Steam-Powered, Larger Engine
While Microsoft has been figuring out its future with gamers – having recently announced the end of Games for Windows and still trying to find game devs to evangelize Windows 8, today, Valve Software – the company behind cloud-based game and software marketplace Steam – made a major announcement: They will be releasing their own Linux-based operating system, simply named SteamOS.
In plainspeak, what this means is that you will be able to access your Steam content through a lot more devices (though not much is mentioned in way of target devices at present). The heft of Valve’s digital distribution network, their relationship with gamers and developers alike, the entrenchment by consumers who have already invested heavily in their gaming catalogs within the Steam marketplace and the sheer volume of games they have on offer are factors that make this a highly tenable proposition.
Is That Steam Coming From Your TV?
You already have Steam and a ton of games? You’re off to a great start. Big Picture was a well received intermediary addition that allowed the Steam UI to expand out and interact with your XBOX-style gamepad from your couch (a warning shot across the bow of the console makers). Fire up SteamOS on your PC or Mac, and you’ll have the ability to broadcast across your home network directly to your TV set. Speaking of which…
I Want my MTV
Valve is currently working to bring popular media sharing services to their new OS. What services exactly? Well…Valve hasn’t actually specified any, but we’re confident they’ll include some of the big players. It is interesting to see how the experiment with selling movies like Indie Game: The Movie played out, for example – months after it was first released on the cloud-based gamefront, a premium addition became available with bonus features and exclusives for Steam members. Of course this means that movies could feasibly offer achievements and trading cards, just like games do.
While Microsoft has its own method for handling interactive streaming media with its forthcoming XBone console, (overlaying interactive options to an HDMI input pipe) Steam could feasibly add any number of interesting gamification options to movies or television. Of course this is just us daydreaming for now…
Better Graphics, Less Latency
With Linux running the show, Valve is claiming that they’ve made “significant performance increases in graphics processing…” They also state that they are zeroing in on zero latency (Or near enough. Why not try to reach Warp 10? We’ll be satisfied with closer to zero lag).
A Cooperating System?
To be honest, we’re not entirely sure what to make of this bit. Valve’s take is this:
Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want. Gamers are empowered to join in the creation of the games they love. SteamOS will continue to evolve, but will remain an environment designed to foster these kinds of innovation.
When I hold this up against my own experiences, I think of user-created content in games like LittleBigPlanet, or the community exchange of mods in games like Skyrim. Is Valve hinting at a more streamlined method to accommodate such interactions? Time will surely tell.
The Family that Games Together
In recent weeks, Valve announced the Steam Family Sharing program beta, basically seeking to tear into one of the benefits of physical media: Buy a game on disk, and anyone in your house can use it. Buy a digital copy, and it’s tethered to your online account…no sharing! The beta lifts some of those restrictions by allowing you to share your online library with up to 10 family members or close friends. It seems like too juicy a plum to leave out of the SteamOS, and fortunately, it seems that Valve agrees.
Because no one should have to explain his collection of manga dating sims to his wife, SteamOS will allow you to customize the content that each family member or friend will be able to access.
Whew, It’s Getting Steamy in Here
While we wait eagerly for Valve to further clarify this latest news, we can still safely say that this has “game changer” stamped all over it. Valve has generally intimated that they aren’t working in the direction of a distinct console machine, but rather envision licensing to systems built by third parties. That sounds similar to Microsoft’s relationship (and importance) to companies like ASUS, Acer and HP. But what about the other opportunities, like getting the SteamOS on tablet devices and into some Second Screen activities? the imagination begins to fire on many cylinders as to the possibilities.
All told, what is on offer is a platform-agnostic, fully cloud-based, gamified, highly trafficked, fully community and mod-supporting free operating system that can handle home-network based multicasting of games, media and software. Oh and Minecraft’s Notch gives it the thumbs up, so Valve must be onto something…but we do kinda wish they had gone with the name “GLadOS” instead.
Expect some of the fog to clear this Wednesday as Valve unleashes its next whopper of an announcement. That’s right, folks: this was just the teaser. We’ll report more as it becomes available.
with additional contributions by Indie-Game-Freak