Valve's Newell details the future Steam Box

Biometric controllers central to internal project known as Bigfoot; company also working on mobile spin-off Littlefoot

In a lengthy interview with The Verge, Valve chief executive officer Gabe Newell provided some insight on Steam future set-top box. Despite working with other partners like Xi3 on Steam-focused PCs, Valve is still working on its own hardware.

"We'll come out with our own and we'll sell it to consumers by ourselves. That'll be a Linux box, [and] if you want to install Windows you can. We're not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination. We also think that a controller that has higher precision and lower latency is another interesting thing to have," said Newell.

Valve will be skipping motion control on its hardware offering, but Newell says that biometrics could be the Steam Box' silver bullet.

"We think that, unlike motion input where we kind of struggled to come up with ideas, [there's potential in] biometrics. We have lots of ideas," he explained. "I think you'll see controllers coming from us that use a lot of biometric data. Maybe the motion stuff is just failure of imagination on our part, but we're a lot more excited about biometrics as an input method. Motion just seems to be a way of [thinking] of your body as a set of communication channels. Your hands, and your wrist muscles, and your fingers are actually your highest bandwidth -- so to trying to talk to a game with your arms is essentially saying 'oh we're going to stop using ethernet and go back to 300 baud dial-up.'"

"Biometrics on the other hand is essentially adding more communication bandwidth between the game and the person playing it, especially in ways the player isn't necessarily conscious of. Biometrics gives us more visibility. Also, gaze tracking. We think gaze tracking is going turn out to be super important."

Valve sees the Steam Box connecting to more screens within the home and offering a wide variety of experiences. The company is already working with Nvidia on its Shield portable to provide another vector for the Steam platform within the home.


Xi3's Piston, the first of many hardware prototypes from Valve's partners

"The Steam Box will also be a server. Any PC can serve multiple monitors, so over time, the next-generation (post-Kepler) you can have one GPU that's serving up eight simulateneous game calls. So you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it. We're used to having one monitor, or two monitors -- now we're saying lets expand that a little bit," Newell told The Verge.

"The thing we're working on with [Nvidia] is that you'll be in your living room and your TV will potentially be connected either through wireless or ethernet. You'll pick up a controller and Big Picture will come on. It'll be integrated into all the TVs after a certain point, it's like HDMI+. The problem to solve is how to interact with a web browser, how to get all the games to support controllers, and how to make it all seamless."

Finally, Valve is cognizant of the growth in the mobile marketplace and Newell teased his company's work in that area.

"So this [Steam Box] is called 'Bigfoot' internally, and we also have 'Littlefoot.' [Littlefoot] says 'what do we need to do to extend this to the mobile space?' Our approach will be pretty similar. We also think there's a lot that needs to be done in the tablet and mobile space to improve input for games. Once we understand what the role is of multitouch in these kinds of applications then it's easy to say you can use your phone for it."

The Verge's full interview with Newell is here.

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Latest comments (14)

Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve5 years ago
Now this is starting to sound exciting.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
I like this a lot.
The walled gardens of the home console platform holders have constrained video gaming far too much for far too long. Now that their grip on the industry is waning we are seeing all sorts of brilliant ideas. Creativity unleashed.
Video gaming just now is developing at the fastest pace it ever has. We live in very exciting times.
And we are being rewarded with vastly more people playing games.
For a physically distributed game to get 5 million sales is a very big deal. For a digitally distributed game to get 5 million downloads is pretty normal and run of the mill.
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Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent5 years ago
I agree, Bruce. Of course, what I'm really hoping is that the 'freedom' offered here will be such a big attraction both to gamers and to developers that Microsoft and Sony will have little choice but to follow suit. We can only dream.
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Show all comments (14)
Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
You still have to... you know... Come up with a good design, right? All biometrics does is give feedback. If your game is a piece of sh*t, biometrics won't rescue that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 9th January 2013 5:01pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 5 years ago
@ Tim

That's true, and Gabe Newell acknowledges that very point in the interview:
Weíve struggled for a long time to try to think of ways to use motion input and we really havenít [found any]. Wii Sports is still kind of the pinnacle of that. We look at that, and for us at least, as a games developer, we canít see how it makes games fundamentally better.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
All I want is a stable gonna-be-here-for-the-next-50-to-100-years develpment platform...

...With stable tools.

...And lots of people who know how to develop using them.

....And one that is open, so I'm not forced to get anyone's approval to release on it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 9th January 2013 5:13pm

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Anthony Chan5 years ago
You speak of consoles being walled gardens, as if the console makers have wronged you.

