Valve’s Console Part 3: How They Can Succeed

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So Valve’s Steambox is pretty much happening, though we still don’t know exactly how from a hardware end. We know Valve’s own version will run some kind of Linux-based OS. Now that we generally know their plan, it’s just a question of how they can succeed.

It basically all comes down to communicating the advantages of their platform to the average gamer, both in terms of hardware and software. Their main audience for this initiative is likely the console gamer who’s scared off by the hardware investment PC gaming requires right now. They already have the business of current PC gamers. I think there are two basic things Valve needs to do: 1) Advertise how Steam compares to services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. 2) Advertise how much better the hardware runs games.

I think the easy part is the first one depending on what OS you’re talking about. It’s not talked about much in the console business, but feature-wise Steam has consistently been ahead of the curve in terms of digital distribution and online services in gaming. When new consoles roll around I honestly hope Microsoft and Sony copy Valve’s service.

The way users interact in discussions, game hubs, the workshop, greenlight, dedicated servers, news feeds, and groups, is just way ahead of anything you can do on Xbox and PlayStation. A lot of that stuff just arrived on the service within the last 12 months, so Steam even evolves more quickly than the competition. I’m sure Sony and Microsoft will launch their new consoles with a significantly upgraded PSN and XBL respectively, but Steam is like a moving target.

The other major thing is the games and game prices. Steam’s frequent sales offer far better value on a game-to-game basis compared to any console digital distribution service. It’s the only platform where you’ll see users who’ve bought over 200 digital games (that they haven’t played). Valve needs to find a way to market this, because from what I’ve seen so far their popularity has pretty much been pure word of mouth (a whole lot of word of mouth, but still word of mouth, almost no formal advertising).

The main obstacle in this area is the amount of games available. Valve wants to promote their Linux-based version of Steam which will come in their version of the box. Right now Steam for Linux only includes about 30 games though I imagine that number will go up over the next year. Gabe Newell confirmed at CES that you’ll be able to install Windows on the thing, but that brings back all the complexities of installing PC software that necessitate consoles in the first place.

This is where the third party hardware manufacturers come in. If Valve is right and they actually can get a lot of other companies to build accessible gaming HTPCs, it’s possible many of those could come packed with Windows pre-installed (likely along with Steam).

That brings me to the other step — advertising the hardware advantage while still keeping it accessible. These Steamboxes need to immediately demonstrate that they can run all games with prettier graphics and better framerates than any console. That’s how they’ll justify the (likely) higher prices compared to consoles.

This won’t be just how Xbox games occasionally look better than PlayStation games or whatever. They’ll need to demonstrate that no matter what game you try to run on the Steambox, it will always look and run better than the console version. This will get easier as the next console generation drags on and the consoles stagnate while PC hardware — and likely the Steamboxes, continue to get more powerful.

Basically, Valve and whatever other manufacturers emerge need to get things down to a point where your average gamer can buy the box at a store, plug it into the TV, turn it on, and instantly start playing games on Steam. Who knows, if this takes off I could see all the other PC digital distribution companies trying to jump on board.

BULLETS:

  • Penny Arcade Report makes some good points on the subject too: http://t.co/vaOIZIGm
  • Feels like It’s been a while since I’ve seen Japanese concept art this crazy: http://t.co/xKp98jUc (then again there is the Dark Souls II concept art).
  • The third Witcher game is probably going to be unveiled on February 5th. Let me give you a preview: http://t.co/ptNWE6jC
  • Well, SkiFri is finally in  iOS: http://t.co/3fjvHAUQ
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