Steam news only a "curiosity" without a must-buy like Half-Life 3 - Pitchford

We speak with several devs about the industry impact of last week's big news around SteamOS, Machines and the new controller

Valve's Steam has been one of the biggest disruptive platforms of the last decade in the games business, grabbing developers' and gamers' attention and advancing the state of digital distribution. With Big Picture mode announced in 2011, it became clear that Steam would soon move beyond the confines of the PC and into the same living room dominated by the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo up until now.

With last week's trifecta of big news around SteamOS, Steam Machines and the unique new controller design, Valve is one step closer to taking over the living room. But what's the real impact on developers and should Microsoft and Sony be worried? GamesIndustry International chatted with a number of devs to find out.

Just as with any console, assuming victory from the start would be foolish. It's all about installed base, of course, and Valve needs consumers to buy Steam Machines in droves.

"It all depends on how open the system will be and how big the install base becomes. If the boxes sell well, it will definitely be an attractive option for indie developers since we already know that Valve has been supportive of independent development and been willing to take chances on non-AAA content," Paradox Interactive CEO Fredrik Wester said.

"I think this could be a serious competitor and hope it will lead to more openness from the console makers, making them more open to new indie content."

Gearbox Software head Randy Pitchford agrees that the key will be the installed base, and importantly, Valve will need a killer app to prove the potential of Steam Machines and that new controller, he said.

"Ultimately, without that must-buy product driving us all towards this stuff, I expect that the industry at large will watch curiously, but remain largely unaffected"

Randy Pitchford

"I imagine that some developers may choose to think about unique applications with new interface approaches if an installed base becomes sufficiently appealing.  There is always a chicken-and-egg problem here and the last time Valve was able to motivate us to wade into a new paradigm, they attracted us there with a product - I was forced to install and use Steam in order to play Half-Life 2.  Given that, I would be thrilled if Valve announced a product that I already knew I wanted that was designed to use their three newly announced components (os, machine, controller) and that could not exist but for those three new components," Pitchford commented.

"That kind of announcement would really help us all understand the necessity of their invention here.  But we all know that product would probably have to start with an H and have a 3 at the end and it would sound like 'Half-Life 3.'  But alas I would be very surprised indeed if we see any worthy movement on that front, as I do not expect another true successor Half-Life game from Valve for quite some time - possibly never."

He continued, "Ultimately, without that must-buy product driving us all towards this stuff, I expect that the industry at large will watch curiously, but remain largely unaffected by anything Steam does along this vector of OS, machines and controllers over the next two or three years.  If the must-buy product appears driving us there or sufficient time goes on where an installed base starts to emerge, more and more folks will move from being curious to being investigative with the possibilities."  

Alan Wilson, Vice President at Tripwire Interactive, believes that Valve should be applauded for pushing the envelope, but also for doing so by giving gamers choice.

"We run games on PC, Linux and Android now; some with controllers. So none of that is hard. But this is about a battle over the living room - OUYA, more Android boxes, new Xbox and Playstation, now Steam. We're developing for the living-room couch now with the OUYA (Killing Floor: Calamity). Soon we'll be able to take all of our games straight there via Steam. There are going to be winners and losers on the hardware end - but for gamers it should be a great time. Real choice. Not just 'A' vs. 'B'. The doors are cracking ever wider for smaller, indie developers to get great new content in front of players. And redesigning the controller too? I'm an old PC gamer, but I'll try it out. Crucially, if I don't like it - I don't have to use it. Choice. Thank you, Valve," he said.

Microsoft and Sony may be harder to leapfrog in the living room than some might think, but if anyone has a chance, it's Valve. "Steam are outstanding partners who understand PC gaming and PC gamers better than just about anyone on the planet. Their push to bring PC quality entertainment out of the darkness of the bedroom and into the light of the living room is to be applauded, and with their Steam installed base of loyal customers they are better placed right now to achieve this than anyone else out there," noted Jon Rissik, VP Brand & Customer Acquisition,

Living room battles aside, the most critical part of the Steam news for the devs in the trenches is just how easy and low-risk it is to try it out, said Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Games, which took part in the Steam Early Access program.

"With SteamOS and the Steam Machines, Valve's reaching out into a new market (your living room, where your consoles live). And they're doing it in a way that shatters the big barriers between me and that market. SteamOS is Linux-based, so thanks to tools such as Unity and Haxe, deploying to that platform is (nearly!) as easy as pushing a button. Valve's also well-regarded for being easy to work with -- paperwork and product launches are pretty painless. MS, Nintendo, and Sony have become more dev-friendly in recent years, but there are still relatively more legalese and logistical requirements to get your foot in the door. On the other hand, if you want a SteamOS dev kit? It's a PC -- you could order one off of Amazon right now," Lambe enthused. "I can't overstate how important all this is: I'm able develop for SteamOS with minimal risk. The upside is that I might reach millions of new gamers. This makes the platform really attractive."

