How Valve’s SteamOS Can Save Console Gaming

Screenshot of How Valve’s SteamOS Can Save Console Gaming

While I started out as a PC gamer, I’ve been primarily a console gamer since the SNES. It’s simply more convenient to play games on a television and know that whatever I plug in to my system is going to work. After surviving multiple console life cycles, my love affair with consoles has lost some of its luster. Steam has gradually pulled me back into the PC fold by offering a platform that greatly simplified game installation and digital rights management, but playing games on a TV proved to be rather clunky, so my PC gaming has been limited to an uncomfortable home office. With the introduction of SteamOS, I can safely say that I’ll be strictly a PC gamer for this next generation.

SteamOS will potentially provide the same level of convenience that console games have mastered for years, while retaining the freedom and flexibility of PC gaming. Freedom is the key theme of Valve’s new direction. The open operating system allows any manufacturer to build their own Steambox. Hell, consumers can even build their own Steambox. As someone who has been building PC’s for years, this is very exciting. I have a secondary tower that inherits the parts that get replaced in my primary computer. It’s the perfect candidate for SteamOS. What’s especially exciting about this is the ability to stream games from another system. You can have a tricked out desktop computer in one room that streams to a lower end media center in the living room.

Like a desktop computer, you can swap out parts in a homemade Steambox when you need a little more power. This essentially ends console generations. PC games are generally built with scalability in mind. You can still run new games on fairly old systems, they just won’t look as pretty. Because of this, you get to decide when and how to upgrade your system. You aren’t forced to use whatever hardware Valve gives you.

Which leads me to my next point. With SteamOS, you won’t be locked into a single input device. If you don’t like Valve’s controller then don’t use it. You’re free to use a mouse and keyboard, an Xbox 360 controller, or whatever else you feel most comfortable with. This is very exciting for a console gamer. I tried to love the Playstation 2 and Playstation 3, but I could never get used to the horrible controller. With a Steambox, you wouldn’t have to settle for bad peripherals.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Steam is the ability to play your games on any platform. A game built for SteamOS is automatically Linux compatible. It’s also likely that developers would port their games to Mac OS and Windows as well, so your collection isn’t restricted to one machine. Buying a game once unlocks it on any system that can run Steam. That’s an incredible value that console manufacturers simply cannot touch.

When Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft showed off their respective consoles, I was rather dismayed. I just didn’t care about them. I was struck by the realization that my Xbox 360 soon wouldn’t see much support and I’d eventually lose my games when I got tired of storing an additional system and sold it for peanuts on Ebay. What I find most alluring about Steam is the timelessness of your game library. Because the games aren’t tied to a specific piece of hardware, you always have access to them. Always and forever. Well, at least until Valve tanks, but that doesn’t seem likely.

  • Gabriel


  • Axe99

    A couple of points:

    - Games aren’t tied to a specific piece of hardware, but they are tied to specific OS’ – the vast majority of my current Steam library won’t run on SteamOS, other parts won’t run on Windows 8, some won’t run on Windows 7. Some won’t run on Windows 8 without tracking down and installing a particular doo-whacky. It’s still not simple, and by having the flexibility to alter hardware, it’s highly likely the Steam Machine will continue to have the driver compatibility issues that have always made PC gaming less accessible.

    - Consoles hardly need saving – pre-orders for next-gen are the best on record for both Sony and Microsoft, and interest is off the charts. Recently, a market analytics firm (IDC) predicted that PSN, XBL and eShop spend would exceed digital PC sales in the next year or two. Given that retail is still the lions share of revenue on console, but digital is on PC, that prediction, by people that have access to more data than the general public, says a lot about the relative size of the two markets. PC might shout loud on the internet, but from a revenue perspective it’s still the little brother to console gaming.

    - While PC is smaller, it’s in no danger of dying either. It servers a different audience to console gaming. PC gaming is for gamers that prefer to tinker with their own machines, focus on high framerates or prefer particular genres (eg, strategy and MMOs). Console gaming favours gamers who are more focussed on the actual game than the hardware, and is stronger for first and third-person games, RPGs and sports/racing titles. These strengths and weaknesses aren’t likely to change anytime soon, even with the introduction of SteamOS. Of course, for gamers that like a bit of everything, I’d recommend a PC and a console, which is the setup I run with, and have for decades.

