Gabe the enabler: Valve's hands-off approach to hardware will pay off

18th Jan 2014 | 14:10

Gabe the enabler: Valve's hands-off approach to hardware will pay off

If you build SteamOS, they will come

"They're f**king ugly". That was my friend's knee-jerk response when he saw the slew of Steam Machines announced at CES. "There are too many of them."

He was right on the first point – you'd be hard pushed to say that many of the Steam Machines are pleasing on the eye. He was even more disappointed when I suggested we may never be able to get our hands on Valve's own take on the Steam Box.

However, I didn't agree with his latter response. As much as I like Valve's in-house version, the large selection of Machines on offer doesn't bother me in the slightest.

And neither does this week's news that Valve's virtual reality headset prototype probably won't get turned into a consumer product any time soon, despite reports that it's an even better experience than Oculus Rift, albeit one that's less market-ready.

None of it worries me because Valve is not a hardware company, and concerns about overwhelming choice seem to be missing the very point of Steam Machines - Steam itself.

Valve's philosophy has long been about putting the power in other people's hands, giving the tools to others and seeing what they can build with them.

Rather than building a "GabeCube" and shoving it down everyone's throats, Valve is playing the role of the enabler. In essence, it's doing what Google did Android on phones, and there's no reason why Valve can't replicate that successful business model here.

Valve's not trying to get a box into the living room, it's trying to get SteamOS into the living room. And just telling people to plug their PCs into their TVs isn't going to be enough to do that.

Yes, in the short term, the large selection could cause some head scratching among the non-hardcore gamers. But we need to think long term. Cheaper Steam Machines down the line could provide entry-level PC gaming in a way that's never been done before.

It will take time, but SteamOS could one day be our go-to living room service for games and movies alike.

Right now, Valve is doing it usual thing of throwing an idea out there and seeing what bounces back. If this is going to be a true shake-up for gaming, we need to be willing to move away from the traditional notion of the "console".

With virtual reality, Valve's taking a similar hands-off attitude. It's providing the tools in the form of SteamVR to create a standardised interface for virtual reality controls in games. Instead of competing with Oculus, it's giving it (and other potential VR manufacturers) a leg up.

Again, it's far better for Valve to build support for a VR community and attract the masses over to Steam than force its own hardware on everyone - something it could quite feasibly do.

Big Picture

Wii U

Over in the Nintendo camp, things are looking a lot less rosy. The 3DS might have been the best selling console of 2013 but the Wii U has done abysmally. So much so that Nintendo has cut the console's forecasted sales for the financial year from 9 million to 2.8 million.

No, Nintendo isn't dead, but it needs to act fast and think differently. The next few months are going to be some of the most important in the company's history. Perhaps, as rumours suggest could be happening, putting its games on mobile is the answer.

A brand new console is out of the question, but giving the Wii U a brand new identity could work wonders. There are some big titles coming in 2014 - Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros - that scream "system seller", but a whole rethink in marketing is required.

Not just that, but the Wii U's online capabilities are as messy as its UI, and until it starts making dramatic changes, third-party support is going to continue to die out. Just do something.

Because as long as Nintendo keeps offering those unique experiences that no one else can, we need it in the game.

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