"If Valve's able to get enough people to pick Steam over Xbox or PS4, MS and Sony will absolutely try to top that. And the result will be fantastic for gamers"

Ichiro Lambe

Lambe also believes that Valve's push will ultimately benefit the industry by forcing Microsoft and Sony to step up their respective games. "They always change and innovate (take how SCE Europe's Shahid Ahmad has turned indie game developers' view of Sony from button-down to friendly and approachable; or how the Kinect and PS Move brought motion to their respective consoles). If Valve's able to get enough people to pick Steam over Xbox or PS4, MS and Sony will absolutely try to top that. And the result will be fantastic for gamers," he said.

Pitchford remains a bit more cynical than the rest. He doesn't see Microsoft or Sony executives losing any sleep over the Steam announcements. "There has been some understanding for some time that Valve was looking at some angles in this direction, so I imagine there was some curiosity and, with just a few folks, perhaps some concern about what they might show up with.  I imagine that if I was in a key seat at one of the first parties, after hearing this news, I would probably exhale a bit and imagine that I don't really have anything I have to worry myself about too much coming from this direction for a while," he remarked.

"If I had a seat at either Sony or Microsoft, depending on which seat I was sitting in, of course, I would probably also be feeling a tiny bit better about my own decisions when I think about how I'm feeling about what I perceive Valve's reasons and decisions to be here."

In the end, perhaps the most exciting part of last week's news from Valve was the new controller. As a gamer and designer, Pitchford is itching to see what games are built around it.

"I want to fiddle around with their controller.  I'm curious what spectrum of propositions will be made with the specific machine offerings, but am skeptical that something will appear that leads me to think it's a good decision to replace my PC.  Maybe that's not their aim - we'll all learn more soon.  But the burden to add an additional thing beyond the PC I am likely to keep is pretty high, so we'll see if any of their machines can get me there if their intent is that these are dedicated Steam OS machines," he said.

The biggest downside to all the Steam news? Valve's continued focus on the platform and service could be diverting resources from actual AAA software development, lamented Pitchford.

"I want to see Half-Life 3 or other exciting and big and original offerings from these guys who are amongst the best in the world at crafting interactive entertainment and are resourced better than anyone. As long as Steam and Valve are one entity, I am always going to feel uneasy that attention and resources towards the platform is distracting attention and resources away from the entertainment they could (should?) be creating. I guess I am just a greedy gamer who wants to be blown away playing more of the best, new video games in the world, so I selfishly want to know that the incredible talent at Valve is spending 100 percent of their mindshare building new video games!"

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Latest comments (21)

Andrew Clayton Assistant Designer, EA DICE8 years ago
Not saying what Valve revealed isn't good, but they had a major opportunity to steal at least some of the spotlight from the new consoles by unveiling Half-Life 3 and/or Left 4 Dead 3. I don't think it hurts them by not unveiling anything like that yet, but it was definitely a missed opportunity.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
Given that, I would be thrilled if Valve announced a product that I already knew I wanted that was designed to use their three newly announced components (os, machine, controller) and that could not exist but for those three new components,
Which goes entirely against the spirit of these inventions. All 3 products are about giving consumers choice; about opening up the PC gaming sphere (even if Steam is still required). To force consumers to purchase or use all 3 products in order to play the industry's most anticipated game is the exact opposite of their intention. More than that, it would be bringing console-style exclusivity to the PC, which is even worse.

From a business perspective, it would make sense, but Valve do appear to actually be promoting a vision with these products. Which is not to say that this isn't a business decision - it is - but rather that they're not letting the revenue-generating possibilities of this interfere with their vision. They are playing the long-game.


@ Andrew

I think they'll announce or release Source 2/L4D3/HL3 closer towards the release of one of these products. If they'd announced any of those things alongside these 3 reveals, it would have drawn attention away from the OS/hardware.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 30th September 2013 4:31pm

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I'm not sure why people are talking about installed base and supporting a platform. Steam machines are, for all intents and purposes, PCs. What matters is SteamOS. But it's install base doesn't depend on the number of steam machines sold.
The theoretical install base of SteamOS is the entire PC gaming community, or at least the current steam community of about 50 million right now. If enough PC owners opt for SteamOS, then they can realize some of this potential.

