The rumours surrounding Valve and the aptly named Steam Box have hit boiling point. It has been common knowledge for quite some time that Valve were looking at ways to bring their popular digital distribution service into living rooms, yet no one expected the publishing giant to release their own console.
If the rumours are in fact true, Valve are poised to tap into a vital market that has been lingering for years. The convergence of PC technology with console gameplay is something that has been missing for years, and with the explosion of support from major and indie developers for PC lately, could be a lucrative sector for the Washington-based company.
To be successful however, Valve will need to tread lightly. Here's 5 features the Steam Box needs to be successful.
Controlled and accessible OS - Obviously the Steam Box will need to be a Windows powered device, however that doesn't stop Valve from creating a controlled and accessible operating system experience. Creating a custom UI for the Steam service is essential to the success of the unit for the average consumer. PC enthusiasts aren't the target market, those using Xbox Live and the PSN need to be able to make the transition seamlessly into the Valve universe.
Creating a UI that is suited not only for gamepad input, but also navigation on a television is imperative to filling the needs of console gamers. This also means that Valve will need to lock down the operating system, making it virtually impossible to "install" random applications or compromise the system in any way.
GFWL & Origin support- Love it or hate it, there are other download services out there, some of which harbour some of the biggest games around. While Steam does support Games for Windows Live at this point, the relationship between Valve and EA's Origin is shaky at best. If the Steam Box is going to be successful, Valve need to work out a content delivery deal with EA so titles such as Battlefield 3 can be made available on the system. Even if this is just an exclusive deal for Steam Box owners, some form of support needs to be added.
Support for multiple control methods - It's the argument that has been raging for years between console and PC gamers - gamepad vs. keyboard and mouse. To keep console enthusiasts happy, Valve needs to provide full gamepad support, whether it be the standard Xbox 360 controller, or their own proprietary controller.
The issue with gamepad controls right now is that not all PC games have support for controllers. In those instances, Valve needs to provide some form of key-mapping that will automatically provide gamepad support on those older titles.
On the flip side of that, full keyboard and mouse support will need to be offered for those who are PC gamers, not to mention those titles that truly benefit from a mouse such as RTS.
Third party application support - If the operating system is locked down to provide a consistent experience, Valve needs to offer some third-party applications to really expand the service. By offering popular services such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and a full web-browser, the Steam Box could become the central hub for all forms of entertainment and information in any household.
Physical media access - Steam is all about digital content, however some people still prefer to have physical copies in their households. For these collectors, along with countries who have less than stellar internet plans (ahem, us), allowing users to install games manually from a disc would be the icing on the cake.
If Valve can provide all of these essential features, plus a few more, they could find themselves dominating an untapped market that has been created by their console competitors, and enterprising game developers. Providing a PC experience with the ease of a console is something that should appeal to even the most hardcore PC enthusiast out there. If the Steam Box is as successful as we all imagine, the face of PC gaming is going to become rather interesting over the next decade.
By Stephen Heller