The Steam Controller Has Singlehandedly Changed My PC

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When it comes to gaming, Christmas in my childhood was usually associated with getting new consoles. While nothing like that happened for me this year, I was finally able to buy a Steam Controller, and to be honest this this thing has completed a feeling similar to getting a new console, one I think I’ve been working towards for a while.

When new gaming hardware comes out and the manufacturer has properly read the market, the result is something that truly feels like the next level — that really defines “next-gen.” The broad customer base of the gaming industry generally agrees each time this happens too. I think that consensus today is a bit more fragmented, but for me at least the Steam controller may be the final piece, or at least the most important piece, in the transformations Valve has been bringing to gaming. It’s not even really just about gaming. The Steam Controller feels like it’s already changed my whole relationship with my PC.

What I’ve noticed looking back is that the most popular game console of each era also tends to be the one that sets new expectations in everyone for what video games are for the time being. It’s not necessarily the new platform that innovates the most, but the one that brings the innovations the market actually accepts. Nintendo always strives to be that “leader,” even to a fault some might say. The original PlayStation steered the perception of home video games from being toys on cartridges towards being audiovisual blockbusters printed on optical media. The Xbox 360 changed the perception of consoles and games away from being static machines and static media towards being fluid operating systems with software that change and update. I’d say that since 2007 and 2008 we’ve seen other changes happening, but from more than one source now, and different segments of the market are accepting them.

You can’t really say Valve created the idea of games being software you install on hardware-agnostic operating systems. That’s been a facet of operating personal computers for decades, but what Valve has done is repackaged that idea into something resembling the friendliness of a console more and more with each passing year. It’s reached a point where using Steam has made me think of the idea of using consoles as “the past,” the way Xbox 360 owners in 2006 probably saw the way PlayStation did things as “the past.” I’m not being anti-console with what I’m saying, I’m just saying my own preferences have shifted, and today’s game industry is so fragmented that the legions of people buying PS4s will inevitably disagree with me.

From the opposite end of the spectrum a lot of people probably see mobile gaming as the new main stage of the industry. Apple and Google have transformed the idea of video games into being software you install on hardware-agnostic operating systems… that run on the mobile phone you need anyway instead of the specialty console you only might want. Free-to-play is part of that stage shift that happened on both mobile and PC. Maybe I’m just pointing out how gaming devices in general are becoming, basically, computers.

Where the Steam Controller fits into this for me is that connecting it has instantly brought my entire computer closer to feeling like a console. Not just playing PC games either. I haven’t played enough games yet to actually figure out how this thing compares to a controller or a keyboard. What I can say though is with the Steam Controller I can use a web browser, manage my files, and even edit images almost exactly how I would using a regular mouse. Now I can just do it more comfortably in a living room setting. I can do anything I’d normally do on a PC — except type — in a way that feels like operating a console, yet I lose virtually none of the versatility of a PC. It’s possibly the biggest puzzle-piece of what Valve has been doing these past several years — consolizing the PC without actually giving up the advantages of using a PC.

Mind you this is coming from someone who already has a PC hooked up to a TV. Doing so introduces the question of how to rig up a comfortable interface, which I talked about in a previous post. I never really settled on a perfect couch mouse & keyboard combo, but I always speculated the Steam controller could be a huge step forward, and it is.

The entire picture isn’t complete yet, Steam machines might be one of the final pieces, and I feel like it’ll take another few years before the market might look back and begin to accept them. If and when that day comes though, I think a lot of consumers might look at the complete image as something new and desirable — a console without the traditional restrictions of consoles.

BULLETS:

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