Valve’s nascent hardware business is already picking up steam. Metaphorically speaking, naturally. As confirmed by a job posting on the video game company’s website at the beginning of September, Valve is seeking industrial designers to help it make its very devices for playing games rather than just games themselves. It’s still unclear precisely what Valve will be making—it’s said to be experimenting with wearable gear like goggles as well as new evolutions of the old keyboard and mouse set up PC games have relied on for years. We know this though: The first Valve hardware will go into beta testing in 2013.
A new article at Engadget says that though Valve is just hiring industrial designers right now, the hardware division has existed for over a year. Right now Valve’s just trying out big ideas while staffing up. One of the division’s masterminds, inventor Jeri Ellsworth—known for creating joysticks with emulators running old gaming machines in them like the Commodore 64—says that at this stage “prototyping is almost secondary.” Her team’s goal? “To make Steam games more fun to play in your living room.” This means making new tools for enjoying Steam Big Picture Mode.
When will the team move past the conceptual and recruitment stages? Sooner than you might expect. Ellsworth said that Valve plans to have beta versions of its gear in actual gamers’ hands for testing by next year. Valve is ready to produce small quantities of these first devices immediately, and while there are no specific plans in place, they do plan to use the Steam membership base for testing.
The goods that will go into testing next year likely won’t be among the “wearable computers” Valve said it was testing back in April. According to Ellsworth, those won’t be ready for another “two to five years.”
Will Steam blow open the video game console market once and for all when it starts getting its own hardware into gamers’ hands in 2013? Do the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 even have a chance? Even if Valve has the best controllers and Steam offers the best raw value, the price of a quality gaming PC is still much higher than that of a console. Sony learned the hard way with the PlayStation 3 that the living room audience is unwilling to spend $500 on a machine for gaming on their television.
Valve won’t rule the living room next year. In 2014 and beyond? Anything is possible.