  • JR

    The thing to keep in mind is that this is an opinion piece. I realize now that the title is wrong and most people aren’t even reading the content of the article because of it. It should evidently be more explicit like “How SteamOS can save [my personal interest in] console gaming [IMHO]“. It’s true that neither market is dying or in need of saving. But as I outlined in the article, console gaming has problems. It’s stale. It’s tiresome. It’s limited. Games are indeed tied to a piece of hardware. Okay for the sake of argument lets say operating system instead. But Xbox 360 OS can only be run on Xbox 360. Same goes for PS3 OS, Wii OS, etc.

    What SteamOS stands to do is converge the PC and console market. It will allow you to tinker with the hardware if you want, or you can buy a pre-built system and not worry about drivers and such.

  • Luieburger

    As someone who hates controllers, and plays exclusively with mouse and keyboard with joystick for flight sims, I can’t wait to try the new Steam Controller. I don’t believe it will be better than Mouse and Keyboard, but if it allows me to play Civilization 5 with my friends while I lay in bed or sit at a couch, that would be awesome. Right now, regular controllers are just too clunky and slow. I’m cautiously optimistic that Valve might have created a controller that I can actually use.

  • Axe99

    Haha, aye, I would have responded very differently if you’d titled it that way, but the title does set the context for the piece. I did read it, and was responding to some of the general contentions that were raised in it, but your title clearly made the assertion that consoles were in trouble, which is a pretty brave statement to make in the current context (sure, if in a year’s time the PS4 and XB1 have fizzled, go for your life ;)).

    Other issues with your point were the idea that you were stuck with using the default controller. There are tens of different controllers you can get for the 360 or PS3 (or PS2, although they might be a little harder to track down these days). Third party controllers were plentiful (including 360-alike controllers for PS3, and PS3-alike controllers for 360, for people that can’t use both types at the same time, but would like to use both consoles). I haven’t looked, but I suspect there are a similar number of different gamepads available for the consoles as there are for PC. Ie, you don’t have to settle for bad peripherals wherever you game ;). The biggest difference, and the one that really defines the two machines from a gameplay perspective, is that mouse/kb is (pretty much) guaranteed supported on PC, and gamepad is (pretty much, motion stuff aside) guaranteed on console.

    On the by, I’m not sure where you get the idea of console gaming being stale and tiresome – it may not be your thing, but that’s a different thing altogether. Outside of my key strategy faves (Civ, EU, Vicky 2 and a couple of others) I find the most entertaining and engaging experiences on either multiplats or (generally Playstation) exclusives. There’s nothing like LittleBigPlanet, The Last of Us, Starhawk, SOCOM:Confrontation or even Flower on PC, and these are games that have defined this generation for me. Maybe one of your issues was running with the 360 as your main console (I had a 360 as well, but its exclusives were no-where near as innovative, even while they were fun and polished)?

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly valid opinion. I’m just not sure it’s built on the strongest of foundations from a fact perspective. Definitely nothing wrong with preferring to go all-PC from a gaming perspective though, you should do what you enjoy, plain and simple :).

  • JR

    You are right, of course, on all fronts.

    My problem with alternative controllers for consoles is that they are often not of the best quality, and there’s always a concern that a system update can screw with the compatibility.

    When I say consoles are stale, I’m referring more to the OS/hardware. It’s essentially the same closed system from generation to generation. The main difference being that you often lose access to all or part of your previous game collection. Innovation in games can and does happen on all platforms (though I admit PS3 did have better exclusives).

    At the end of the day, I’m just happy people are playing games, regardless of the platform.

  • PcRules

    Well put as this is definetly the last nail in the coffin for MS/SONY.
    It wont be any more shitty consoles soon and crappy OS like Win8 to use for gaming and it’s all thanks to Gabe.

    Once system that rules them all and it’s called the Pc for you stupid console faggots!

  • Axe99

    Being happy that we’re all gaming and enjoying it is a good thing :). I deffo hope SteamOS comes off, and _if_ it can eliminate the niggles that come with PC gaming, it could see me moving to PC for a lot of my multiplats, but PC gaming has teased more reliable gaming for literally decades, but never come good.

    Totally agree about the fixed OS and closed system – it’s a plus in many ways but a negative in many others. Backwards compatibility is a mixed bag on both PC and console, but it’s far easier to get working on PC,and, generally speaking, with enough work you can probably get almost anything working, where with console it either works or it doesn’t (and next gen it’s pretty much a doesn’t :(). I’m not too worried, as I tend not to go back to older games that often, but it’s deffo a consideration if you’re looking to get into the classics.

    Best of luck with SteamOS, here’s hoping it heralds a new level of accessibility and reliability in PC gaming :).

