve head Gabe Newell, interest is only going to increase.
Delivering the keynote address at DICE today (via Joystiq), Newell spoke at length about the company’s plans for the Steam Box, as well as the larger changes taking place in the online and digital space. There is plenty to discuss, but what’s sure to get attention are Newell’s claims that the Steam Box will be hitting retail with an asking price “much, much lower” than consumers are used to, and eventually hitting $0.
Shocking announcements like that aren’t exactly common in today’s gaming industry, since Microsoft and Sony are still busy refusing to admit that they’re thinking of the next generation of hardware. But in all honesty, it should really be expected from Valve’s chief at this point. And with a majority of outlets and press intrigued and impressed by Steam Box since it was confirmed, why slow down the momentum?
“The price point that’s going to be hit is going to be much, much lower than things we’ve traditionally seen in living room devices. Better, it’s basically a PC in the console form factor and at the console price point. There’s nothing really magical about the hardware – this is the great thing about PC, is that it’s been evolving so quickly.”
Certainly a benefit of the PC industry’s constant competition to push technology, graphics, processing power and speed farther and farther ahead, and the price of such technology downward in the process. But Newell doesn’t see the Steam Box simply providing console owners with another “living room device” to complement their current ones. Instead, it will build off of existing interest and popularity of other streaming services:
“A user who has a great experience using in-home streaming is going to be much more likely to upgrade to a PC in a console form factor and then continue to invest.”
While showing clear optimism for what the next few years could hold, Newell did admit that not every component is where it needs to be to make the Steam Box the new standard. For instance, “latency sensitivity” will only become more important in the future, and high-speed processing isn’t going to be slowing down its expansion anytime soon, which even the smallest and most mainstream devices will need to keep up with.
In addition, while streaming media is only gaining more of a foothold in even the most non-tech-savvy consumers’ homes, Newell doesn’t think the ‘cloud’ is all it might be cracked up to be. Still a skeptic of the idea, Newell explained his position that while cloud gaming has a place among “demos and spectation,” it’s not the proper means of delivering value to Steam’s customers.
If those explanations make it seem like Valve hasn’t lost any of their footing on the leading edge of the games industry (among others), it’s no coincidence. Newell’s comments on the massive influx of user-generated content – seen most clearly with the Team Fortress 2 economy, bringing hundreds of thousand of dollars into the pockets of players designing in-game hats and items – show that the role of the publisher is changing rapidly, and drastically.
Citing the fact that “the community itself makes 10 times as much content as we do,” Newell’s comments help shed light on the overall goal of Steam Greenlight, and it may not be what was first assumed:
“It’s like we’re this bottleneck on the system. When you think about the direction that our industry is going, there’s nothing that says we should have any curation at all in our stores. Consumers should pull content through distribution frameworks, but this notion that somebody is acting as a global gatekeeper is sort of a pre-internet way of thinking of that.”
What do you think about Valve’s direction in terms of curating their own digital marketplace, or the potential of the Steam Box to capitalize on streaming entertainment? Will you be waiting to see what operating systems and controllers they have in mind for the Steam Box to decide if it’s worth your time, or are you already more than sold?
See the rest of Newell’s keynote address here.
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