The short answer is: Valve wants to “invent whole new gaming experiences.”
That’s a direct quote from a job listing that recently appeared on the firm’s website seeking an experienced engineer to work on a mysterious new hardware project. According to the ad the ideal candidate should have at least four years of experience with hardware prototyping, circuit simulation, high-speed serial interfaces and system level design. Likewise, it’s recommended that this hypothetical applicant be well versed in power supply and thermal management, the ARM and X86 hardware standards, low frequency signal transmission and a whole host of other things that are likely meaningless to anyone except those who actually possess these sorts of skills.
As for a specific explanation of what this person might be working on, the possibly erstwhile software firm remains coy. “For years, Valve has been all about writing software that provides great gameplay experiences,” the ad reads. “Now we’re developing hardware to enhance those experiences, and you can be a key part of making that happen. Join our highly motivated team that’s doing hardware design, prototyping, testing, and production across a wide range of platforms. We’re not talking about me-too mice and gamepads here – help us invent whole new gaming experiences.”
Though this news raises more questions than it answers, it does come at an interesting time. It was only a month ago that reports began to surface of Valve’s interest in creating a console-esque computer standard to compete directly with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. At the time Valve denied those rumors, but if the company isn’t working on some kind of gaming hardware, why exactly does it need engineers with these sorts of skills? Valve’s marketing director Doug Lombardi recently claimed that the firm’s interest in hardware stemmed from its push to develop the Steam Big Picture Mode UI (specifically that the company needed purpose-built hardware to test the UI on), but then again Valve is a notoriously secretive company. Following a leak of pre-release code for Half-Life 2, the firm decided to completely rebuild the parts of the game that were now relatively public knowledge instead of simply soldiering on with what it already had in hand.
Presumably we won’t know for sure what Valve is working on until the company decides to drop an official announcement.