Valve's "Steam Box" console could revolutionize the PC gaming industry -- and beyond

Valve's "Steam Box" console could revolutionize the PC gaming industry -- and beyond

Summary: Valve's Steam portal has helped keep PC gaming alive, providing a new distribution model as disc sales and retail shelf space have diminished. Now the company may be working with partners on a new device that could compete with video game consoles -- and maybe an entire gaming ecosystem that might change the face of PC gaming.


Valve's Steam portal has helped keep PC gaming alive, providing a new distribution model as disc sales and retail shelf space have diminished. Now the company may be working with partners on a new device that could compete with video game consoles -- and maybe an entire gaming ecosystem that might change the face of PC gaming.

The Verge is reporting that Valve showed potential partners a "Steam Box" concept with specs that included an Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, an Nvidia graphics card, and the ability to play any PC game. Wilder is the potential controller it would come with, which could come with the ability to swap out parts to customize the controller for particular games. It may also make use of biometric feedback, which might be monitored by a device (like a bracelot) worn by the gamer.

The Steam Box would also use the yet-unreleased Big Picture mode to help get computer games onto your HDTV. As a result, the Steam Box would compete with existing gaming consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3, OnLive's streaming gaming service, and anything that Apple could dream up either with Apple TV or an Apple television.

But Valve may not stop with this Steam Box concept. It may intend Steam to be an open platform that would be the gaming equivalent on Android. The Verge recounts the rumor that the new Alienware X51 gaming PC could be updated to make use of the new platform, and the software would be available to partners to build systems to their own specs.

Would you be interested in a Steam Box gaming console if it becomes available? What kind of specs would you want it to have, and what would you want it do? While we wait for more word from Valve -- possibly in the form of an announcement at the GDC (Game Developers Conference) this week -- let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Browser, Hardware, Mobility

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  • steam an open platform?

    For steam to be an open platform they would have to change the way games are published in it, but right now only approved games make it to steam, making it a closed platform.
    • No game publisher would want this

      Every game publisher wants games on their own platform - not just hardware, but multiplayer too. EA has their own multiplayer, as does OnLive, as does every console out there.

      Often platform exclusivity means big bucks and support by the hardware vendor too. Game publishers will likely be forced into maintaining separate multiplayer networks if they want to publish cross-platform games because the platform owners don't like it any other way. Not only that, but they lose out on exclusivity deals when they want to reach the broadest audience. Sometimes that's good, but more often it means that development is undermined when they have to develop for the lowest common denominator in hardware. "Code optimization" doesn't really mean that developers are going to take advantage of all of the hardware at their disposal - that's a myth. What it means is compromising between what you can code (which isn't machine language) and how well your tools are written to pass it to the compiler.
  • Doubtful

    Allow me to preface this by saying that I love the idea. An android-like open OS to allow all the resources be allotted to the game and have full integration with steam would be amazing. The problem is the games. Most of them are windows, and a few are mac. As such, the OS would have to "borrow" parts of each OS's innards/kernel to put into its own, or have a nasty, laggy software layer like Linux's wine (not a bad thing for most apps, but it kills games). If they were to team up with Microsoft so that their OS could run Windows programs, then maybe. But that will inevitably lead to high royalty costs and other expenses that make it being a free OS unlikely. Not that Microsoft would ever agree to do that, seeing as if there was another OS that could run Windows apps, why would people buy Windows?
    Also, I don't see Valve making hardware. They're a software company, and I'm willing to bet that they'll stay that way. Not saying that it is impossible to make the transition (Look at Microsoft for example, originally just software but they now have XBoxs and Zunes), but it is unlikely.

    Finally, I would like to point out that the combination of parts for the "Steam Box" above ("an Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, an Nvidia graphics card") doesn't equate to "the ability to play any PC game." I have these specs on my computer and I only get 20 FPS playing Crysis 1 on very high w/o anti aliasing on... by the time a box were tom come out, these would be antiquated pieces of hardware.
    • If Crysis 1 plays that badly....

      either your graphics card is low-end, or your drivers are out of date. If you have a mid-range 450 or 560 card, it should play far better than that.

