Full Steam Ahead

Full Steam Ahead



It's kind of funny how the video game industry treats its job listings as press releases. The most recent example is from Valve's Steam service, and it's clear that whoever wrote it wanted to do more than just attract a new "Industrial Designer."

Full Steam Ahead

"Valve is traditionally a software company," one paragraph begins. "Open platforms like the PC and Mac are important to us, as they enable us and our partners to have a robust and direct relationship with customers. We're frustrated by the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space though, so we're jumping in. Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven't really changed in any meaningful way over the years. There's a real void in the marketplace, and opportunities to create compelling user experiences are being overlooked."

That's right: One of the most important game services announced a major shakeup in its business model through a help-wanted ad. But what does the announcement—with its cryptic marketing phrase "computer hardware space"—mean?

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Your guess is as good as mine. From what the job listing tells us, Valve could be doing something as basic as making a few new peripherals. Or, the company could be doing something as elaborate as building a console from the ground up—a "Steam Box," as some journalists have christened this fantasy.

I'm not an unbiased observer. I absolutely love everything about Steam. It brings a wide variety of PC games directly into your home, it protects copyright without overly inconveniencing paying customers, and it offers spectacular discounts on older games.

But I hope they go all-out.

Full Steam Ahead

A Steam Box—a console that downloads and plays all Steam games—would seriously shake up the industry. It would combine two of the biggest price savings in video gaming: the one you get from waiting for Steam sales, and the one you get from buying a console instead of an expensive gaming PC rig. It would debut with a huge library, especially if it was compatible with a variety of inputs. Its deep discounts would force XBLA and PSN to step their game up. If it came with a keyboard and some basic office and e-mail software, it could even replace PCs for some families. And it would help speed along the demise of disc storage in favor of large hard drives.

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