I don’t know if I should actually talk about this until Valve reveals what they’re actually doing, since you’ll probably be reading this as GDC is starting, but I guess there’s no harm in some late speculation. If you haven’t heard yet, Valve is doing… something hardware-related.
Some have taken it to mean that they are launching a console, but what it sounds more like is that they are trying to define a standard set of specifications for PC manufacturers to make gaming systems that resemble consoles. The reason it’s so confusing is because it might end up blurring the lines between PC and console gaming. If this is what I’m thinking, they’re trying to get the best of both worlds.
The rumor is that this “spec” would include a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and some kind of Nvidia card – powerful enough to pound current consoles into the ground depending on the video card (and maybe even outpace the next Xbox), and would be manufactured by many companies like Dell or HP. In fact, the Alienware X51 – a gaming computer that looks like a console with specs already in line with the above, is rumored to have originally been a part of this plan. The consumer would buy a box from a PC company, hook it up to their television, and instantly be able to install PC games from Steam, Origin, or any other PC games vendor.
What this looks like is basically a high-powered console that runs Windows, and by extension every PC game ever made.
On the game development side, this would likely mean having the community agree to develop games to at least run at the established spec. That sounds like console development, but I personally imagine they would be free to offer benefits for more powerful systems, and that some hardware manufacturers would even eventually build their own more powerful versions of the machine, maybe even in tiers.
It makes sense for Valve really – they’ve already consolized PC gaming from a software end with Steam. They’ve made buying, installing, and socializing with PC games nearly as easy as on Xbox and PlayStation, if not easier in some ways. Why not try to achieve the same thing from the hardware end?
I could definitely see something like this running Windows 8’s Metro interface and by extension, really being a Windows set top box, which is probably one of Microsoft’s objectives right now. I myself have planned to buy or build a home theater PC for a while now, and this could be a very easy way to get that.
The question is: can they really do it? Can they make the hardware side of PC gaming accessible enough to attract the mainstream audience? Can they get these boxes down to a price low enough to where Joe Six Pack thinks it’s worth the better graphics and extra software options compared to an Xbox?
The other big question is: who is the primary market for this? Could they start convincing console gamers to step into PC gaming with something like this? Hardcore PC gamers who already build their own systems probably won’t need it. The prime target from what we know now seems to be people on the fence who are interested in PC gaming but also intimidated by its costs and complexities. That’s just the tip of what we don’t know – if all this is even real to begin with. What companies would start building their own models? Would any of them even have disc drives?
The reason I’m so interested in this is because if it takes off, it could create a whole new class of computer. Apple jumpstarted smartphones (in America) and tablets by creating something with computer-like functionality but far greater ease-of-use. The living room market however is still unconquered: you have smart TVs coming along, you have the Apple TV which doesn’t even have the app store yet, you have Microsoft making the Xbox into more of an app machine, and now you might have Valve trying to popularize some kind of set-top-box PC. If something like that became successful it would open up the existing PC games market to a lot more people.
- One kickstarter program that I really hope takes off is from a new startup called Serellan LLC. They’re trying to bring back the hardcore tactical shooter. The main guy involved has worked on Halo Reach and most of the Ghost Recon games.
- On top of Xenoblade and the Xbox version of The Witcher 2, another RPG has been confirmed for April – the PC version of Legend of Grimlock.
- I’m now officially interested in Killscreen Magazine since it started up a digital edition.