Steam Machines revealed, but confusion still abounds

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If you’re confused about the new lineup of Steam Machines, which range from $500 to a whopping $6,000, you’re in good company.  As I said before in “The Amazing Valve Strategy” Part One and Two, this is a unique and long-term strategy for keeping PC gaming alive and hedging against the possible failure of the Windows platform, not a “monkey-see, monkey-do” attempt to rival the existing console market.

Here’s some reactions I’ve seen already, with my rebuttals:

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The amazing Valve strategy, part 2

[Here is part 1]

So now we know about Steam Machines and the Steam Controller, both of which are in beta testing phase along with the earlier announced SteamOS.  You’re probably confused, so let me try to explain why this makes perfect sense, and why it’s great.

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The Steam Controller allows for mouse speed and precision, according to Valve and those who’ve tried it

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The amazing Valve strategy, part 1

In my Next-Gen Hopes article, I mentioned that I hoped the “Steam Box” would ultimately be the winner of the next generation of consoles.  Gabe Newell’s ambition to save PC gaming from the blundering greed of Microsoft is much more important than bragging rights in a “console war” that lasts for a few years and then becomes irrelevant.

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SteamOS is a real operating system designed to not only replace your keyboard and mouse with a controller, but do it in a way that looks comfortable at a distance on a big screen.  Here’s why SteamOS is an interesting proposition:

1. As it stands, Steam runs on top of Windows (or Mac, or Linux) which hogs a certain percent of the computer’s power for itself in the background.  But SteamOS wouldn’t run on top of anything, so it uses 100% of the computer’s resources for itself and the games.  This means less waiting for a game to load, less overheating, and more efficiency overall.  Anyone who suffered with Windows Vista knows how big a difference a shitty OS can make when you want to play something.  Of course SteamOS won’t do nearly as many things as Windows does, but why should it?  It’s for games and multimedia, not setting up an office network with a shared printer.

2. Windows has always been an open platform, but Windows 8 is threatening to move toward a “walled garden” system, which is terrible news for PC users.  Right now you or I can create programs for Windows and share them with everybody else, or download stuff freely.  And we take this for granted.  But it seems Microsoft would like to become the one who dictates what is and isn’t acceptable on Windows, which is why SteamOS needs to exist, to be a safe haven for developers who don’t want to bargain with the devil.  100% free.

3. Being designed “for the living room” means the buttons on the screen will be large, simple, and easy to see at a distance.  Steam’s “Big Picture Mode” already does this well, and can be navigated by a gamepad or a traditional mouse/keyboard.  They even have their own on-screen keyboard for typing with a controller, which is… interesting.  The emphasis on “living room” is because people who hook up their PC’s to their TV’s are always squinting and trying to find the cursor, having a super high resolution and tiny interface designed to be seen up close, on a monitor.  It’s about ease of use.  Turn on the system, SteamOS loads up, and suddenly you have access to all your stuff in a clear and cozy display — like a gaming console!

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4. Each and every computer running SteamOS is supposed to be able to relay signals to and from your primary gaming rig without actually doing the heavy lifting itself; which means you’ll be playing your PC in another room, wirelessly.  This is a new phenomenon, but an awesome one; the PS Vita will be able to relay the PS4′s signal as well, with minimal latency problems.  Think of it this way: you hook up a tiny, cheap computer to your TV, install the free SteamOS instead of expensive Windows, and when it boots up, suddenly you can play your entire library of Steam games instantly.  (I assume you’d need to have your PC turned on, with Steam application opened and synchronized.)  And because Steam uses cloud storage, you wouldn’t need to even save your game on the cheap device hooked up to the TV, or transfer saves back and forth between your primary gaming rig.  The more next-gen games get ported to Steam, the more silly the tiny catalog and limited functionality of your PS4 or Xbox One are going to look in comparison.

Hardware is another matter, and I’m sure that will be the subject of the next unveiling, in just a day or two!  I want to see what kind of controller they’ll be creating, and how it will stack up to Sony and Microsoft’s gamepads.  I want to see what kind of super-efficient “Steam Box” consoles their partners will develop, and how they’ll be sold.  I want to know everything!