  • Paul

    Nice piece. As someone who has had his computer hooked up to his living room TV for 9 years now, the first two announcements fell pretty flat for me. I don’t use big picture mode and see no reason for a SteamOS. The linux based system will certainly be tweaked to run games faster than Windows but I don’t ever see being able to use it for my other daily activities which require MS Office and other windows required products. The marginal performance increase is not going to justify my having to constantly switch OS’s, as I often work on MS Office while queuing up for Dota 2.

    I’m going to put my tinfoil hat on and say the real reason Valve is doing this is over the scare they got from Windows 8 initially forcing you to install Windows Marketplace for Games. Steam is an opt-in system, and much like the controversy of MS forcing Explorer down everyone’s throats, the threat to competition is quite clear when you are already given no reason to look further… though most soon find out there are almost always better options to everything MS has done.

    If the Steam machines aren’t priced competitive with consoles, I see this being a rare Valve flop. Like you, I personally see no reason to own consoles anymore, but I also don’t see how Steam machines will be an alternative as one of the draws of console gaming is the cheap price of entry to some powerful equipment.

    The announcement I am excited for is that new controller. As a PC living room gamer, the mouse keyboard has always been the issue for me, not my OS or being able to navigate Steam in a big picture mode via controller. The mouse keyboard is a bit uncomfortable to use in the living room, but not enough to warrant analog stick usage. While I am pessimistic about trackpads in game control, if anyone can pull it off, it’s Valve. I see this being a perfectly viable option for casual games, and would be thrilled if I could use it with something like Dota 2 that requires pinpoint precision. My bet though, it will be a nice controller, but will still fall short of what is required for high end FPS and MOBA play.

  • Jason Mounce

    ‘Save’….what exactly?…

    Improper use of words. It’s people like you who go “PC IS DYING!” – “THIS NEEDS SAVING!”

    Nothing needs saving, nothing is ‘Being’ saved. SteamOS and/or SteamBox means attributing innovation and competition for healthy and positive growth. It saves nothing, it ADDS something.

  • Clark

    I can’t believe there is so much vitriol over the use of the word “save.” This editorial doesn’t suggest that the console market is going to crash. It says that the author is tired of consoles as provided by the Big 3. Hence, SteamOS “saves” that aspect of gaming for him.

  • Jason Mounce

    Well, instead of complaining about the amount of fire that word can spark :o How about we consider it improperly used word? “Save” has its own definitions and to run it down based on definition, I’d say it’s not really needed as much as others.

    I’d not say that the Market is imminent to crash necessarily….I mean, look at the demand for PS4….it may even surpass PS1 and PS2′s launch sales….I think simply that Current-gen sales put a scare on people just like Global warming, hah.

    The ‘Crash’ if anything? Is Software-crash. People will buy the console, but the amount of software purchases are below that what it used to be where the only way people can make great games that sell and make them profit is if it’s ‘AAA’. No room for B-rated Hollywood game-movies. With game development on the rise for consoles it only makes sense that many more developers will go bankrupt just as a good handful had this generation. Steam/Valve will be destroying more software-competition than saving UNLESS they partner with if they are PC-Catered devs. It all works in Steam and Valves favor with increased royalties by that logic.

  • JR

    Hm, I don’t think it was improperly used though. I’ve been a console gamer for most of my life, so the disappointment I felt for Xbone, PS4, and Wii U essentially killed console gaming for me. When Valve announced SteamOS, my excitement came rushing back. It “saved” console gaming for me, because without SteamOS I would have given up on the idea of a dedicated gaming machine and become exclusively a desktop PC gamer… which I really didn’t want to do. Just because people buy things doesn’t make it right. Maybe it was time for the industry to be saved from itself.

  • JR

    Sony/MS aren’t going away any time soon, nor should they. Competition is good. I’m not necessarily pushing for PC gaming, either. I just want a fair, open system to play games on. Whatever platform gamers choose to play games on is cool, I just happen to be very excited about Valve’s offering.

  • Jason Mounce

    Annnnnd why exactly did PS4 disappoint you….when all it’s getting is praise, it has a gigantic lineup of launch titles and beyond annnnnd the price is pretty damn good for the hardware :l…. ? I don’t get how anyone could be disappointed with PS4…. X1 and Wii U, SURE…But PS4?… I hope you have good reasons, lol.

