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Newell: Steambox, Linux and the future of games

Newell: Steambox, Linux and the future of games

Tue 17 Sep 2013 9:56am GMT / 5:56am EDT / 2:56am PDT
HardwareDevelopment

Valve's president teases hardware reveal, describes the importance of Linux to the future of games

Gabe Newell has placed his bet on a Linux-based future for gaming, and Valve is now preparing to unveil hardware that will pave the way to that ambition.

Speaking at Linuxcon, Valve's founder and president gave a detailed account of the pioneering company's long-held belief in the potential of Linux. Valve has been consistently vocal in its support for open technology platforms in the past, and it has been working on Linux-based hardware - widely known as the "Steambox" - that will embrace many of its ideas about the future of gaming.

And according to statements made by Newell during his talk, we could be seeing the fruits of that labour as early as next week.

"None of the closed platforms will be able to provide that grand unification between mobile, the living room and the desktop"

Gabe Newell, Valve

"Our next step...is on the hardware side," he said. "There are sets of issues to making sure that whatever computing platform you have works well in a living room environment - there are thermal issues, and sound issues, and also a bunch of input issues. So the next step in our contribution to this will be to release some work we've done on the hardware side.

"We really don't think the fragmentation around the physical location and input devices of computation is either necessary or desirable for software developers or consumers... Obviously, if that's the direction you're going in, Linux is the obvious basis for that. None of the proprietary, closed platforms are going to be able to provide that grand unification between mobile, the living room and the desktop."

Newell positioned Valve's hardware in the wider context of Linux being a fundamental part of the best possible future for the games industry. Valve was founded on the belief that performance improvements in technology would result in rapid change in every aspect of its business - distribution, marketing, production, and so on. Failure to adapt to these changes has been a root cause of the decline of many corporations, particularly those that put their faith in closed, proprietary systems.

Indeed, the development of Steam was influenced by many of the key players in the PC industry moving towards platforms that allowed them greater control over access, content, pricing and other factors. Today, PC unit sales are in a period of decline, while Steam's unit sales are growing around 76 per cent year-on-year.

"The people in the field are sort of like deer in headlights," Newell said, predicting market exits for "top 5" PC companies in the future. "'We didn't have a model where this was occurring. We thought people would just keep buying more and more PCs regardless of what we did and what sort of restrictions we imposed on them'."

"Games are essentially going to be nodes in a connected economy, where the vast majority of goods and services are going to be user-created"

Gabe Newell, Valve

"And the rate of change is increasing," Newell later added. "We're not going to be slowing down. Systems that are innovation friendly - which is equivalent to openness - are going to have a greater and greater competitive advantage to closed or tightly regulated systems."

In the long-term, the supremacy of "openness" will even extend past platforms and into content. Newell's experiences with the creativity of Valve's users has outstripped the company's own creative power "by and order of magnitude," despite only being a few years into exploring that potential.

"Games are essentially going to be nodes in a connected economy, where the vast majority of goods and services are going to be user-created, rather than created by companies," he said.

"Connected groups of users are going to be way more successful, if they're properly enabled and supported, than any of the individual game developers are going to be."

According to Newell, Linux could be the catalyst for making this "grand unification" happen: a unification of PC, living room and mobile, of creator and customer. With Linux use still in a clear minority, there is a lot of work yet to be done, but Valve is involved in a number of initiatives devoted to improving the reach and stability of the platform - not to mention the Linux version of Steam, which now has a catalogue of 198 games.

"Right now, we're in this bizarre situation where, as soon as you sit on your couch, you're supposed to have lost connection with all of your other computing platforms," Newell said. "You have to buy all of your games over again, the input methods are incompatible.

"We thought that was an incorrect way. Really, through design and thinking hard about how to create appropriate abstractions for both users and developers, you could build something that spanned the desktop and the ten-foot living room experience."

12 Comments

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Popular Comment
Valve are going up against Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and Apple.
And they could win.
By the simple tactic of being customer centric.
All the others, to a lesser or greater extent, tend to dictate to the customer. Which is why they make so many mistakes.

Posted:10 months ago

#1

Sasha Yelesin
Student

53 33 0.6
Man, Gabe sounds so nervous on stage I feel bad for him. I don't agree that Linux is the Future of Gaming! but I support his backing of the under used os. Maybe Linux will shoulder to shoulder with Windows and OSX instead of just being used by computer aficionados, but it will be for more reasons than gaming and the "unification" of all of our devices, as he put it.

