When Valve Software finally releases its non-traditional Steam Box video game console to consumers it will necessarily have to battle for market share and public opinion with competing consoles from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. Coming in to a new, previously established market and going head to head with the companies who have ruled that segment of the industry for decades is a very bold move, but Valve Software remains unconcerned. It isn’t the slate of existing consoles or gaming companies that worries Valve. Instead, the company believes its true competition will come from Cupertino, California.
“The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share, and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform,” said Valve co-founder Gabe Newell during a recent speech at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “I think that there’s a scenario where we see sort of a dumbed down living room platform emerging – I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily. The question is can we make enough progress in the PC space to establish ourselves there, and also figure out better ways of addressing mobile before Apple takes over the living room?”
Given that statement and Apple’s undeniable clout in any technologically-focused industry, shouldn’t Valve be more concerned by the threat the company represents? Yes and no. While Newell sees Apple as his firm’s prime opponent, he also strongly believes that the Steam Box offers a number of simple solutions for consumers who want to be able to play the highest quality games on as cheap a budget as possible. Traditional consoles can’t offer this kind of flexibility as they’re tied to whatever hardware they initially shipped with, but by basing the design of the Steam Box on standard, easily-customized PCs, Valve hopes to offer gamers the kind of freedom enjoyed by their PC brethren for years.
That said, Newell realizes that Valve is not the only company attempting this introduction of PC gaming tenets into the console space in the near future.
“I think a whole bunch of hardware companies are going to be releasing products in the next 12 months,” Newell said. “There are going to be a huge set of products that say, ‘If you want something that’s incredibly cheap, at a price point well below anything that consoles will be able to reach, you’re going to take advantage of the PC that’s running somewhere in your house.’”
Whether you’re a staunch Apple supporter, refuse to believe that consoles can exist without a “Nintendo” trademark on them, or see Steam as the greatest thing since sliced bread, the real determining factor of how successful Valve’s Steam Box might be lies in its library of games. The biggest hurdle facing any new console release is an initial lack of quality software, but since the Steam Box is purpose-built to connect to and download games from Valve’s ubiquitous digital distribution platform this issue is irrelevant. The tradeoff, however, will be the complete absence of exclusive titles – unless Valve decides to change its development model in order to serve the Steam Box. A new Half-Life would make an attractive lure for fans…
Will this be enough to catapult the gaming machine ahead of new consoles from Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and whoever else enters the race? That remains to be seen, but if nothing else the next era of video gaming should prove interesting.