In one day, Valve has changed all of that.
It’s been hard to get excited about PC gaming in the way you do about a new console. The nature of the PC means it gets a little better all the time. You don’t really notice how powerful the platform has become until you stop and look back at the games and hardware that have come before.
But new consoles are massive leaps. Relatively. Because you only get one every 4-6 years, when you do, it’s a big jump in performance, visuals, capability, the works. The games designed for those consoles jump accordingly. Which is why people get so excited about them.
Because of this, the PC hasn’t ever really been a threat to the spotlight and the spectacle of a new console launch. Until now (and, well, until 2012).
I can imagine executives at Sony and Microsoft now worrying, if only slightly, that Valve’s Steam Box plans might steal a little of their upcoming thunder.
Putting aside the capabilities and promise of third-party Steam Box units (like Xi3’s offering), the fact Valve is making its own PC means for the first time ever there will be a company in the PC hardware space that people love with the same fervour they do current console platform holders.
Then there’s the matter of timing. We’re expecting the reveal, if not the release of both the next Xbox and PlayStation this year. Until recently, they’d had the hype calendars all to themselves. Now, they don’t.
Most important, though, and the reason both of those things matter, is that the Steam Box isn’t trying to be simply a branded personal computer. It’s trying to be a PC that replaces your consoles. It’s direct competition.
From Big Picture Mode to the use of controllers to the small size of the Steam Box computers, Valve’s entire push is aimed at taking the PC from the office and/or bedroom and dropping it right in the living room, plugged right into your big TV. The same one you have (or, Valve must be hoping, used to have) a console plugged into. Where you can play many of the same games, only with better graphics and the ability to use mods.
Sure, there are differences. Even slimmed down, the various Steam Box units are still PCs. They’ll have an operating system and will need upgrades (though hopefully that process is streamlined), as opposed to consoles with their intuitive user interface and fixed hardware. A Steam Box will, in all likelihood, be more expensive than a new console as well. If, say, the next Xbox launched at $US500, and Valve’s Steam Box launched at $US1000, I won’t exactly be surprised.
In a battle between consoles and PC, those factors will count in a console’s favour. But then, even though we’re now in 2013, most console games are (and often have to be) purchased via physical copies. A Steam Box will let you buy games from Steam. Almost an entire platform’s library, at your fingertips, and often at frequently-discounted prices to boot.
If Valve can sell that convenience along with the power and potential of a true living room PC experience, they won’t be selling a PC at all. They’ll be selling something that will be strolling right into the console battlefield and laying some of the sneakiest sucker-punches this business has ever seen.