I’m finding it difficult to muster any excitement over the future offerings from the big three home console contenders. What little details there are about the next Xbox and the Playstation 4 don’t do anything for me. When Nintendo announced the Wii U, I honestly tried to find something to get excited about, but the company had already burned me with the Wii. It wasn’t until Valve’s announcement of the Steam Box that the future of video games started showing potential. If Valve can deliver on their promises, this machine will change the industry by creating a unified, standard platform that supports freedom of choice and independent developers.
I was raised a PC gamer but fell out of favor with the platform when consoles proved to be the simpler platform. Consoles are great, because they keep my work and play lives separate. I also know that a game marked as compatible with any given console will boot in seconds and work without a hitch. No lengthy installation, no driver issues, just instant gratification. The Steam Box will potentially bring PC gaming to this same level of convenience. Already, Steam has greatly simplified PC gaming, so much so that I find it too much of a bother to install and play games that aren’t on Steam. The Steam Box will bring this same convenience with the added benefit of being a dedicated gaming machine. System startup will be quick, and you’ll have instant access to your collection.
This differs from traditional consoles, because you won’t be locked into one device. If you don’t like the Steam Box hardware, you can always build your own. When you buy a Steam game, you’ll be buying it for your home office, your living room, and anywhere else you can install Steam. This could end console wars outright. Why fight over specs of closed platforms when a Steam Box could have whatever configuration you can afford? The official Steam Box would simply offer a benchmark. Your console could be more or less powerful depending on your budget.
As a Linux convert, I’m especially excited about Valve’s decision to use an open source kernel. This will impact the Linux community greatly. Once the Steam Box is available, companies will make games for the platform for the same reason they make games for Xbox and PS3. A game built for the Steam Box is a game built for Linux. This will lead to ATI and Nvidia finally taking the operating system seriously and improving their graphics card drivers. As the game library grows on Linux, how many users will abandon Windows completely? I currently dual boot Windows and Linux Mint, and I only use Windows for games. When I no longer have to do that, it’s bye bye Microsoft.
Perhaps the number one reason I am excited for the Steam Box is that Valve is good to independent developers. Blockbuster games started looking, sounding, and playing the same years ago. The indie scene is where all of the really interesting things are happening. I can’t wait to have a console that celebrates independent games rather than hides them.
I’m trying to keep my expectations in check as I eagerly await more news on the Steam Box, but I can’t help but feel like we’re on the cusp of a complete paradigm shift in gaming. The future of gaming looks mighty fine.