      Also, if game developers take advantage of WinRT, you'll see far better resource allotment for games, since "regular" Metro apps running in the "background" feature graceful, automatic shutdown when resources are in high demand by the foreground app. Also, it allows developers to target both ARM and x86 (not saying this is going to happen for all high-end games, but the compiler in VStudio does allow for it, and it will be popular for casual games). ARM chips will ship with DirectX drivers, according to a Microsoft blog post. I just doubt that they will be anything higher than DX9, since ARM stuff has always been optimized for OpenGL ES 2.0, which is far lower in spec that the regular OpenGL platform. You can equate ES 2.0 to about D3D7 specs, so getting the hardware up to the level where they support pixel shader 2.0 is a huge jump. In any case, managed C++ and C# 3D content will cross-compile nicely in VStudio so long as the target hardware is fast enough to run it.
    • Microsoft has done hardware before though . . .

      "(Look at Microsoft for example, originally just software but they now have XBoxs and Zunes)"

      They've always done some hardware, though: Microsoft has long been doing keyboards, mice, and webcams, and Zune devices. Xbox isn't really their first foray into hardware.
    • Ya, somethings wrong with your system man.

      I have an LGA 775 2.66 Quad on a Asus P5K Deluxe with 4 gig of ram and a Sapphire Vapor-X HD 6750 1GB GDDR5. I have no probs with Crysis 1, haven't tried the newer one yet though.

      As far as this whole Steam Box goes, it sounds like an interesting idea but the facts are the facts, why bother unless you love to do an absolutely crazy amount of PC gaming, and if the Steam Box is dirt cheap, otherwise why even think about it. I have a easily upgradeable PC that games well and does everything else too.

      In the end it just seems like one more way for one more company to convince you you need something you already have.
  • humm

    "Now the company may be working with partners on a new device that could compete with video game consoles ??? and maybe an entire gaming ecosystem that might change the face of PC gaming."

    I wouldn't go as far as to say it'll change the face of PC gaming. Gamers still like to build custom rigs and such. If it's cheap, some of the more casual gamers may consider it.

    "OnLive???s streaming gaming service, and anything that Apple could dream up either with Apple TV or an Apple television."

    OnLive is a bit of a joke. I don't think ZDNet really understands why gamers don't like it. Probably because ZDNet's idea of "gaming" is to talk about Angry Birds every chance they get. Let's face it: Being a tech magazine doesn't automatically qualify you as a gaming magazine.

    Apple isn't gonna make a dent in the PC gaming market - games have never been Apple's strong suit, and probably never will.
    • OnLive a joke?

      Have you seriously tried it?

      Yes, it requires a good high-speed connection (a steady 3Mbps+ is recommended, with a low ping), but it works, and when I look at games like Batman: Arkham Asylum playing on an 11.6" AMD E-350 system with settings that would require a far higher video card and multiplayer works as well as any standard console, I think this is a very viable option for consumers. The fact that you can get a $100 "micro-console" to play games with the quality to rival any set-top console on the market makes it very attractive. The really nice thing about it is that you can play on almost any PC, and there is no download and installation of games. The whole client plugin is about 30MB installed, so games play almost instantly (it takes only a few seconds for a server session to start up). I subscribe to the $10/mth PlayPack, and I've already played enough games in the list that I had previously missed playing to make it more than worthwhile.

      The biggest downside is in bandwidth usage and Internet connection quality. Thankfully, at least in Canada, we have some ISP's that offer no bandwidth caps or post-cap slowdowns. I switched because one of the biggest cable operators (Rogers) has a 60GB cap on their 12Mbps service for the same price that I can get 24Mbps speeds with unlimited usage from one of their cable reseller companies. I am no longer shackled to the main cable operator anymore. Netflix is also much more enjoyable now that I know I can watch as much as I want in a month.

