Yesterday’s massive response to Valve’s SteamOS announcement confirmed many of our predictions and expectations but, more importantly, it showed us that there is still a gaping hole in the gaming industry. With countless gamers looking forward to the XBox One and PS4, there are still many of us wondering if this next generation of gaming is really going to bring us anything new. SteamOS has addressed those concerns but Valve still has two more huge announcements to make.
Before I get into predictions and speculations, I would like to address the next-gen console war as I usually do here. From there, we can jump into what is confirmed and what we hope is next. The implications here go well beyond gaming as we see some major innovations in technology and shifts from pure gaming to multi-purpose computing systems.
Why XBox One, Wii U, And PS4 Have Already Failed
Now that the silly debates over always-on, always-connected DRM and used game limitations are behind us (thank goodness), we can finally focus on the heart of the next-gen console wars. To me, your gaming console of choice boils down to a few simple core issues:
- Software availability, compatibility, and licensing.
- Online features including community events, social media integration, and, most of all, online gaming.
- Value added, bang for your buck, and total cost of ownership.
- Functionality and performance out of the box.
- Preference for peripherals, accessories, and exclusive content.
The big three gaming consoles will be the Wii U, XBox One, and PS4. They all fail in key areas but, for me, PS4 and XBox One fail by focusing too much on multimedia entertainment. Even worse, the gaming libraries we have built up in around a decade will no longer work on these new systems. SteamOS will offer access to thousands of games and millions of players.
Pricing for gaming consoles is still attractive even after the hidden costs of subscriptions, DLCs, and accessories but Steam offers better deals and seems poised to provide better bang for your buck and a longer-lasting gaming experience. Gaming consoles are highly proprietary and the hardware becomes obsolete fast, whereas PC gamers can use countless peripherals and can upgrade their rigs to keep up with the latest innovations. SteamOS will make this advantage even more attractive as your content becomes more portable and accessible.
I would say what keeps gaming consoles afloat is the fact that people ultimately will lean towards the system their friends choose and the ones that offer the most convenient, trouble-free experience. PC gaming still caters to hardcore gamers and techies but SteamOS seems poised to change that and offer a pure gaming experience out of the box. To me, the song-and-dance about enhanced web browsing, threaded multitasking, and media streaming is a mere smokescreen that attempts to hide the fact that the next-gen consoles have done little to improve the core gaming experienced outside of better graphics and audio.
Tell us about the games, online gameplay, and improvements thereof!
All things considered, these consoles will do well initially but will surely lose ground to SteamOS as Valve brings a true, pure, dedicated gaming experience to the living room.. without jumping through hoops. More on that in a bit!
SteamOS Opens Up Superior Hardware Possibilities
Any hardcore PC gamer will tell you computer games beat the socks off console games but they tend to focus on the improved aesthetics and performance, not the overall experience. Hardcore gamers also glance over the fact that gaming consoles do offer a more stable, uniform experience right out of the box. Some of us don’t want to tweak configurations, streamline our OS, and update drivers to get games to look even more amazing than they already do. That stuff is just about mere bragging rights. It’s ultimately all about gameplay, support, and community.
SteamOS is positioned to open up PC gaming to a massive audience and get some multi-platform supporters off the fence. Whereas console gaming is more about proprietary hardware and exclusivity, PC gaming has always been a more inclusive and global experience, sans the elitists that ward off newcomers and casual gamers. This reality will only be further magnified by SteamOS’s release.
What is even more encouraging is that Valve reports they will be offering SteamOS as a license-free platform. This does not prevent them from establishing preferred partners and certifying choice systems, which is where they can make more money. Of course, they make a killing from software distribution alone and there is no doubt Steam’s market share will sky rocket after this move.
With cross-platform support, easy-to-use development tools, and seamless distribution, SteamOS-powered computers will receive great support from developers, further making this a more inclusive, collaborative experience. Gaming consoles will have a hard time keeping up with such nimble and bountiful hardware platforms.
The folks over at Tom’s Hardware already have their own speculations that the next two Valve announcements will be about official SteamOS-certified hardware consoles and peripherals/accessories. I agree this makes the most sense but I have my own suspicions, predictions, and hopes for SteamOS. I think Valve is going to really wow us this week. How can they top what they have already done?
What Valve Confirms With SteamOS
The official SteamOS promotion page has your usual lofty marketing rhetoric but it all boils down to this:
- Cloud-based distribution, streaming, and save files
- Cross-platform support with improved performance and compatibility
- Tighter and more responsive controller/peripheral support
- Shareable games with family controls and profiles
- Support for the massive Steam library of games, natively or via a VM model
- Improved performance and A/V for all games
These benefits to me spell out one huge, inspirational statement:
We are committed to make all your favorite games play better with a streamlined, dedicated operating system. No more bloatware and random crashes. mSteamOS will offer a pure gaming experience in your living room or wherever you want – and you can share it with your entire family/household!