Posted:10 months ago

#2

Brian Lewis
Operations Manager

123 64 0.5
This is not a case of Valve beating anyone. This is a case of Valve putting out a product, because the competitors are fighting for the chance to shoot themselves in the foot. If Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft or Apple ever decided to meet the consumer demand(and not try to force them into their limited context) then there would not be any space for the competitors. One good product could dominate the market, and undercut any demand for competitors... but this isnt happening.

So, despite the fact that I am not particularly interested in this product, I am wishing them good luck, as it might cause someone to make a product that I truly want.

Posted:10 months ago

#3

Andrew Jakobs
Lead Programmer

223 83 0.4
Popular Comment
BS, customer centric? you think steam is open? think again... It's not like valve doesn't make mistakes..
The only reason they choose linux is because it's free, so they don't have to pay any license to anyone else..
But the biggest problem with linux is that it's sooooo fragmentated, there are soooooo many distro's out there which aren't compatible with each other, it's just not funny anymore.. yes Linux is getting better, but still it's a long way off to windows (which sadly is getting worse with every new incarnation)..

Posted:10 months ago

#4

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

550 268 0.5
Pride goeth before a fall.

You can't tell all of your customers to just switch something as fundamental as their desktop OS. That's hubris, man. It will end badly. You're alienating your core customers as badly as Microsoft did by alienating them via Windows 8.

PC gaming.

I would suggest going to the negotiation table with MS - but Jason Holtman, ditched by Valve, is now the lead guy over there. Is there bad blood? I have no idea, but I think that the PC gamers will get caught up in the middle of this squabble writ large.

Posted:10 months ago

#5

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,484 1,252 0.8
Pffft...
You can't tell all of your customers to just switch something as fundamental as their desktop OS
Is he saying that? I haven't yet watched the video, but it would surprise me if he was... Everyone knows that all PC games are going to be Windows compatible, but taking the lead with Linux can only help in creating more support for the platform. Which is ultimately all that needs to be done - break Microsoft's stranglehold on the PC gaming OS market, and everyone wins.
I have no idea, but I think that the PC gamers will get caught up in the middle of this squabble writ large.
It won't be any worse than when Microsoft tried to compete with Steam, and ended up leveraging Games For Windows Live on gamers; no-one won in that situation.
BS, customer centric? you think steam is open? think again... It's not like valve doesn't make mistakes..
No doubt Valve make mistakes. But they are very in-tune with the consumer - trading games, gifting games, massive sales, ARGs.

Edit:

As an aside, how do the people who are negative about this announcement feel about MS "forcing" gamers to move to Windows 8 - the only version of Windows with the DirectX 11.1+ API?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 17th September 2013 7:25pm

Posted:10 months ago

#6

Roberto Bruno
Journalist

103 68 0.7
The only reason they choose linux is because it's free, so they don't have to pay any license to anyone else
Wait, and that's a bad thing because...?

Posted:10 months ago

#7

Brook Davidson
Artist / 3D design

62 92 1.5
The only reason they choose linux is because it's free, so they don't have to pay any license to anyone else.
I see you like to make things up. o.o Unless you want to provide some sort of evidence that valve said this? I thought they chose Linux due to many other reasons and not just because it's free.
windows (which sadly is getting worse with every new incarnation)..
Worse in what way? You can't be talking about performance, since windows 8 performs fairly well and better then all past versions.

Posted:10 months ago

#8

Bostjan Troha
CEO

29 12 0.4
RIP Valve. That's a suicide mission right there.

Posted:10 months ago

#9

Urs Schaub
3D modeller

13 5 0.4
It's not like valve doesn't make mistakes..
True but my guess woul'd be that valves mistakes don'cost them houndreds of millions.
Not yet.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Urs Schaub on 18th September 2013 9:00pm

Posted:10 months ago

#10

Tudor Nita
C++ Multiplayer Programmer

23 26 1.1
A Steam-box, will at the very least have minimum hardware requirements, if not a dedicated piece of hardware. The trick is to see that linux PC as a dedicated media center with ( highly ) optional access to general computing if you need it.

I'd very much like to see a version of the steam-box as a linux-on-a-stick solution that will simply mount your windows ( ntfs ) drives with the proper exec permissions ( in a very user friendly way ). This way you could easily demote ( or upgrade ) your PC to a living room media center. The linux distro on the stick will just carry necessary drivers ( third party or not ) and steam for linux.

Maybe just use the base kernel and run steam wide-picture as the GUI. As long as the kernel is more or less vanilla, this would be a win-win-win situation for all parties involved ( valve-devs-consumers ).

Posted:10 months ago

#11

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