The Steam Box Console: Is it the Worst Idea Ever?

Yesterday, it was announced or leaked that Valve was working on something called the Steam Box. This, theoretically, would throw another console in the ring to compete with Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. Valve is a company, which is known for an extreme level of quality among PC gamers. They are the masterminds behind the extraordinarily popular Half-Life franchise, and the equally popular Portal series. Valve’s general competence is what makes this announcement so shocking. Can the niche market Steam baron company come in and totally change how games are played? There isn’t much information at this point, so all of my commentary is based on the information currently available and my opinion could change as more concrete information becomes available.

No, they are never going to continue this series.

Firstly, from what I’ve gathered, Valve wouldn’t be making the hardware, but simply outlining the hardware specifications and allowing various other companies to build their own Steam Box. This is the Android model, which has worked very well for mobile phones. However, it is a terrible idea for gaming. The reason for this is that there are many, many companies which were involved in mobile phone development, and it was easy for many of them to build Android phones as the smart phone craze took over. Conversely, there are three gaming companies which are involved in making consoles and none of them will be likely to adopt someone else’s model. This would require new companies, or software companies, to jump into console development and compete head to head with three veteran companies with the experience and money to push the Steam Box down. This is the equivalent of Android phones competing with three Apple Corporations. Valve most certainly has the chops in the gaming industry, but Valve isn’t making the hardware. It isn’t putting in the money or taking the risk of manufacturing. All it is doing is outlining specifications, which other companies can use. This is a bad idea, a very, very bad idea.

There is still division among PC gamers over whether this is the devil or not.

There is one silver lining in this plan. It is possible that one of the big three would integrate the Steam Box into their next console, which would allow those consoles to operate Steam-based games on their consoles. This is unlikely, as it seems that Valve is concerned with creating a console, hardware, to compete with the big three instead of making software integration. Microsoft is likely to integrate Kinect in its next Xbox, but the difference is that Microsoft made Kinect. While it is possible that Valve will work with the big three, it is far more likely that Valve will be working against them.

I don’t care if you made Portal. These guys will bury you.

The big problem with the idea behind the Steam Box is that it totally removes the advantages of consoles. You see, internet, the biggest advantage for developers to develop for consoles is there is fixed hardware. They know their game will play the same on every 360, or every PS3. This makes game development far easier. PC game developers have to deal with an infinite variety of rig set ups which can vastly change how the game plays. The Steam Box would allow multiple companies to build their own console, which would all be somewhat different, which would be a major pain for multiplatform development.

Do you remember all the problems with the PS3 version of Skyrim? Now imagine Bethesda developing for 5 other consoles.

Speaking of multiplatform games, what games could be played on these systems. It is assumed that it would be Steam compatible so a variety of downloadable PC games would be available, but this isn’t a big enough reason for people to buy gaming PCs, so why would they buy another console. Then there is the risk of over exclusivity. If anyone can make their own Steam Box, what is to stop Activision, or EA from making their own Steam Box-powered console and making all of the games developed by them exclusive to their console alone. This generation of consoles has seen multiplatform development take off, and it is one of the best things to happen to the industry. Will the introduction of this type of hardware stem off this trend? Nobody can say at this point, but it is troubling nonetheless.

I present you: The Steam Box

A similar problem concerns the functionality of PC games. From its name, it is safe to assume that Valve thinks that the console would allow gamers to play PC games, specifically through Steam. However, what does this mean for its control scheme. If you ask any PC gamer, they will tell you that you have to game with a mouse and keyboard. Does this mean that the Steam Box will use these as input devices? Console gamers have very little interest in mouse and keyboard gaming. So will the Steam Box use a controller? Or will it support both and get caught in having way too many peripherals like the Wii did? Many PC games on Steam would be completely unplayable on a controller, but by keeping with simply a mouse and keyboard isn’t the Steam Box just a cheap (Possibly) gaming PC, and are gamers going to be interested in that?

I dare you to tell PC gamers to play without these. 

If Valve is simply setting out to make a cheap gaming PC, they may have come up with a good idea. One of the biggest failings of PC gaming is the sheer expense of building and maintaining your rig. A cheap gaming PC would allow more gamers to play PC games, which are often overlooked. However, this also cuts out the biggest strengths of PC gaming: power and versatility. A PC-style console would, presumably, not be upgradeable and its cutting edge parts would become less cutting edge over time. PC gamers pride themselves on being able to play games on the highest settings and have a graphical experience that would be impossible on consoles. Cutting out this advantage robs, PC gaming of one of its great charms.

Valve: The “I think I’m better than you” Company

I’ve seen some really bad ideas in gaming. My friend owned a Virtual Boy. I saw the N-Gage and I lived through the rise and fall of Sonic the Hedgehog and saw Sega die as a console developer. I can say with some certainty that I have never seen a worse idea then what Valve has come up with. Maybe I’m just lacking the certain bits of information, which would turn it into a wonderful idea, which would revolutionize gaming, but I’m skeptical. If it wasn’t Valve that came up with it, I doubt gaming sites, or myself, would even give it a passing note.

Tune in later to see if I have to recant all of the scathing things I said today, after more news gets released.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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