A couple months back Valve posted a position opening for an “Industrial Designer,” someone who has experience with ”product design and manufacturing, ergonomics, usability, aesthetics, and surfacing.” Basically, they were looking for someone with hardware experience to help create some kind of physical product for Valve. This got everyone thinking that Valve is secretly working on a console, currently referred to as the “Steam Box.” But if you don’t believe the rumors take a look at this new move by Valve and then try to convince fans a Steam Box isn’t on the way.
Log onto Steam and take a look at the banner on the top. It’s marketing the beta version of Steam’s newest feature: “Big Picture.” Big Picture is a setting on Steam that changes the interface of the old steam layout to be completely compatible with a video game controller. The idea is to be able to bring your PC into the living room, hook it up to the TV, and be able to play all of your Steam games with an Xbox 360 controller and on your TV.
If you’re like me this is a great feature. I’m not moving my computer into the living room, but now I’m able to easily use my Xbox 360 controller to play games that I currently prefer to play on my Xbox. Like Skyrim for instance. I played Oblivion and Morrowind on a console, and having a controller in my hand just feels more natural. I have an Xbox sitting next to my computer, and even though I own Skyrim on both I find myself playing it on the Xbox 100% of the time. I know it’s possible to play games on the computer with a controller already, but there’s a big difference between how Steam used to be, and how it is now with Big Picture.
Before I used my keyboard and mouse to log into steam and pick my game. 20 minutes into playing Skyrim with a controller I’d have a chat window pop up from a friend wanting to play a different game. Whenever a friend got on I used my mouse and keyboard to chat with them and eventually find a different game to play, switching back to my mouse permanently once we started playing. It’s not like it’s that hard to switch between controller and mouse, but it’s a hassle having three different tools just to play video games.
With Steam Big Picture the controller can replace the mouse entirely. You can pick games, play games, buy games, and chat all using a controller. And while alone this feature isn’t revolutionary, Steam has changed the interface to mirror the Xbox Live and Playstation Online browsers. It feels like the difference between Netflix on my computer and my Xbox.
This Big Picture setting is what’s tipping me off towards Valve’s future plans of console development. They’ve already made their entire Steam playland into a place that can be used solely with a controller. They’ve integrated a built in web browser, so if they did port Steam Big Picture to a console it’d have all the functionality of the Xbox 360 or PS3. But what’s even better than both of these consoles is the portability of games from the computer and the console. You can play Xbox games on your PC and vice versa. If you bought Skyrim for your laptop you can easily play it with an Xbox controller on your TV. Steam’s just become your one stop shop for all video games, and not just on the computer.
So once Valve get’s their hardware figured out and their controller designed they’re releasing a console. They already have the software set-up in a controller friendly way. Sales are sure to be record breaking, seeing that the benefits of having Steam on a console would benefit any Steam user (or basically any video game fan). If this doesn’t make you believe a Steam Box is coming I don’t know what will. But it is coming, and when it does it’s going to change the video game industry forever.