(For the record, I agree with the theory that the third announcement will be the long-awaited Source 2 Engine, which will be 100% free to use, and automatically compatible with SteamOS.  That would be an awesome way to get big developers to develop for SteamOS, that’s for sure.  Of course it should ship along with Half-Life 3!)

HERE IS PART 2

Next-Gen Hopes

I’ve decided to compile my greatest hopes for the upcoming console war in a handy list.  It may be strangely specific in nature, but these are my hopes, so what do you expect?  Allow me to dream!  Each of my hopes includes a “best case scenario”, for that perfect storm setup…

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(Click here to continue reading!)

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F2P: TF2 money spike

At this year’s very boring GDC, Valve employee Joe Ludwig discussed something a little interesting: how going “Free to Play” with Team Fortress 2 exploded their company’s income.

That’s the graph, showing how revenue quadrupled thanks to the “Mannconomy” in which players craft, trade, and purchase individual items introduced by Valve and/or the community itself.  It was so profitable, he says that Team Fortress 2 would always have been free, if Valve had known how successful the business model would have been. (via IGN)

I’ve done some comparisons between Metal Gear Online and Team Fortress 2 before the “Mannconomy”, and I find it interesting how things have changed since then.  MGO is shutting down its servers in June, while Team Fortress 2 is raking in money by becoming free.  This is how it should be, of course.

 

Gabe Newell contradicts Kojima

In a new interview with Gamasutra, Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson talk about their business strategy — or rather, their complete lack of business strategy, at Valve:

Gabe Newell: … our focus is really much on building something that’s cool, and then we’ll worry about monetization.  So we’re not going to worry about that until later.  Premature monetization is the root of all evil.

The entire 4-page interview is pretty much about how Valve refuses to give its employees titles, responsibilities, and how they generally don’t care about market research, but rather focus on simply recruiting people they want to work with and make stuff they think is cool.  This stands in contrast to what Hideo Kojima said previously about his experience with pitching ideas and creating projects, which was this:

Hideo Kojima:  Right now, it’s very similar to movies: You need a lot of money. So rather than doing what you want, doing what you like, you must have a clear idea of marketing and sales. That’s what’s happening to us with FOX Engine; you do not need be an expert in programming to develop a game, but if you have a question, you still need an expert on-hand to provide an answer.

Isn’t it sad that while Kojima — who already has his own production company — talks about how he needs marketing research and sales pitches, instead of being able to do what he wants, Valve is boasting about their “do-what-you-want” strategy and making millions of dollars of profit as a result?  This is exactly the kind of thing I examined in my Metal Gear Online vs Team Fortress 2 series, which I suggest you take a look at after you’re finished with the Newell interview [here].

I’ll conclude with another choice quote from Valve’s leader:

GN: Well, I think, at the end of the day, the challenge is to find exciting, worthwhile projects for smart people to do.  And then whether you’re doing it as an individual, whether you’re doing it as a small indie developer, or you’re doing it as a larger group, if you can answer that question you’re probably going to be successful.

DOTA 2 makes six Ukrainians millionaires

I used to play Defense of the Ancients when WarCraft III was still burgeoning, leveling up my heroes and mostly trying to figure out what to do next, buying items and playing against a static A.I. instead of other players.  With the release of StarCraft 2′s map editor I heard some strong rumblings from the Blizzard community about whether or not it would be able to handle DOTA maps, but I never knew how popular the map had become while I was gone.  Ever since the name ‘DOTA 2′ surfaced — now belonging to Valve instead of Blizzard! — I have been eagerly following it.

So I’ve been watching The International DOTA 2 Championships with some degree of shock.  How can the grand prize for this thing really be $1,000,000 USD?  I know that ‘eSports’ have been growing over the years, but we’re talking about an closed beta of a sequel to a very old WarCraft map, with no sponsorships.

My hat is off to Valve for putting this together and having the balls to steal everything from the original DOTA right in ActivisionBlizzard’s face; and to the Na’Vi team for becoming absurdly wealthy this weekend.