Or it might not be a thing at all. I was asked about the device in a chatroom the other day and I couldn’t actually say for sure whats happening with it but for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the long story.
On November 2nd last year, a Valve employee tweeted that he was working with a ITX-based PC consisting of a Intel quad-core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, a ZOTAC Z68 ITX board with an onboard Nvida graphics card. Yes, that’s exactly the same specification for Dell’s Alienware X51 mini-desktop, if you’re wondering. So, the hardware is there.
But who made that tweet? Greg Coomer, Valve designer. Greg’s in charge of product design and was the guy who came up with the name for the company. He’s been there since the beginning, and is pretty much second-in-command at Valve. He developed software products for Microsoft and user interfaces for Nintendo before working at Valve, and even was even leader on the first game that Valve ever developed (and subsequently cancelled). But nevermind that, its his background and position that you have to pay attention to.
Greg is a user interface designer and is in charge of product design. If anything hardware or software-related to Valve pops up, it goes through his office first. You have Greg to thank for the initial design of Steam, Valve’s online store and game update and authentication service and also for the Razer Hydra motion controller that Valve helped design and improve. In fact, the Hydra is only compatible with Steam-enabled games as of this writing and is one of the few hardware items ever to be produced or co-produced by the company.
Judging by the photo, Valve may be working on a console-like set-to box for gamers to enjoy their service. It makes all the sense in the world, really, coming off the enormous appeal, popularity and success of Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Today its all about the platform, not the hardware and Valve recognises this as much as any company. Gabe Newell himself says that Valve runs as a service-based company, not one that sells and markets products. Like Amazon, Valve’s job is delivering content to consumers.
And recently there was also much ado about the job posting Valve put up on their website for a Hardware designer/Electronic Engineer. Yes, that’s right, someone who can build, design and conceptualise hardware for them to work with. While I don’t think it’ll be anything radical, at the most it should be something like the X51, branded by Valve and ships standard with Windows 7 and a custom Steam interface that takes control of the whole system. And why should we stop there?
More pictures have popped up online showing a controller design that Valve may already be working on. Its actually in a patent pending to the company that shows a possible interchangeable design that would allow you to switch controls and other things to suit the game you’re playing. It looks like an Xbox controller, yes, but thats to be expected – Valve can tell, through their Steam survey, just how many gamers play their games with controllers. Or how many have a similar standard configuration that allows them to play all the games at their medium-to-high settings. They can easily put together a console-like box, sell it for the same price as a medium-spec gaming computer, and be swimming in money in no time.
Its the truth; people love convenience. Why do you think Walmart coins it so big? It simply out-prices or buys out its competitors, puts everything in a single store which is easy to locate, and watches you waddle in and spend all your cash there. Amazon’s Kindle Fire now allows access to ALL the content they provide including movies, books, music, games and so much more. The question isn’t why Valve would enter into the market with a specialised hardware device for their Steam service.
The question should be: why not? And they don’t have to stop there. The Steam service already allows for demos and trailers to be downloaded. Why not offer game soundtracks? Movies? Comic books relating to games, the universe they allow gamers to explore, or simply those already published by Marvel and DC Comics? The comic publishers already complain that less people read their stuff and buy it – this is the perfect way to get around that. Amazon already reports that more people are purchasing from their service thanks to the Fire than ever before. If Valve wants to keep their #1 spot in the hearts and minds of gamers around the world, they’ll have to innovate.
I think we can all agree that they’re better, miles and away, than Origin or Windows Live. They’ve got the right minds behind it, and a huge, absolutely massive fan base. And they have something no other company has: rights to produce, distribute and sell what will be the biggest-selling video game in history: Half-Life 3.
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