But it's not like they need to shift millions of boxes, compete with consoles in pricing and subsidize the hardware, and deliver an exclusive killer app. They don't (and can't) compete on these terms.
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Show all comments (21)
Andrew Clayton Assistant Designer, EA DICE8 years ago
In some ways I could see that, but it would also make me much more interested in the OS/hardware if they had done something like "Half-Life 3 preloaded on every SteamBox". Even if I would get those games for my current PC, I would have appreciated the tie in and looked even more closely at the hardware (or learning Linux to mod the SteamOS).
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
if they had done something like "Half-Life 3 preloaded on every SteamBox"
Heh... There's still time for that. :) The thing to remember is that the hardware won't ship to retail til next year, though the SteamOS sounds like it's closer (maybe November?). But it's an easy thing to just wait until closer to release and announce a free-preload of X, Y and Z, as one of the greatest marketing tools ever. (Unless it's just TF2 hats. :p )
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Jean-Marc Wellers Assistant Online Services, Ubisoft8 years ago
It's not too late imo.
Steam Machines are far from being out yet. plenty of time to make other announcements and keep the buzz going. ;)
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
The only news I wanna hear from Valve is Half Life 3.

These other announcements, arent really anything Im dying to buy or looking foward to. My feeling is indifference, not excitement.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 8 years ago
Surely the offering is more along the lines of: "Hey.... you know how your PC is hampered by Windows? You know how much you hate WIndows 8? Why not dual boot Steam OS and see what your nice PC can really do!" Frankly if they made it a useable alternative to Windows like having good Open Office support and a fairly easy GUI then I think Valve's reputation would at least let a lot of people explore it.

I agree with the points others have made above about not tying all 3 of these things together. To me they are all independent interesting things that Valve is doing (although steam box hinges on the other 2 more so). I'm looking forward to hearing more people get confused over Valve's business model in the future.
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Mario Tommadich Software QA Analyst, Indie Game Developer 8 years ago
Funny how nobody seems to notice that Valve has already won the next generation console war. They already have a massive install base without even partaking in terms of hardware distribution/development. That has all been done for them more or less by the evolution of gaming PCs. All valve had to do is gather statistics through Steam and wait for the right moment to announce that "You, Ladies and Gentlemen already own a Steam Box - you don't believe it, well, you're actually viewing this post on it right now."

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mario Tommadich on 30th September 2013 6:48pm

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game8 years ago
The OS is free, and you can duel boot it, so why would any Steam gamer with a basic knowledge of partitions OS installation, and substantial spare HDD space not at least consider trying it out on there existing set up? If it works badly, delete it.

If the Steambox is reasonably priced for what it is, it is a PC still, so as long as it can also have Windows, it doesn't seem a bad option, in order to get a just works outta the box gaming PC, if you are buying a new one anyway.

The controller is not mandatory for the box or OS, and can be used independent of either. If it works, people can use it however they want, if it sucks, you can use a traditional controller or mouse.

I don't see why any of these need a killer new app, although it wouldn't hurt for the controller. Non are dependent on each other, the SteamOS is free, the box should be a PC, and has all the PC software available. Although if the OS is succesful, not paying for Windows could knock 60-100 off the price of a PC.

These arn't a new console, they are an attempt to stimulate the PC ecosystem. It may not work, but it's not going to be down to a shortage of software.
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Edward Buffery Head of LQA (UK), Testronic8 years ago
Many of the games I play are already via Steam, so for sure I'll try out their free OS once it comes out, as a dual-boot system. I've nothing to lose by it and it won't cost me money, so I don't need to be 'sold' anything. I'm unlikely to consider buying a second PC just to be a Steambox, but I'll consider the controller. Again, there doesn't need to be a 'killer app', it just needs to be a decent controller. My existing Steam library already contains all the games I'd ever need to persuade me to be interested in a good controller.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 8 years ago
I like the idea a start up could produce their own Steam Box running out of the box Steam OS + Valve Controller.

Compaq started the trend of producing IBM clones that flourished into an entire ecosystem curated by Microsoft even today.

Perhaps Steam OS can produce this ecosystem for the lounge room .
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On the face of it maybe the Steam Box announce doesn't have huge surprises though for me the controller seems the craftiest idea of all. PS4 and XboxOne are basically PC's just like the Steam Box. If Valve's controller truly does manage mouse based input just as well as regular joypad driven games, with 10-20 million installs of Steam OS Valve's box could put itself in the position as THE gamers machine simply because every big game from any of the three systems will be ported to Steam OS, a luxury only it will have over the rival platforms. Combine that with a mod-able OS, user created apps, a much more customer friendly marketplace, and the open architecture of the PC, and Steam Box could look pretty impressive in a few short years. It's all about that controller though, am very interested to see what it feels like playing Total War etc. Right now, without knowing anything, it's all very interesting :P
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James Boulton Owner, Retro HQ Ltd8 years ago
Personally this one isn't for me. I like the ability to just run a game if I fancy playing it just by double clicking on an icon from the same environment that I am able to do everything else from. The idea of having to boot to a different OS just to play a game, to me, is a non-starter.

