For some games mods are the lifeblood that keep them going for many years after their initial release. These mods add in things that the developers either didn’t think to create or simply wouldn’t, elevating the game well past its intended station. Some of these mods even take on a life all of their own with many of the most successful titles of all time being born out of mods, some of them even creating entire new genres as they rose to stardom. These mods were often born out of the free time and relentless dedication of their creators and provided free to gamers worldwide. Last week Valve announced a paid mod program for Skyrim, a natural extension of their other paid content programs, which has not been well received and, honestly, I think the community needs to stop drinking the haterade.
The system is pretty simple: mods that are on the Steam Workshop can now set a price for their mods which users can pay for if they’re so inclined. It’s not a mandatory system, Steam still supports modders who want to peddle their wares through the system for free, however if you want to you can set a price you can. Looking over the mods that have decided to do that most of the prices are what you’d expect to be typical prices for apps or cosmetics in other games (and indeed the most popular items are cosmetics) with a few content mods here or there. Of course this may be due to the program still being early days and the backlash that’s resulted from the announcement but it’s largely inline with what I expected a program like this to generate.
Generally I think this program is a great idea as it gives modders an easy way to monetize their content without resorting to begging for donations or trying to do something inane like streaming them creating mods over Twitch. Indeed it works much the same way as the app ecosystem does on mobile platforms today, with people who want to release a labor of love to the wild world for free doing so using the platform. On the flip side there are those who’d really like to put in a lot of effort but couldn’t justify doing so without some kind of compensation and it’s these people that I think this system was designed to attract. Sure you’ll get the scammers, plagiarizers and other unwanted people attempting to game the system but you get that with anything that relies predominantly on user submitted content so I don’t think that’s an issue worth discussing.
One thing I do disagree with is the rather unfair revenue distribution that the system current has with a whopping 75% of the total revenue going to Valve (30%) and Bethesda (45%). This means that for every dollar that the mod makes the vast majority of that doesn’t end up in the hands of the developer with them taking home a measly 25 cents. I think much of the criticism of this system would be much less severe if the revenue that the creators received was much higher, say in the 70% region that’s typical of most app store purchases, although I’m unsure as to whether Valve and Bethesda would be keen to take such a hit. Realistically for both of them it’s free money (well, for Bethesda anyway, Valve has to provide the infrastructure) so the hit they take would be small compared the goodwill they could win from the community.
The problem I see with most of the outrage is that it assumes that a system like this will inevitably lead to a split among the mod community, one of haves and have nots which is contrary to the ethos that the modding community holds. Sure, it may attract some unscrupulous individuals, but by and large modders are aware of the communities that they’ve helped develop and the last thing they’d want to do is alienate those who’ve made them so popular. Indeed if they did then free alternatives are far more likely to rise out of their ashes, providing the same service that those mods once did without the paywall. On the flip side if a mod is really worth it then I’m sure the community would be more than happy to support a modder in the quest to deliver something of value to the community, rather than them giving up all semblance of decency and going for a cash grab.
Suffice to say I think the program is a good idea from Valve, it just needs a little more tweaking to make it more fair to the modders and more palatable for the community. I know calling for rationality on the Internet is likely to be met with a blazing wall of silence but paid mods aren’t the devils that many would make them out to be and, if they are, then people will simply not pay for them. Those kinds of modders will quickly realise that this is a community that’s not ripe for exploitation and those who’ve served that community for years, for free in most cases, will continue to reap the benefits of the relationships they’ve created. To think that the opportunity to make money on a platform would somehow ruin that relationship is honestly hurtful to those who’ve put their hearts and souls into these mods and the community should be their advocates rather than their critics.
I remember when I was a doe eyed teenager thinking that it would be great to make games (I know better now, of course) if I could only afford the fees to get a good engine. You see back then commercial engines were licensed for inordinate sums of money and the technical hurdle of building your own engine was fraught with danger. Over time though that has changed with old engines being open sourced, new products entering the fray and licensing models shifting to be more palatable to those who might not be able to afford huge upfront costs. Today it seems that free is now the way to go as 3 major platforms have just announced that their engines are free for all who want them, opening up a wealth of possibilities to indies and big development houses alike.
Unity has been the mainstay of many indie games for quite a while now, enabling many to create games that would’ve otherwise been impossible. They’ve also long been sympathetic to the cause, offering free (but often cut down) versions of their engine to anyone who’d ask for them. The difference between the free and paid tier has been eroded completely with both versions containing all the same features and editor. This is a big step for Unity as there was a definite rift between the paid and free versions, something that was abundantly clear to me when I was tinkering around with it. Now the difference between the tiers comes in the form of additional services and can be had for a measly $1500 (which includes a team license) or $75/month if that’s too rich for your blood. Suffice to say that I think Unity is likely to remain the king of indie engines for a long time now as even the pro tier is well within the grasp of aspiring devs.
Not to be outdone by Unity Unreal announced on the same day that their new Unreal 4 engine, which has had some incredibly impressive demos, is now free to any and all comers.The barrier to entry wasn’t particularly high before, they only charged $19 to get access to the engine and all its source, however that’s enough to stop some people from considering it in the first place. Now you’ll be able to get it everything that program gave you for free and you won’t have to pay a dime until you’re able. The limit on revenue isn’t particularly high though, only $3000 per product per quarter, before you have to shell out 5% of gross revenue something which could be a killer for some devs. Still it’s hard to deny what the engine is capable of producing so it might be an easier sell for more established dev houses.
Lastly Valve has swaggered into the picture debuting their new Source 2 engine and announcing that it will also be free to anyone who wants it. It’s been not-so-secretly released as part of the DOTA 2 development tools for the better part of a year now and by all accounts seems like a really capable next-gen engine. Source 2 appears to be the most “free” of the free engines that have debuted in the past couple days with Valve wanting no money up front for the engine nor any backend revenue should you make it big. However there is the caveat that the resulting game be released on Steam which means all sales on there give Valve their 30% cut although you’d incur this same cost regardless of which engine you used if you sold on Steam. Source 2 is then something of a loss-leader for future sales, a clever move by Valve to bring more developers onto their platform (as if there wasn’t enough already).
With this many options available now developers are now spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting an engine for a game, something you really couldn’t say even a few years ago. Whilst I think Unreal will probably be the least likely one to be used out of the current 3 I think there’s going to be some stiff competition between Unity and Source 2 as time goes on. Unity has the head start in this regard as their tools really are top notch for both novice and advanced developers alike but Source 2 has the potential to turn into something amazing based on the community that Valve seems to develop around every one of its products. The real winner in all of this is us, the gaming public, as it means more games will get made and more concepts will be explored.
It’s strange to think that just over 2 years ago that the idea of VR headsets was still something of a gimmick that was unlikely to take off. Then enter the Oculus Rift Kickstarter which managed to grab almost 10 times the funds it asked for and revamped an industry that really hadn’t seen much action since the late 90s. Whilst consumer level units are still a ways off it’s still shaping up to be an industry with robust competition with numerous competitors vying for the top spot. The latest of which comes to us via HTC who’ve partnered with Valve to deliver their Steam VR platform.
Valve partnering with another company for the hardware isn’t surprising as they let go a number of personnel in their hardware section not too long ago although their choice of partner is quite interesting. Most of the other consumer electronics giants have already made a play into the VR game: Samsung with Gear VR, Sony with Project Morpheus and Google with their (admittedly limited) Cardboard. So whilst I wouldn’t say that we’ve been waiting for HTC to release something it’s definitely not unexpected that they’d eventually make a play for this space. The fact that they’ve managed to partner with Valve, who already has major buy in with nearly all PC gamers thanks to Steam, is definitely a win for them and judging by the hardware it seems like Valve is pretty happy with the partnership too.
The HTC/Valve VR headset has been dubbed the Re Vive and looks pretty similar to the prototypes of the Oculus DK2. The specs are pretty interesting with it sporting 2, 1200 x 1080 screens which are capable of a 90hz refresh rate, well above what your standard computer monitor is capable of. The front is also littered with numerous sensors including your standard gyroscopes, accelerometers and a laser position tracker which all combine together to provide head tracking to 1/10th of a degree. There’s also additional Steam VR base stations which can provide full body tracking as well, allowing you to get up and move around in your environment.
There’s also been rumblings of additional “controllers’ that come with the headset although I’ve been unable to find any pictures of them or details on how they work. Supposedly they work to track your hand motions so you can interact with objects within the environment. Taking a wild guess here I think they might be based off something like the MYO as other solutions limit you to small spaces in order to do hand tracking properly whilst the MYO seems to fit more inline with the Re Vive’s idea of full movement tracking within a larger environment. I’ll be interested to see what their actual solution for this is as it has the potential to set Valve and HTC apart from everyone else who’s still yet to come up with a solution.
Suffice to say this piece of HTC kit has seen quite a bit of development work thrown into it, more than I think anyone had expected when this announcement was first made. It’ll be hard to judge the platform before anyone can get their hands on it as with all things VR you really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into until you give it a go. The pressure really is now on to be the first to market a consumer level solution that works seamlessly with games that support VR as all these prototypes and dev kits are great but we’re still lacking that one implementation that really sells the idea. HTC and Valve are well positioned to do that but so is nearly everyone else.
I’m a big lover of Steam. Whilst it had a rather rocky start, something that was exacerbated by the fact that I was still on dial up, since then the platform has managed to make me part with many of my dollars and I have done so gladly. Sure part of this is due to me moving up in the world, no longer being a poor uni student whose only indulgence was his World of Warcraft subscription, however Steam providing titles at a very reasonable price has also led me to spend more than I would have otherwise. So when rumours start to spread that Steam might be bringing things like music, TV shows and movies to the platform you can imagine the excitement I have at that prospect.
There’s been talk of Steam expanding beyond it’s current games and software market for some time now, ever since Valve announced the Steam Music overlay at the beginning of this year. There’s also already a few movies on the platform, like Free to Play and Indie Game: The Movie, and whilst they’re specifically about games it’s not much of a stretch to think that they’d extend the platform further. The only precedent not set so far is for TV shows however it’s not much of a stretch to see the same system working for that kind of content. There’s still a few questions to be answered about the service (When will it debut? How will its costs compare to other services? ) however if Steam can do for what it did for games for movies, TV and music you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be an incredibly positive thing for consumers.
The reason, for me as an Australia at least, is that there’s really no other alternative available to us. I was excited when Dendy Direct was announced, mostly because I’m a fan of their cinemas, however their pricing is nothing short of insane with a single season of a show costing anywhere from $20 to $40. Other services available here are either similarly priced or simply don’t have the catalogue of shows that many of us want to watch. Even if the services available here do have the shows they’re either significantly delayed or released in such a way that’s incongruent to the way they were released overseas, like Netflix original series being released weekly instead of all in one hit.
There’s always the geo-unblocking tools to get us Netflix of course but that’s really only a stopgap to a better solution.
We’re getting closer to a proper solution though as there’s been at least one notable entrant into this field that’s not completely bullshit. AnimeLab, run by Madman (the Australian anime distributor), offers up complete anime series for any and all to watch for free, including ones that are only just being released in Japan. Whilst I’m sure the free ride won’t last forever it does show that there’s demand for such a service in Australia, even within the niche interest area that is anime. I’m hopeful that this will encourage other services to start considering branching out into Australia sooner rather than later as it honestly can’t come fast enough.
I never really had a taste for competitive gaming mostly because my less than stellar Internet connection usually put me at a disadvantage for any game that I played. Even after I remedied that I still found shied away from them, fearing that I’d simply end up losing game after game, never to make any progress. Starcraft II changed that however and I found myself deeply engrossed in ladder play, feverishly battling my way through opponents in the hopes I could make it to the top. That faded over time as my interest turned towards DOTA2 and much to my surprise I’m still horribly addicted to it. This has then evolved into a love for all things about the game including the competitive scene, something which I’d never thought I’d find myself interested in. Of all the tournaments and events that happen over the year none compare to the spectacle that is The International, a DOTA2 tournament hosted by Valve themselves.
I was only tangentially aware of the first 2 Internationals having been a keen DOTA AllStars fan back in the day and one of the many wanting an invite to the beta but was yet to be in possession of one. They made headlines for their gigantic prize pools for a game that was still relatively unknown, a cool $1 million for the first place winner. For pro gamers that’s an incredible amount of money, more than many other tournaments in more established eSports scenes, and is enough to sustain an entire team for a long time. On the surface it appeared to be just another marketing tactic by Valve to get people interested in the game but since its introduction 3 years ago The International has taken on a life of its own, becoming the standard for eSports events across the world.
Last year however Valve did something curious, the released a compendium (an in game item) for $10, $2.50 of which would go directly into the prize pool that would be awarded to the players. The result was incredible, players and supporters of teams alike contributed over $1.2 million to the prize pool which saw The International retake its crown as the largest prize pool eSports tournament. Valve, looking to replicate the success of last year’s tournament, released another compendium for this year’s The International as well with the same price point and contribution levels.
The results speak for themselves: yesterday the prize pool exceeded $6 million and it’s not stopping there.
For fans and players a like this is a great thing as it means that teams that even place in 7th or 8th will likely have enough funds behind them to sustain them throughout the year. Being a pro gamer isn’t as flashy as it sounds and there are some costs that simply can’t be avoided (like flights, not to mention the basics of living). For fans this means a bigger, much more well produced event which judging by last year’s standards will make it nothing short of incredible.
I’m incredibly excited as what this year’s The International will bring as we get to see the top tier talent of DOTA2 duke it out for the biggest prize pool in eSports history. Every year Valve has stepped up their game and this year looks to be no exception with the live floor moving to a much larger arena and the production crew swelling their ranks considerably. As someone who never really understood sports growing up I now know what it feels like for sports fans when grand finals time approaches and I simply can’t wait for it.
My stance on Cloud Gaming is well known and honestly barring some major breakthrough in several technological areas (graphics cards, available bandwidth, etc.) I can’t see it changing any time soon. The idea of local streaming however is something I’m on board with as there have already been numerous proven examples where it can work, a couple of which I’ve actually used myself. So when I heard that Valve was going to enable In Home Streaming as a feature of Steam I was pretty excited as there have been a couple times where I’ve found myself wanting to use games installed on my main PC on other computers in the house. Valve widen the beta last week to include a lot more people and I was lucky enough to snag an invite so I gave In Home Streaming a look over during the Australia Day long weekend.
The setup couldn’t be more simple. At this stage you have to opt into the Steam client beta, requiring you to redownload the client (around 80 MB at the time of writing) and sign into both machines using the same account. Now last time I remember trying to do that I got told I was already logged in somewhere else and thus couldn’t log in but it seems this client version has no such limitations. Once you’re logged into both machines you should be greeted with a list of games available to play that matches your main machine perfectly and, when you go to play them, you’ll have the option to either install it locally or stream it from the other machine.
Clicking on stream will start the game on the other machine its installed on and, should everything go according to plan, it will then appear in another window on the machine you’re streaming to. The first thing you’ll notice though is that the game fully runs on the other machine, including display the graphics and playing sound. This can be somewhat undesirable and whilst it’s easily remedied it shows you what kind of streaming is actually occurring (I.E. DirectX mirroring). Using such technology also places some limitations on what can and cant’ be streamed by simply clicking on the stream button but there are ways around it.
I first tried this on my media PC which is a HP MicroServer that has a Radeon HD6450 1GB installed in it. Now this machine can handle pretty much any kind of content you can throw at it although I have had it struggle with some high bitrate 1080p files. This was somewhat improved by using newer drivers and later builds of VLC so I was pretty confident it could handle a similar stream over the network. Whilst it worked the frame rates were pretty dismal, even in games which weren’t as graphically intense. Considering the primary use case of this would be for underpowered machines to take advantage of the grunt other PCs in the house can provide this was a little disappointing but I decided I’d give it a go on my Zenbook before I passed judgement.
The much better hardware of the Zenbook improved the experience greatly with all the games I tested on it running nigh on perfectly. There were a couple issues to report, namely when the stream broke there didn’t seem to be a way to restart it so I was just left with a black screen and audio playing. The differing resolutions meant that I was playing with a boxed perspective which was a tad annoying and, unfortunately, it appears you’re limited to the resolutions of the box you’re streaming from (I couldn’t run DOTA 2 at 1080p as my monitors are 1680 x 1050). Still the performance was good enough that I could play FPS games on it, although I wasn’t game enough to try an online match.
Overall I’m very impressed with what Valve has delivered with In Home Streaming as it’s pretty much what I expected, bar it being so damn easy to set up and use. Whilst I’m sure they’ll improve the performance over time it does speak volumes to the fact that the end point does matter and that you will have a worse experience on low powered hardware. Still, even then it was usable for my use case (watching in game DOTA 2 replays) and I’m sure that it would be good enough in its current form for a lot of people.
It’s no secret that my preferred gaming platform is the PC and the platform I run on top of that is Microsoft Windows. Whilst OSX and Linux might be gaining more momentum as of late they’re still quite far behind in terms of support from major titles, with the indie scene being the catalyst that’s driving them forward. With the introduction of SteamOS though Valve signalled that they had lost confidence in the Windows platform to deliver the same gaming experience as it had done for decades previously, predominately due to the changes that came in with Windows 8 and the WinRT platform. This is where I and Gabe Newell start to disagree and if the latest numbers are anything to go by so do a good chunk of his customers.
The Steam Hardware Survey is a monthly data collection that Valve does through Steam to give an overview of the current trends in PC gaming. The results are a great insight into what gamers are using to play their games and is a great source of information for developers and pundits alike. The December 2013 results show a trend that even I didn’t think would be possible: a staggering 20% of Steam’s user base is now on Windows 8 or 8.1 64 bit. Compared to wider PC adoption rates this is even more impressive as it’s less than half of that of Steam users. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far to say that these figures should change Gabe’s mind (and indeed I believe he should stay the course with SteamOS) it does call into question the reasoning behind his recent musings about Windows as a gaming platform.
Another interesting titbit of information buried in the survey is that the fastest growing platform by far is Windows 8.1. Whilst it’s arguable that this is likely due to the improvements made in 8.1 (like the return of the start bar and the straight to desktop mode) I think it’s far more likely because this is the first Windows update that’s been made freely available to end users. Indeed it’s kind of hard to avoid upgrading to it as Windows will nag you every so often about it and since the update is completely non-destructive there’s really no barrier to getting the upgrade past a few hours. Still a raw increase of 2.5% of market share in a month is quite impressive and shows that Microsoft has done something right with its release.
I think it’s clear that Windows is still a very viable platform for gaming, even with Microsoft’s big push for things to start going the WinRT way. I’ve always been of the stance that the traditional desktop isn’t going to go anywhere, even in the face of tablets and other touch devices taking a bigger slice of the market that PCs used to occupy, and it seems a good chunk of the gaming community agrees with that idea. I’m sure Microsoft is also keenly aware of how much revenue the gaming community brings to them and how much of that is due to Steam so it’d be very surprising to see them do anything to push them away from the Windows platform.
I’ve been reviewing games for about 4 years now and since I’m not exactly a top tier reviewer I’ve had to employ other tactics to get my reviews in front of other people. Primarily this just used to be via my Twitter and Facebook accounts however after I noticed my reviews getting submitted to other sites (by other people, no less!) I decided to start doing that process myself rather than wait for some unknown individual to do it for me. Primarily I used to just post to N4G and Reddit however after the launch of Steam Communities I started posting my reviews on there, figuring that people who were buying the game would likely sift through there before purchasing. Seems I wasn’t the only one doing this as Valve has decided to formalize the idea in Steam Reviews.
It’s essentially just another part of the Steam Community Hub that every game has (which now includes things like game guides and trading posts) where users can leave and rate reviews for that particular title. If this sounds similar to the recommendations that steam has had for ages you’d be right and this new review system will be replacing it wholesale. All your old recommendations will be upgraded to reviews however which means that it’s somewhat useful right off the bat (although unlikely to have anything negative due to the way the old system worked) and none of the work anyone put in gets lost in the transition.
One of the marked improvements that the Steam platform can give to reviews like this is that users will not be able to review a game they haven’t played. This doesn’t extend to needing to own the game either so if you played a game on a free weekend or got a title shared to you from a friend you’ll be eligible to write a review on the Steam page for it. Whilst this won’t entirely eliminate the bad review train that tends to happen with certain titles it does limit the scope to people who’ve actually had a crack at the game rather than anyone who feels like jumping on a bandwagon.
Currently they’re just worded reviews with no score indicator on them however that’s apparently set to change during the beta. Whilst some will lament their inclusion I still believe that they have some value so long as we, the gaming community, use them appropriately. Since I’ll be actively participating in this open beta (I’ve still got a ton of reviews on my blog that haven’t made their way onto Steam in one way or another) I’ll be submitting feedback to encourage use along those lines so that games can more easily compared against each other, rather than some subjective view of perfection. How this will come about I can not be entirely sure but if anyone can change the way scores are used in the wider gaming world its Valve and Steam is the platform to do it.
Whether this will translate into more exposure for small time reviewers like myself will be something of interest as whilst I’ve had a few people come to read my review from Steam it pales in comparison to other platforms. Steam Reviews could change that as they’ll be given a prominent location in the Community Hub rather than being lost in the wash of the general discussion forum. That’s really a side benefit for people like me however as the real value here will be from getting a much better view of what the gaming community thinks of a title, hopefully free from much of the bandwagoning that’s made Metacritic what it is today.
I was never particularly good at RTS games, mostly because I never dug deep into the mechanics or got involved in higher level strategies that would have enabled me to progress my sills. However I found a lot of joy in the custom maps that many RTS games had and this was especially so for WarCraft 3. Inbetween my bouts of Elemental Tower Defense, Footman Frenzy and X Hero Siege I inevitably came across Defense of the Ancients and like many others became hooked on it. Whilst I still favoured the less directly competitive maps, much preferring the spam fest that other customs offered, the original laid the foundation for my current obsession with DOTA2 a game which has claimed almost 1400 hours of my life so far.
However DOTA2 wasn’t my first reintroduction into the MOBA scene, that honour goes to Heroes of Newerth which I was somewhat intrigued by whilst it was still in beta. I had a small cadre of friends who liked to play it as well but for some reason it just wasn’t enough to keep us interested and eventually fell by the wayside. The same crew and I had tried League of Legends as well but the experience was just too far away from the DOTA we knew and after a couple games our attention was turned elsewhere. If I’m honest though we were mostly excited to hear about Blizzard’s own version of the MOBA genre as that was one of the reasons that WarCraft 3 DOTA was so enjoyable: it had many of the characters we knew and loved.
It was looking like Blizzard DOTA and DOTA2 were going to launch around similar times and indeed once Valve officially announced DOTA2, with the original map maker IceFrog at the helm, news of the work on Blizzard DOTA went silent. Whilst this was partially due to the court battle that Blizzard and Valve became embroiled in afterwards there was little doubt among the community that Blizzard’s original vision for their MOBA title was going to clash heavily with that of Valve and the work we had seen up until that date was to be scrapped. What was less clear however was what they were working on instead as whilst no one doubts the calibre of Blizzard’s work they were going up against 3 already highly polished products, all of which had dedicated communities behind them.
Well it seems that Blizzard has done something completely out of left field, and it looks awesome.
Heroes of the Storm is the final name of Blizzard’s entrance into the MOBA genre (although they’re hesitating to use that term currently) and whilst it shares some base characteristics with other titles it’s really something out of left field. For starters the typical game is slated to last only 20 minutes, something which is a downright rarity in any other MOBA title. Additionally some of the signature mechanics, like individual hero levels and items, don’t exist in the Heroes of the Storm world. It also has different maps, various mechanics for helping a team achieve victory and a talent tree system for heroes that’s unlike any other MOBA I’ve played before. The differences are so vast that I’d recommend you take a look at this post on Wowhead as it goes into the real nitty gritty of what makes it so unique.
From what I’ve seen it looks like Blizzard is aiming Heroes of the Storm primarily at people who aren’t currently MOBA players as it seems like the barrier to entry on this is quite low. Traditionally this is what has turned people off playing such titles as the learning curve is quite steep and quite frankly the communities have never been too welcoming to newer players. Heroes of the Storm on the other hand could be played 3 times in the space of an hour allowing new players to get up to speed much more quickly. At the same time though I think it will appeal to current MOBA players seeking a different experience, whether they’re feeling burn out on their title of choice or just want something different every once in a while.
I’m quite keen to get my hands on it (I’ve signed up for the beta, here) as I think it’ll be quite a bit of fun, especially with my current group of friends who’ve all taken to DOTA2 with fervour. It’s great to hear that it’s going to be a stand alone title rather than a map within StarCraft 2 and I think that will give Blizzard a lot of freedom with developing the idea in the future. Whether or not it can have the same longevity through a competitive scene like all MOBA titles before it thought will remain to be seen but I get the feeling it’ll be something of a LAN favourite for a while to come.
Valve spent all last week teasing the greater Internet community about how the Steam Universe was going to be seeing some massive expansion in the coming year. The first announcement, SteamOS, set the tone for the rest that followed them even though many a Valve fanboy hoped that the last announcement would be Half Life 3 (although honestly they do that with any announcement from Valve). Whilst it’s been known that Valve wanted to make an attempt on the living room for some time now, as Big Picture mode demonstrated, these last 3 announcements form the basis of their first dedicated attempt to bring PC gaming into the world that consoles have dominated for decades.
And the crazy thing is it might just work.
PCs were the dominant platform for quite a long time, indeed those of us who grew up with games during the 80s and 90s would have had it as their platform of choice. Many of us would have had consoles as well however but the best games that we played would always be found on a PC. Over time the convenience of consoles started to attract more and more people to gaming and this snowballed to the point where the vast majority of gamers now get their experiences through a console of some type. However to many of us there is still nothing better than a PC for gaming and with the time frames between console generations getting longer and longer the PC has seen something of a resurgence of late, especially with distribution platforms like Steam backing it.
However the primary interface for a PC, the mouse and keyboard, isn’t exactly conducive to the living room environment. Most of us PC gamers have been at a LAN where we were confined to a couch or attempting to play games on our big TVs just for the fun of it only to find that the experience is sub-par when using traditional PC input methods. However whilst you can get around this with a controller there are genres of games where a mouse and keyboard are required (any RTS and, personally FPS). The Steam Controller seems to be an attempt to bridge these two worlds together and I can see some situations where it would work however there are others where it will still struggle. I’ll reserve final judgement until I have one in my hands but suffice to say that I feel that RTS style (like DOTA2) games will struggle with it.
What I’m particularly interested to see is what kind of hardware Valve will make available as part of their Steam Machine platform. Traditionally PCs required fairly regular refreshes in order to play the latest games (I do mine every 3 years at the latest) although that has been stymied somewhat by the consolization of games. The specifications of their hardware will determine where the line is drawn between games that have a great experience and ones that don’t as whilst it’d be great to run Crysis 3 at 1080p @ 60fps the hardware required to do so would push the cost of a potential Steam Machine far beyond that of a traditional console. In short if Valve is trying to compete with consoles they’re going to have do it in the same price range and that will put an upper limit on its capabilities.
The sum total of all these different parts is a clear strategy from Valve to increase the PC platform’s market share and, consequently, grow Steam’s potential market. It’s a smart move as they’ve effectively dominated the PC as a platform and the next logical step is to grow it further. This can only be done through cannibalizing gamers from other platforms and the best way to do this is to bring Steam to them rather than try to convince them to switch to PCs. Whether that value proposition works for current console gamers is something I’m not completely sure of however if anyone can convince them to come across it’s Valve.