Ever since the introduction of Big Picture Mode and the Steam Box rumors, Valve has found a way to stay in the news, despite Gabe's ever-increasing insanity. This week, Valve announced more details on the Steam Box, and we now know that it isn't just one machine - even though we've known that unofficially for a while - and the company also announced the release of SteamOS.
Mr. Newell still believes that Linux is the future, even for gaming, and has now put a lot more eggs into that penguin-shaped basket. Valve has gone full-bore with that notion, with the announcement of SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system that will be meant for bringing PC gaming to living rooms everywhere, with the help of Big Picture Mode. SteamOS will be made available to any person who wants it on their current machine, or to any manufacturer who wants to distribute a computer with the system already pre-loaded onto the hardware. This is, of course, after Gabe said that Windows 8 was a "giant sadness" and that Steam games "could not run on Windows 8."
At any rate, we should expect to see SteamOS in a couple months, as Valve has said that, "beginning in 2014, there will be multiple SteamOS machines to choose from, made by different manufacturers."
Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world. We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.
As of right now, we still don't know what the Steam Box-certified device will look like, or even the exact manufacturers the company has enlisted to help them on the project. However, we do know that Valve is working on their own machine, and have, for once, officially confirmed so. This box, made especially for the SteamOS, will be shipped first to 300 Steam users who have gone over to the Badge section of their Steam profile page and have done the required tasks by October 25th. Some 70,000 users are currently eligible to participate, but not all have entered to win the box.
Prototypes are shipping this year, but still, even after another drawn out announcement of everything, no word on price, specs or performance. At this point we don't even have a picture of anything, so it kind of feels like the PS4 launch.
Also, while everyone is happy about finally having an upgradeable and "open" platform in which to game on, let's not forget about some key facts that are in play here. Most TVs have drastically higher lag times than that of PC monitors and most users leave on settings that cause lag times to rise even higher than 100ms in some cases. I'd be quite surprised if the hardcore gamer that's being targeted takes an early or heavy adoption to this machine, considering that response time is the most hated thing in the gaming world. No amount of "openness" or "ease of changing parts" is going to fix you missing a sniper shot even though you were locked on.
However, the casual gamer with a bit of computer knowledge could see this machine being useful, especially for a family of gamers. Steam has introduced Family Sharing and Family Options, which give a household a broad variety of setups and choices to show games, share games and more, with everyone under the roof. To that same end though, as I reflect back on an excerpt from a previous piece of mine:
Lately, the push has been to get away from having to have a full-fledged computer in the living room. At the very most, consumers were getting by with their laptop, using WiDi (wireless display technology), to connect it to a TV to play their movies or show off some pictures. More and more often, however, we're seeing products being introduced at the International CES that allow that same user to use their smartphone or Xbox 360/PS3 to accomplish the same goal, cable and adapter free. Having to put another piece of hardware in an already crowded entertainment center, in this day in age, just seems like a waste of time and space unless you're a business person. And that's not who this box is for.
This box is for the gamer. Perhaps the hardcore ones would put it in their living room, so long as they own the house or apartment, because we know moms and dads won't let the 12 hour League of Legends session occur in place of primetime TV.
We will have to wait and see until these prototypes ship out to learn about the look and feel. Come the new year, we'll have a better idea on just who will be picking up an open computer with a limited number of games to play on it, and we'll also know just how all of that will be working for them. To me, it just seems like another OUYA.