This is very different from the model gaming consoles have used for over a decade, where you have to buy the newest systems to keep up with technology. Then there’s the need to buy additional copies of games if you want to play with your family. Giftable items and games already make Steam purchases so much more attractive but SteamOS will finally kick mainstream gaming consoles in the metaphorical nuts for not offering more value with digital distribution.
There are hints that SteamOS will be Linux-based. It is not fully confirmed by Valve but promises of a lightweight footprint and modular system components pretty much confirm our suspicions. Regardless, we know this is an open, collaborative project.
SteamOS Predictions & Gaming Industry Impact
Many of the folks in the media have cited SteamOS as an effort for Valve to compete against gaming consoles. I humbly agree and disagree.
The XBox One and Playstation 4 have positioned themselves more as mutlimedia centers now so, in reality, they will not directly compete for those of us looking for a pure gaming experience. I believe Microsoft and Sony will retain brand loyalists and budget-minded consumers who can’t fork out $800 or more up-front to play the latest games. Personally, I could care less about TV shows and movies. If I want that, I have my Roku, Blu-Ray player, and computers.
Initially, SteamOS will mainly make existing Steam supporters more satisfied and may very well have mutli-platform gamers focusing more on real computers rather than what still could be considered high-end toys in the Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo offerings. Nintendo does stand to lose a lot as their online features and software variety are still lacking but they continue to carve out a niche formfirst-party game aficionados, casual gamers, and technophiles who find their peripherals and accessories at least amusing, if not functional or immersive.
The XBox 360 and PS3 both are enjoying a long run that may very well last another two to three years, unless the plug is pulled for online features. That would be a bad move for Microsoft and Sony but we have already seen how EA vaporizes and renders obsolete older titles. Then there are folks like Ubisoft who insist on forcing new purchases by requiring online passes and middleware. EA is guilty of this as well.
As such, SteamOS will spread a colossal library of awesome games to a global market “without borders” as they say while traditional consoles continue to fumble. Hopefully, we will see more reversals of poorly thought-out business tactics. Licensing comes to mind here as it is silly to force people on the same physical set-top box to rebuy games already purchased on another account. There have been marked improvements there already but Steam is still ahead of the game by leaps and bounds.
I predict that Nintendo may very well go the Sega route due to their self-imposed lack of third-party support and lack of fresh intellectual properties. They are also lagging behind on technology, giving the Wii U an even shorter shelf life than the usual four to six years we have grown accustomed to with gaming consoles. This is something a few lower-cost upgrades can address in a PC. In any case, how long will Mario, Zelda, and Metroid carry Nintendo. I reckon they are not enough to keep Wii U as a top three gaming platform.
The major gaming platforms will have to adapt, drop prices, or disappear. I don’t see the marketplace supporting four competing consoles but it could happen. Then there is the matter of mobile gaming which has given Nintendo life support but tablets and smartphones are encroaching in that territory fast. Overall, it’s easier for consumers to be more budget-minded with mobile devices than proprietary handhelds. That may explain why Microsoft has not really tapped into that market with their own handheld.
With so much free stuff out there, the value propositions Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo offer really need to be ramped up. Paying for convenience alone is not enough now. SteamOS hasn’t released yet but free licensing and strong developer support already set the bar high.
I won’t predict or analyze further here as I think we have covered all the bases but, from a business and marketing perspective, Valve is really playing it smart while everyone else seems to be shooting themselves in the foot. It’s a shame, too, because I do find the XBox One appealing and find myself curious about the Wii U for more family-friendly gaming, all things considered.
My Dreams Of A More Open Gaming Industry & A Collaborative Community
By now it should be abundantly clear that Valve is more focused on bringing gaming to the masses and eliminating as many pains as possible for developers, publishers, and consumers alike. Since they are not obsessed with the bottom line and making money up-front, their next moves are sure to garner tons of support and ultimately make them more money in the long run. Brilliant!
Okay, okay, more predictions…
In the spirit of openness, I believe the next two Valve announcements will build open the SteamOS/Steam mission. Hardware is definitely in the cards but the third announcement I am hoping will deal with loyalty/rewards programs, expansion of Steam Workshop, and/or making game development easier for smaller dev shops, budding startups, and user-generated content.
While they promise to make SteamOS as global and accessible as Steam itself, there will surely be early partnerships and collaborations with software developers and hardware manufacturers alike. As I delve into on DPO, it’d be awesome to see a full suite of development tools and environments, much like what RPG Maker, Unity, Torque, Blender, and other popular solutions offer.
Imagine if the modding community could monetize their projects. Imagine if one-man shops could release games at little or no cost. Imagine if development overhead costs could be drastically reduced. We would see far less abandonware and online communities would see their favorite sleeper titles thrive.
I see this as the real promise of SteamOS but we shall see what Valve really has in store for us. Whatever it is, it will create more competition and maybe get the mega corporations to be a bit more honest and appreciative of their supporters.
Yes, we are talking about a real gaming community and self-sufficient eco system here!
Learn More About Steam OS: