Valve has been instrumental in the game distribution industry, adoption of online availability of titles and lack of a physical media has made the company even more popular. Yet today Chief Executive of Valve and creator of the online gaming service Steam, Gabe Newell, announced that their highly anticipated ‘Steam Box’ will be unveiled to developers within 4 months.
Valve, founded by Gabe Newell an Ex Microsoft employee in 1996, has become extremely popular amongst online gaming communities. Their service Steam allows users to download titles instantly to a computer without a disc, more often than not at a discounted price, whilst also offering simultaneous social features and multiplayer functionality. Since December 2010 Steam has had over 1860 titles available for download and Steam now is estimated at controlling 50 – 70% of the digital distribution of video games. Steam was born after Valve decided it wanted to be able to release updates for its online game Counter-Strike and allow for new functionality. Originally approaching the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo, the idea was turned down. Steam now successfully promotes a variety of third party and in-house content, again it offers a wide variety of MOD’s available to consumers to customise their gaming experience.
Valves popularity recently with Steam has led it to become a force to be reckoned with in the video game industry. Currently main stream consoles manufacturers such as Sony’s Playstation and Microsofts XBOX only offer limited ‘on demand’ content and at undesirable costs. Steam’s user base now exceeds 50 million, the Steam Box would be Valves first approach into the hardware development and would makr a milestone for gaming. The Steam Box would take advantage of Valve’s vast game libary and harness the new Unreal Engine to “challenge” graphic output. Chief Executive Gabe Newell described at a BAFTA award ceremony that the living room would be the new battle arena for games developers, currently only offering content to the PC and Mac has limited their user base, so this tactic maybe seen as an effort to broaden their spectrum.
“Your average gamer has a good idea of what it’d be like. It sort of has the openness and flexibility of PC, yet done in a way that makes it make sense in the living room.”
Steam’s dominance through the PC has made them a giant in digital distribution. The Steam Box is still relatively new – no official confirmations have been made – yet will Steam’s apparent and genetic reliance on the internet to distribute content be their downfall in the living room? I for one still prefer a physical disk when playing my games – although in the long run downloading a title would be quicker, the fact is I can’t be ensured super fast internet all the time – and I would not be happy waiting 48 hours for the latest game to download. Microsoft has again trialled with ‘on demand’ content and has seen little progress, the same for Sony. This could be the fact that both Xbox and Playstation games are still mainly released first on disk and are later available online – but I doubt that every hardcore gamer would be patient enough to wait to kill the latest set of zombies. Valve will face harsh criticism from the industry, their content is not a problem but marketing and pricing may be the decider. For Valve to overtake the major 3 (Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft) they will need a unique selling point to their console. Mr Newell has mentioned the possibility of new methods of play such as “heart rate” monitoring to provide an in-depth experience. Problems with copyright may also blight the Steam Box, currently Microsoft operates a strict access control on downloadable content, which is very unpopular. Steam may have to find a safe mid-ground to please consumers and copyright holders. But the company will need to focus and ensure that content and users first have the infrastructure to access the titles on show. Pricing will inevitably decided towards the end of the development – but current rumours suggest a possible ‘low end’ pricing to under cut the competition. Steams battle has only just begun, their development of the Steam Box will determine their future and their reputation of Valve – digital distribution of content will constantly face issues, Steam will do well to avoid these scenarios and prevent a major backlash. The Steam Box will be a device targeted at the average user, with an average price, so lets hope the rumours are true and the average user does in deed benefit.