Last week, Valve issued a press release that announced their new “big picture” mode for its widely popular, widely celebrated and widely controversial digital distribution platform Steam. This mode would allow users to treat their PC like a console from the sounds of it and play from the comfort of their couches with gamepad support along with possibly redesigned UI made for easier navigation (much like the consoles’ UIs).
What could this mean? More speculation and wild feverish dreams after the jump!
Right now, with what little we’ve been given it looks like Gabe and his crew are bringing PC into the mainstream spotlight. Let’s face it fellow members of the PC Master Race, the industry isn’t as strong as it once was. We have our gems like Dawn of War, Amnesia and soon a proper Battlefield game. But when given the choice a lot of gamers would rather opt for the “easier” option; a prepackaged box that can’t be upgraded but consistently plays the latest games with no problem. It’s a completely justified reason, not everyone is computer savvy or has the disposable income to upgrade the video card every five or so years. But with computer parts getting cheaper and cheaper who knows? Maybe the industry will turn around and the PC will once again be the platform publishers swarm towards, brutally cutting each other down to get a piece of that PC-pie. An impossibility? Well looks like Valve’s trying to even the odds out a little.
First off they’re adding gamepad support, which is a big thing. A lot of games, namely 3rd person games, are better played with a gamepad. Could this mean Valve would start enforcing gamepad support on the more popular games released on Steam (although I don’t see myself playing adventure games like Sam & Max with a ‘pad) that take on the Steamworks platform? Now, if this were to even take place that would mean the gamepad controls would have to be customizable because that is the very nature of gaming on the PC. Now sit with me for a bit and let it simmer.
Your gamepad controls would be customizable on all (or most popular) games.
Do you realize what the implications of this are? Preset controls are a big complaint with the console crowd; people hate that when they switch between Killzone 3 or Call of Duty: Black Ops and R1 performs different actions. Having customizable buttons would make more people jump ship and consider having a PC as their main box for gaming. Using the mouse and keyboard combination is seen as the quicker and more accurate way to play against controllers (Anyone remember Shadowrun? Total nightmare), but a simple server rule to play with controllers-only fixes that, and you know what? It can happen because you’re playing on the PC and you’re not tied down to some archaic restrictions and general incompetence! You could host a controller-only game of Call of Duty 15: Revenge of the Moon Babes on a dedicated server you rented and customize the experience to precisely what you wanted. Not to mention the godsend this would be to disabled gamers (as pointed out in Matthew’s feature) who can’t use a controller on its traditional settings or can’t use a PC to play games. It’s all about making it easier to play.
This brings us to the possible new UI for Steam. What would it look like? Who knows! But knowing how much work Valve puts into its ventures, I’m guessing it would look pretty. Steam isn’t complicated to use, but to 13-year old Johnny Generic who has the attention span of a Mars bar it can be daunting. So a NXE or XMB-like interface for Steam would help our twitch-reliant cousins in navigating Steam with the new large font and sparkly lettering, or whatever.
It also comes down to money. What has Valve have to gain? They already have the keys to our wallets, it’s not like they need it. Well they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their own hearts, we can never forget Valve is a company and companies look out for their bottom line, no matter how darling they are. Valve’s new PS3 Steamworks will most likely bring in customers to try Steam and turn on their computers for something other than tweeting their latest deuce. It’s a smart move, with whatever else Valve was allowed to bring onto the PS3 it would likely make the number of Valve fans grow.
No this is about little Johnny we were talking about earlier, in the press release they mentioned the success of microtransactions and its future implementations into the Steamworks SDK. This would bring just another reason for developers and publishers to re-think the idea that the PC is a dead zone for sales that’s riddled with piracy and mono. With Steam’s proper and non-intrusive DRM, their online VAC system, established market and proven sales tactics it was already steps ahead than what people were offering before. With a new UI, controller support and the console-like experience they’re tapping into a whole new market. It’s like XBMC (a media center application for home theater PCs that is widely popular and looks very pretty) where it turns the PC of the living room into a single-use machine and gives people an alternative to Netflix or having to use the 360’s clumsy Windows Media Center or fumbling with TVersity with their PS3s.
The real genius of this is that Valve is only offering the software. It would be up to people to provide the box. Which means Valve isn’t incurring any costs by manufacturing a console, packaging it and having their marketing department come up with ways to outmaneuver the massive push put forth by already established leviathans of the console industry. The consumer would have to go out and buy a computer (most likely if Best Buy and their competitors smell a new boom they’ll capitalize by offering “Steam-ready PC!” stickered prefabs in their stores, but seeing their incompetence in all areas at store-level, this is unlikely) or build his/her own depending on the types of games and applications the end-user would use Steam for. Even the controllers wouldn’t be Valve-branded! They could just make Xbox 360 controllers (now popular and generally accepted as “the” controller for the PC, although Microsoft killed some of the PC’s offerings) the default or there might even be a company like Razer or Logitech stepping up to schlep the burden of marketing or manufacturing a PC controller. If Steam is going to be using implementing controllers, there’s going be a new market to fill.
Could Valve be thinking of starting a revolution and turning the computer into a console? What are their plans? Would they themselves turn into some sort of evil corporation that will churn out sequels and Half-Life 8 would be akin to Sonic 4 and be treated as a joke? We’ll have to see, a lot of seemingly evil companies started out as darlings of the industry (Apple, Electronic Arts and Squaresoft to name a few).
There’s a lot of possibilities out there. Let’s stay frosty, folks. And remember, all hail the PC Master Race.