The fight for the living room console-space has never been so crucial.
With technology slowly shifting to The Cloud, the next consoles need to prove more than ever that they are relevant and worthy of that coveted spot underneath the telly. If they are not built with the future in mind and the ability to adapt easily, they will be left to collect dust next to the GameCubes and Dreamcasts.
However, there will be a new contender next year who is already well aware of the importance of The Cloud. Valve, creators of the most successful digital distribution platform Steam, are quietly working on a console for the living room that could change everything. The ‘Steam Box’, as it is tentatively being called, has been mentioned since 2011 and is aiming to move the PC focused Steam to the living room.
…they will have to compete with a software that has had over 10 years of experience…
The Steam Box could make a huge impact for a number of reasons. Firstly, Steam is an ever evolving, updating software. Originally released in 2003, Steam has had years of experience and has already worked out all of its initial teething problems. When Playstation and Xbox flaunt their new online capabilities (which they no doubt will), they will have to compete with a software that has had over 10 years of experience. Once a consumer buys the box, they may never have to purchase a new console: Steam will just continue to evolve and improve.
Secondly, Valve are known for providing good value for money products. Steam itself is free; consumers only have to purchase the games they want to buy. Steam is also known for ‘Steam Sales’, with games or even whole franchises being sometimes up to 70% cheaper then their normal price for a limited time. There is currently a Steam sale almost every week, including ‘Midweek Madness’ sales and weekend deals. When compared to current Xbox and Playstation downloadable games that remain almost at their full retail price, Steam is a much cheaper alternative. When also compared to Xbox and Playstation’s remarkably high initial console prices, the Steam Box will no doubt undercut both competitors and target a much larger, more financially cautious audience.
…the hardware inside the box will essentially be a PC…
Thirdly, the Steam Box is being advertised as a tinker-friendly console. It is reported that it will not be a ‘locked box’, and users will presumably be free to modify and improve the console if they wish. Gabe Newell, head of Valve, has said that the console will be Linux operated, but users can install and run Windows if they wish. This has two benefits: not only does this attract computer builder hobbyists and consumers who want more control over their consoles, but it also means that the Steam Box can be constantly updated with better hardware as new games demand it. The Steam Box you eventually end up with could be completely different to the console you started with. It also means that consumers are more likely to keep the console for a longer period of time, since they have invested their own hardware into the box.
Fourthly, all games you have previously purchased on Steam should be able to work on your Steam Box. Backwards compatibility has often been a major problem with most console developers. For the Steam Box, however, it is not so much backwards compatibility as it is cross compatibility. Since the hardware inside the box will essentially be a PC, most games that you buy should be able to run on your home computer as well as on the Steam Box. This would also include saved games, since Steam allows users to upload their save games to the Steam Cloud to play on other devices.
…being able to run 8 different games simultaneously across 8 different monitors…
Finally, it is reported that the Steam Box will act as it’s own server, being able to run 8 different games simultaneously across 8 different monitors. This means that users would only need to buy one box to serve the entire household. If Playstation and Xbox don’t support a similar feature (we are in a recession after all), then the Steam Box will be the most financially logical choice for most families.
All of these features could potentially cause problems for Sony and Microsoft if they have not anticipated them in their upcoming console announcements. When the next Playstation is announced on Wednesday, keep in mind the Steam Box’s features. Perhaps Playstation is already too old-fashioned.