It does "consoleify" the PC gaming experience, but is that useful? If you have a pure gaming PC, then sure, but how many people have a PC just hooked up to a big TV for gaming purposes? I always viewed PC gaming as being a little further disconnected from consoles as a good thing. But I'm probably just out of touch with toady's PC gamers...

Don't like the controller either. Has anyone tried playing games with the XPeria Play joypad which is like this? Not nice...
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Justin Biddle Software Developer 8 years ago
You can duel boot but then I need a second pc in order to run eighty percent of their catalogue. It's really not for me.

Imagine if ps4 or xbox one launched stating you need a pc to run more than half their games.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 1st October 2013 11:38am

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Paul Shirley Programmers 8 years ago
@Jame Boulton: The Xperia Play touchpad issues are a combination of woefully underpowered hardware + a high latency touch implementation in the OS it ships with + effects of the hackery SE used injecting touchpad input. By the time Android improved the latency Sony had abandoned the Play. Overclock and run a lightweight game and it works surprisingly well despite the handicaps.

@Barry Meade: " the open architecture of the PC"
Surely the hope for Streambox is that it will restrict some of the choices and establish a useful baseline for gaming PCs. What I hear from gamers is they're avoiding the endless upgrade cycle and the effort needed to choose the right components when they choose console over PC. This takes away all that friction. What will hopefully happen is we'll get a range from baseline Steamboxes with little scope for modding all the way up to full high end PCs with a Steambox certification. All guaranteed to play the same games without any user configuration.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Shirley on 1st October 2013 12:19pm

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James Boulton Owner, Retro HQ Ltd8 years ago
@Paul It's the lack of tactile response you get from joypads which I find the most annoying from these touchpad things. They are basically like having virtual sticks on an iPhone game. Crap compared to the "real thing".
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@james Agree, a lack of tactile response could be a big negative - how would it handle GTA 5 fr'instance? The Super Meat Boy chap said it played SMB just fine, which suggests its very accurate and responsive at least. It apparently plays Civ 5 well too, answering my fears about mouse control. But it remains to be seen what its like to navigate freely in a 3D world like GTA 5 or even worse, Demon Souls, which is where analogue sticks really shine. If it could do either of these games reasonably well then its very bloody interesting indeed.
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Nick Wofford Hobbyist 8 years ago
The big problem with Steam OS is that it's basically just duct-taped to Windows. Only the Linux-compatible games will work on it; any other titles will have to use Windows. Valve's solution is to stream your game from your Windows PC to your Steam Box (in the living room), which means you still need a good enough PC to run the game. That's only making PC gaming more expensive, by making me buy a Steam Box + PC instead of just the PC + HDMI cable.
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Dave Wolfe Game Developer, Cosmic Games8 years ago
@ Nick and James
The Linux compatible games are just a small fraction right now, but as more and more people use SteamOS, more companies will make Linux versions of their games. Indies have already found out how Linux support can boost their revenue, and if SteamOS takes off then perhaps larger developers will find it worth their time as well. It's a long term plan that may or may not work out. And maybe this is just fantasy, but if SteamOS becomes a widely supported platform, and assuming it's also useful as a desktop OS, then perhaps more companies will port non-gaming apps and eventually you'll no longer need to dual boot Windows. I won't give up the dream! :D
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
If this platform matches up to the vision, why on earth would you need HL3 to justify it? Announcing the latest installment sometime this decade would be appreciated though
The big problem with Steam OS is that it's basically just duct-taped to Windows. Only the Linux-compatible games will work on it; any other titles will have to use Windows. Valve's solution is to stream your game from your Windows PC to your Steam Box (in the living room), which means you still need a good enough PC to run the game. That's only making PC gaming more expensive, by making me buy a Steam Box + PC instead of just the PC + HDMI cable.
Well, it will be easier to port a game to this platform than any other in theory. I expect the idea is that all games end up being on SteamOS in the future or most of them. Then you have a viable alternative to to the traditional consoles.

If publishers have any confidence in this, they will put their games on the platform. If not, boohoo.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 1st October 2013 8:48pm

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