      The other downside that some people complain about is that multiplayer is sandboxed within their own platform. I don't know that it's a valid complaint since every console platform has closed multiplayer anyway, and this isn't the same as regular PC gaming. Publishers have exclusivity contracts with console makers to segregate multiplayer access, and I would bet that there are clauses in their contracts that don't allow any other console to allow for cross-platform support. Also, there are probably some technical and security limitations to do with how they sandbox the games within their datacenter.
      • here is the problem

        the console wouldn't cost $100. In case your wondering how much a good i7 processor cost, they can vary from $300 - $1200. and that still isn't including the power supply, case, graphics card, motherboard, RAM, hdd, disk drive, and a cooler. If you add up all of these totals, and assume that Valve would be decent enough to put in the cheapest i7, it would cost close to $900.

        Now in case your wondering how I might now this, it's because i just built my own computer, and it cost $700, not including warranty. However, i didnt get an i7 processor, or a super high-end graphics card. I got an i5 processor for $250, and an AMD Radeon for $150.
      • Re: here is the problem


        This is not so much of an issue. Large scale manufactures can subsidize the cost of the hardware by advertising, charging subscriptions, buying in massive bulk, and working with the hardware producer to lower prices. A company like valve would likely be paying far from full price for each component they put in that box, and, either way, they have numerous options for lowering the final cost to the end-user.
        The PS3 for example uses some highly specialized hardware, try to build something similar yourself and it could cost many thousands of dollars (this is assuming you don't need to engineer your own vector processor). But, thanks to Sony subsidizing the hardware by offsetting costs, you can pick one up for about $240 or something.
      • Onlive comments...


        With local internet service providers out here continually pushing for unreasonable caps, and our continued increase in reliance on bandwidth for entertainment ranging from movies to video games, regardless of how impressive OnLive works, it eats too much bandwidth for these competing systems. It's no longer just about how fast our internet is, but how much "internets" the ISPs are allowing us to have. This is unfortunate, as OnLive is by no means a terrible system, it's just that the infrastructure isn't where it should be for it to take off. I still prefer my gaming rig with native games, but not everyone wants to spend $250 on a video card.


        I agree, a gaming rig at $1000-$2500 will only appeal to a select few. They could have made a more modest system with great HD possibilities out of an i3, but a good video card (560ti).

        All this said, they announced "big picture mode" nearly a year ago, and I've yet to see anything come of that, so I wouldn't be holding my breath. Has the next episode of Half Life been in development for half a decade? Why, yes it has...

        Meanwhile, Ubisoft insists upon placing awkward splash pages before getting to the actual game requiring mouse interaction instead of gamepads to get to the actual game, so it will be interesting to see how/if they handle that.

        My guess is the next generation Microsoft console will be like a PC in that it will sport a browser, and the possibility of a mouse and keyboard (amongst other things) with the modern capabilities of high end video cards (and how much better can you really get at 1920x1080?). This would negate most reasons for common users to have a "gaming PC" assuming it is priced in the market of $300 or so. For many, it would negate the purpose of having a PC full stop. It will be interesting to see what lies ahead, but I'm betting a Steam console (at least at these predictions) will be more of an early adopter's item, and will fizzle...
  • I already have one...

    It's called a gaming PC. PC gaming is done on PCs, not on consoles. And I can play on my HDTV because I built a media center PC.
    This thing could never be cheap enough to get me to move from my PC to it.
  • Steam makes me never want to buy a PC game again

    Constant updates, can not play COD single player without an active connection to Steam, still cheaters galore. Tons of times I can not play my games because of some Steam issue.

    If I purchase another PC game it will not have anything to do with STEAM. Steamy pile of.........
  • Set-up your own SteamBox

    Hi all, I've made a quick tutorial on Youtube on how to set up a SteamBox, software-wise, so you dont have to use anything but your controller from boot to in-game.

    Please head over and check it out, leave comments n'stuff :)