    In the end with your opinion and post though, it saved yourrrrr own individual tastes and preferences. this topic is about ‘Global’ Saving, Industry-saving rather than saving reluctant consumers which, like yourself, are more Minority than majority so at the end of it, you’re speaking for yourself while articles like these are speaking FOR others which is why I said it was wrong. If sales are shown to be booming as it was during PS1/PS2-generations and PS4 will do better, then no one can rightfully say that anything needs saving when nothing has changed. It’s just fear-mongering presumptuous bullshitting of this era :/

  • JR

    This is an opinion piece, so naturally it is going to reflect my opinion. The PS4 isn’t exciting because.. read the article.

  • Clark

    Jason, the article wasn’t speaking globally. He was speaking for himself. You can gather as much from how many times he uses the word “I” when talking specifically about consoles. Again, you are getting hung up on the headline and treating it way too sensationally. The article does not say sales are dropping. The article does not say the PS4 will do worse than the PS2. It says the PS4 doesn’t appeal to the author. I know it’s hard to accept the fact that someone might not love the PS4. I’ll admit, it probably will be a great console, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

  • Jason Mounce

    If it isn’t global and is an opinion….

    Then naturally the title perhaps should end with ‘To me’….if anyone actually understands proper English, they’d understand where I’m coming from by leaving it as it is, there is not a single mention of what kind of perception this is regarding.

  • Jason Mounce

    Soooo….your reason for saying the PS4 isn’t exciting is because you’re nitpicky with controllers and you can’t edit or upgrade the hardare. . . . ?… That’s all I got from reading this ‘opinion-piece-article’.

    You made it sound like you had legitimate reason, you tell me to read the article but all you put is more vagueness. “When Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft showed off their respective consoles, I was rather dismayed. I just didn’t care about them.”

    And as for ‘Timelessness’? I would definitely argue against that as for instance, if you play a PS2 game on the PS2, it works as it’s meant to. Now, if you’re going to play a game that’s 5-10-15 years old….Know what I’ll say? Timeless MY ASS. Newer hardware creates incompatibilities and no game is timeless on PC because of that. The benefit of the doubt is with hardware that doesn’t change is just that, compatibility of classics will never falter. Go try playing Mechwarrior 3 for instance….not like all games support or can be trusted to be compatible down the line, you never know if your future 8-core PC will support games that were made with Single or Dual-core CPU’s in mind, or RAM that requires 64mb can’t comprehend 16GB in which DOSBOX can’t even help you. Where simply having a newer version of Windows will cause issues, and if SteamOS will even cause increased incompatibilities with classic PC games that are older than Steam itself and aren’t on Steam.

    My problem with this, article/opinion piece is as I’ve been targeting, it’s either too vague, or too little-detailed with a proper argument and contrasting argument. It’s one-sided and more of a Blog than anything else and that especially goes for the title which doesn’t specify the true intent of what’s written. Leaving the title as it implies you’re speaking of global scale rather than an ‘imo’ perspective, whether you did that deliberately for more hits or not:

    “How/Why I feel that Valve’s SteamOS Can Save Console Gaming” – BAM! Now we all know it’s an opinion piece instead of being mislead! So easy.

  • JR

    I do understand English, which is why the title is written like it is. As the person speaking, it is not necessary to have qualifiers like IMHO. If I said it, then it obviously is my honest opinion. The difference between the sentences “I believe that games are great” and “Games are great” is that the first one has three extra words. The meaning is precisely the same.

    Everyone is assuming that gaming on SteamOS will be exactly like gaming on Windows. With the headache of drivers, dependencies, etc. Stop thinking of SteamOS as a PC. Yes I’m aware that it is just a PC with a custom operating system, but so is the PS4 and Xbone. Games “just work” for these systems because they have been highly customized to be gaming machines. That’s what SteamOS can potentially do but on a larger scale with multiple hardware options. I imagine there will be SteamOS certified hardware that will provide target platforms for developers, but we just don’t know enough at this point. It’s true that old games often have difficulty running on new hardware, but we have yet to see how well SteamOS can handle older games. Keep in mind that games have to be made for SteamOS, it doesn’t magically play all of your old windows games (unless you count the streaming option). This article was not meant to promote PC gaming. I’m very aware that Valve has a lot to prove with SteamOS. That’s why the title of the article says “can” and not “will”.

  • Clark

    But it’s in an editorials section, and the content is clearly a personal opinion. Having to write “… to me” at the end of a headline is ridiculous. That should go without saying. That shouldn’t even be an issue. This feels less about proper English and more about someone not having read the article and jumping to conclusions.