Valve has launched a brand-new website, teasing the expansion of the "Steam Universe" in 2014. The simple webpage mentions the "living room" and Steam's existing Big Picture mode, so many are assuming that a Steam Box announcement is forthcoming.
"Last year, we shipped a software feature called Big Picture, a user-interface tailored for televisions and gamepads," the site reads. "This year we've been working on even more ways to connect the dots for customers who want Steam in the living-room."
Even more surprising is the page isn't teasing one announcement, it's teasing three.
"As Gabe mentioned a few days ago, we will be talking next week about the steps we're taking to make Steam more accessible on televisions and in the living room. Specifically, we have three announcements to make beginning with the first one on Monday morning," a Valve rep told Kotaku.
Three announcements, what could they be?
The first mention of the name 'Steam Box' was back in March of 2012. The Verge broke the story that Valve's hardware aspirations had become a reality: the company had decided on a hardware spec, with other hardware manufacturers stepping up to build the boxes.
The move would lend the PC markets some of the benefits of the console space, without actually locking consumers to a specific set of hardware. Valve would be the arbiter of those specs; what it decides are the specs for Steam Box 2014 or 2015 are what PC developers will aim for as a baseline. 'Do all of our features work on the current spec of Steam Box?' would be a valid question for developers if Valve stepped up.
But what kind of software would the fabled Steam Box run? Probably a Valve-tweaked variant Linux.
Valve president and founder Gabe Newell has been an outspoken opponent of closed operating systems, especially Microsoft's recent Windows 8, which he said was "a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space" back in mid-2012. At LinuxCon 2013 earlier this week, Newell called Linux and open source the "future of gaming" and mentioned using hardware to bring Linux into the living room.
Is Valve strong and big enough to shift the market away from Windows to Linux? I'm a bit skeptical, but that's because my temporary forays into the world of Linux distros haven't been fruitful. For me, they all had the same problem early Android versions had: there's some promise, but I'd have to spend far too long getting there. Windows remains the largest operating system by far according to Valve's own Steam hardware survey. The biggest Linux distro, Ubuntu 13.04 64-bit, is used by only 0.40 percent of Steam's userbase.
But what if Valve's new Linux-based operating system had a ringer?
People have been waiting for Half-Life 3 - or even Half-Life 2: Episode Three - since the release of Half-Life 2: Episode Two in 2007. The original plan was to have each of the Episodes roughly six to eight months apart, but obviously that hasn't worked out. Since the release of Episode Two, the next Half-Life has become mythic for fans.
The last peep of any new Half-Life is from a month-old Reddit Ask Me Anything involving a user who toured Valve's offices. The user asked the tour guide about game and was told that it's still very early at this point.
"If I told you anything about it you'd just have more questions. We only have elements. Bits and pieces of game. No structure. No story," said the tour guide.
If Valve is being tricky, a new Steam Box-exclusive Half-Life 3 could be a good banner to fly, in the same way Microsoft uses Halo to bring users to its consoles.
Like Google's recent Chromecast device and the upcoming PlayStation Vita TV, Valve could have hardware allowing you to stream Steam's Big Picture mode to a small, cheap device you'd attach to your TV. This would provide a an option for those who already have all the PC hardware at their disposal.
Such a device wouldn't be Valve's focus, but like the Vita TV, it could provide an extra point of entry into the Steam ecosystem.
Something Completely Different
For all we know, Valve could be planning something else that could really up-end the entire gaming industry. The company employs very smart people and lets them do whatever they want within reason. Who knows what they've thought up in the past few years? Valve has already filed patents for a modular controller and has been messing with using biometrics for gameplay for years.
Valve's first announcement next week could be the gaming industry's automobile or the gaming industry's Segway. There are big expectations from PC fans because Valve and Steam have done well for the PC gaming community. Let's hope the company comes through with something amazing. If not, we'll be here to discuss it either way.
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