The 10 steps of Valve's ongoing quest to conquer the living room
1st Oct 2013 | 20:27
What Valve has done, and needs to do, to win the war
Valve has set itself on quite a path.
As popular as Counter-Strike and Half-Life were a decade and a half ago, no one could have guessed back then that in 2013 Valve would be announcing its play for living room domination in the form of SteamOS and the Steam Machines.
Yes, times change, and now it seems like Valve might actually win the battle for the living room. It's certainly got a fighting chance, at the very least.
But it's been a long road getting here, and Valve's work is far from done. The Washington company has the brains, the funds, and the will, but can it really make its products and services the go-to for living room entertainment?
We examined the steps Valve's already taken - and what it needs to do in the future to ensure victory.
1. Develop great games
When Valve started out it did one thing and one thing only: made great games.
Half-Life and Counter-Strike were as important to PC gaming as Doom before them, and Valve didn't stop there. It dominated the last decade and beyond with Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal.
That's not even counting its greater gift to the gaming world: the Source engine that's still powering games (like Titanfall) even into the Xbox One and PS4 generation, despite being being older than the Xbox 360.
Valve undoubtedly needs support from the rest of the games industry for SteamOS to take off (more on that later). But more top games from Valve would no doubt provide the incentive needed for some users to jump on board, thus helping to prove the viability of the system.
2. Turn leadership into every gamer's hero
Sometimes it takes more than great products and service to equal success, but luckily Valve has a lovable figurehead and poster boy in the form of co-founder, CEO and meme star Gabe Newell.
He's also shaped Valve into a unique company where creativity and experimentation is encouraged, an atmosphere that's helped shape Valve into one of the best-loved companies in gaming. With Newell on top, Valve can hardly fail.
3. Make Steam into a juggernaut
When Valve launched Steam gamers hated it - and, granted, the service was much different from what it is today.
It was buggy, intrusive and counterintuitive for PC gamers who were used to doing things their own way. But good things sometimes take time, and Steam has become the go-to for gamers on Windows, Mac and now Linux.
The social features and constant sales already had most players sold, and Valve keeps adding more and more, like Steam Greenlight. Gamers are sold on Steam, and with last week's announcement of SteamOS and the Steam Machines, it looks like it's not going to stop.
4. Build that juggernaut into an OS
It turns out last year's Steam Big Picture was only the beginning of Valve's software and interface experiments, and SteamOS may be the PC gaming platform of the future.
It's the logical step, right? Take the most popular PC gaming hub and marketplace and build an entire operating system around it.
Many of the things we used to use our PCs for are now done on tablets and smartphones, so a PC OS that focuses entirely on gaming and entertainment may be just the thing. Stripping away all the fluff of a typical PC - and freeing up the hardware from unnecessary tasks - could make SteamOS Machines the ultimate gaming PCs.
There's a lot we don't know about SteamOS. How capable will it be when it comes to non-gaming applications? Will it run non-Steam Linux games? In Valve's typical style the company is revealing only exactly as much as it wants to, but SteamOS could still be a recipe for success.
5. Construct hardware dedicated to that OS
And to go along with SteamOS is the evolution of the Steam Box that everyone (us included) couldn't shut up about last year: Steam Machines.
Steam Machines are hardware designed to run SteamOS out of the box. Valve still has its own dedicated Steam Box, which is currently in its prototype phase, but there will also be a wave of Steam Machines from other hardware makers.
Valve calls the Steam Machines "a powerful new category of living room hardware." We've yet to see exactly what form they'll take, but there will be plenty of options.
This is how Valve will get Linux into the living room, and it has to do so before the rest of these steps can follow. The only way that will happen is if SteamOS on Steam Machines and Valve's own Steam Box really is as accessible as a game console right out of the box, but with the openness of PC gaming.
6. Revolutionize controllers
This one's a gamble, but it could ultimately pay off.
We'll be frank: the Steam Controller that Valve unveiled last week after SteamOS and the Steam Machine program is just plain bizarre.
The buttons have all been moved around, and instead of control sticks it's got two feedback-giving trackpads and a touchscreen.
It looks nothing like the controllers we're used to, which could turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing.
Either way, it's definitely too early to tell - but we know Valve has been experimenting with new control schemes for a while, and we imagine they wouldn't have unveiled the Steam Control if there wasn't more to it than meets the eye.
7. Earn support from developers
This is a big one, but Valve really needs to nail down support from game developers for its new platform to take off.
However promising the new world of Steam gaming seems, without all the games that Windows gamers enjoy, it's never going to be successful.
We know Valve has been courting developers for some time, but releasing games on SteamOS won't be simple since the system is based on Linux.
And right now Linux has just a fraction of the games Windows does, despite Valve's claims that it's the future of gaming.
Valve needs to nail developers down, though lucky for the company it has time as Steam Box prototypes aren't shipping yet and other Steam Machines aren't due until 2014.
8. Don't forget what living rooms are for
This may not matter to gamers, but to everyone else who uses the living room it's important that Valve secures support from non-gaming entertainment content providers.
How many people do you know who bought an Xbox 360 for GTA IV or Halo, and these days just use it as a glorified Netflix player? Those people have gotten used to using their game consoles for other purposes, and for Steam Machines to replace consoles in the living room Valve will need to step up the entertainment options significantly.
That holds especially true with the Xbox One and PS4 on the horizon; the next generation of game consoles will be the most entertainment-focused yet.
Valve committed a while ago to releasing non-game items on Steam, and now it's going to have to follow through on that big time to remain successful.
9. Don't stop looking to the future
Valve has proven that it's a company that looks ahead, not behind, and it needs to continue to do so.
Newell has said that Valve is looking to take on the big boys, like Apple - not just Microsoft and Sony - in its battle for dominance. That certainly shows more foresight than your average gaming company.
Most of all, Valve's recent endeavors to develop its own OS and hardware - based on open source Linux, no less - prove that it will keep looking forward. And that's definitely a good thing.
10. Damn it, give us Half-Life 3
That said, we still wish Valve would look back one more time to its most beloved franchise and finally give the world Half-Life 3.
There's not really much else to say about it. We want it, and they know we want it. We like to think it's just a matter of time - though it may turn out to be a long time.
It may be wishful thinking, but does else think Half-Life 3 would be the perfect launch title for SteamOS?