At the end, technology is only a dream if it cannot be sold and mass produced for the general demographic. The steambox in its current vision is a niche. It is an expensive luxury. I mentioned this yesterday. Consoles appeal to a much larger and generic market, which is why big publishers put up with the "walled gardens". The console is here to stay, because more people gain access to "AAA" titles through consoles (all 3 combined) than through PC.

The "steam box" Gabe is envisioning is enthralling, and amazing. It will be something of the future, but not before the next gen of consoles take root again in homes aroudn the world. The question is will Gabe have the foresight to ensure it can sell at all levels of retail, and compete with consoles? I seriously do not picture this being picked up by a mom & dad at ToysRus on opening day. Nor do I see this being retailed strongly at the next Gamestop. You may call me close minded as you you will tell me, this item will be eaten up online, but then it still is only accessing a niche market. Not the general public.

Also, people who live and die by Steam are PC gamers. PC gaming relies on the ability to swap hardware on a whim as technology advances. It is the edge pro gamers will "1-up" console games in every fanboy fight. People who live by console tout their consoles look sexy in a living room, you don't have to be nerd to know how to use it, and it is great for many things other than gaming. If this is the fight between PC and console, Gabe needs to figure this out. How does Gabe balance hot-swapping of technology in a package that looks sleek and sexy in your living room, and be specialized enough for pro gamers to stroke their epeens while being versatile enough that your tech-illiterate wife can catch up on her tv dramas? That is something I look forward to seeing.
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Urs Schaub 3D modeller AA 5 years ago
I fail to see how the X360 and PS3 were not luxury objects at Launch.(plus added costs for XBLG/playstation+ subscription)+ higher prices for Games.

Besides that i think it is a opportunity* to bring Linux to the masses.(side effect)
But we'll see how this Story works out for Valve, but they didn't do entirely wrong the last decade.

*Even though some people fail to see that the reason for pre installed Linux is just a way to cut costs(a Windows license adds one or another buck to the initial Price...
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Craig Bamford Writer/Consultant 5 years ago
If anybody can make biometrics into something more than "snakeoil", it's Newell and his people.

That multiple-television announcement is tremendously exciting, as well. It provides a raison d'etre for increasingly powerful GPUs when actual graphics upgrades are seeing diminishing returns. It also helps serve as a response to the argument that "desktops" are going away in favor of laptops and tablets; a tower form-factor is a lot more tempting when it's serving every screen in the house.
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James Barnard Founder / Developer, Springloaded5 years ago
It's cool, but it is starting to feel like another platform that I have to support on top of all the others....people talk about fragmentation of the Android market, well that's nothing compared to what we are facing over the last 12 months, from PSM to Ouya every machine has it's quirks....I feel like I need to stop making games now and take up porting.
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Henry Durrant Programmer, SUMO Digital5 years ago
I remember something mentioned a while ago about the Left 4 Dead director and using Biometrics to tell how stressed the player is - i believe that the "behind the scenes" use of biometric data is the only really useful way of using it, apart from in active-feedback relaxation games.

Some QTC on the controller could tell how hard you are gripping it ... maybe a built in microphone could determine how loud and frequent your swearing is :D.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up5 years ago

In the main I agree with you, but the walled garden thing really is just how a company ends up protecting its IP and trying to promote its own platform, when competition comes along surely?. Wouldn't you do the same? I don't think there's anything sinister in that. If you had a good idea and approached those guys, they would probably be up for doing a deal. I think you should expect to have similar negotiations with valve and steam in the future on what you can and cant release, and on the financials too. They already have conditions that have to be met for release on their platform.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 10th January 2013 2:08pm

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Antony Carter Senior Programmer, Epic Games5 years ago
How is steam any less of a walled garden?

They have green light now yes, but MS has indie games and Sony has just started there PS Mobile SDK.

The Only difference here to me seems to be that multiple hardware manufacturers will be allowed to make the devices, seems like there trying to setup their own running linux in the hope to make sure less people are exposed to the windows 8 store.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 5 years ago
A couple of random thoughts, which I don't think anyone's particularly mentioned:

1) This is going to see the rise of emulators, I think. I've got a copy of SNES9X added to my Steam library (as a non-Steam game). When you add-in the possibilities of the rest of the emulator scene (Megadrive/PS1/PS2/Dolphin/N64) and how there's up-to-date Windows and Linux versions of all of them, it's going to get interesting - no longer will people need to have their 20-year-old SNES or decidedly unsexy N64 under their TV to play classic games of yesteryear.

2) I expect to hear EA announce a Linux version of Origin soon. Because why wouldn't they? Even if it can't run much (or anything) right now, there's no discernable reason why they'd ignore the possibility of it, if only so that Valve have some form of competition.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 10th January 2013 5:25pm

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