Steam is looking better these days than it has for most of its lifespan, but it still has far too much clunk in its trunk. The interface is unwieldy, its backend clearly designed years ago with generations of progress awkwardly grafted on. It needs a real makeover, not just a blue one. This fan was happy to oblige.
Designer and artist Ruslan "rendom" Zhunusov has put together a concept for what he imagines Steam could be if Valve were to overhaul it -- roll together Steam's overabundance of pages, tabs and tedious between-screens to create something more modern. It's pretty slick, a Frankenstein lovechild of Steam, Windows 8 (mostly good parts of it), and Spotify. Check it out in this video:
And here's another video showing off the idea of customisable, interchangeable themes:
Now before we go any further, it should be noted that this is only a design concept -- not something you or I can actually apply to Steam in its current form. Yes, it's a bummer, but Zhunusov told me that he's slaving over a hot Wacom tablet in hopes that Valve will take notice and revamp Steam with some of his ideas leading the charge.
"I'm a Steam user myself and I love it as a service," he explained, "but on the design side the current version is starting to fall behind. There is so much unrealised potential in it, so many features which will make the lives of Steam users a lot better and more comfortable."
"There are a lot of things [that need an overhaul]. Easier game management, more ways to be in touch with your friends and communities, and good music player integration, because what we have now in Steam is a complete joke. The UI must be [redone] from the ground up. It was designed a long time ago for different needs."
Beyond the obvious streamlining of tabs, game libraries, friends lists, and the like -- things you may or may not find to your liking -- Zhunusov has offered some interesting ideas that meld form and function. Among other features outlined on his site, there's the option to load game saves directly from a game's library page (no snoozing through other screens first). I can definitely get behind that idea, though it might require some effort on game developers' part to allow it.
Admittedly, this design has Steam Big Picture Mode's fingerprints -- and a few discarded skin flakes, and a clump of hair, and some blood -- all over it, but I think that's kind of the idea. Big Picture Mode is too barebones right now to be great, but with some laser-targeted tweaks and additions, it could be. Zhunusov's design feels like a punched up version of both vanilla Steam and Big Picture Mode, slammed together in the Large Hadron Collider. Fewer tabs, bigger icons, better organised information.
There are some elements that give me pause -- make me wonder if a design like this would vacuum up a bit of precious, precious functionality along with piles of waste from Steam's baby days -- but it's hard to say without being able to try it out for myself. Steam has always allowed for more than most other gaming services -- more features, more freedom, more (good and bad) weirdness -- and that's given its jankiness a certain charm. But is it a necessary evil? I don't think so. I hope Valve agrees.