Remember Last week when Gabe Newell said that Linux was, "The Future of Gaming!"
This week we found out his plan to bring the self-fulfilling prophecy to fruition. It came in the form of three announcements starting Monday that outlined a platform strategy centered around the much speculated about SteamBox.
Monday we found out about SteamOS. A linux based operating system that forms the foundation of the SteamBox strategy. SteamOS promises to stream Windows and Mac games from other PC's (Kind of like Nvidia's Shield) and natively support Linux games. Valve has purportedly been working with hardware vendors and game developers to take advantage of the new platform and claims "significant performance increases in graphics processing."
Taking aim at existing and upcoming consoles it also promises support for Music, TV and movies and socialization utilizing existing Steam client mechanisms.
Wednesday brought the announcement of an actual hardware platform or should I say "platforms." "SteamMachines" are described as, "...a variety of Steam gaming machines...all of them running SteamOS."
300 Steam users will be selected to participate in a SteamBox beta program utilizing prototype hardware. Specifics about the hardware weren't released but it appears Beta participants will not be under any non-disclosure restrictions with Valve stating, "...that really is the whole point. The input from testers should come in many forms: bug reports, forum posts, concept art, 3D prints, haikus, and also very publicly stated opinions"
Friday brought the final announcement. The last piece of the SteamBox puzzle was revealed to be the introduction of a new controller. The SteamController resembles a standard game controller but will be wireless (except for the beta), contain a small touchscreen in the center of the controller flanked by two trackpads in place of traditional gamepad controls.
Valve claims the device will mimic the operation of a keyboard and mouse and touts the advancements in control using haptics. Haptics is a method of providing feedback via small electromagnets to aid in the "feel" of control using a trackpad.
So what have we got...
Well, since SteamOS is going to be open and hackable we basically have a new Linux Distro. Considering Ubuntu is the only platform that Steam currently works with reliably, I wonder how long it will be before someone coins the term, "SteamBuntu."
Oops, maybe I just did...
The SteamBox or "Steam Machines" seems like a dodge. The Beta program is awfully small and the SteamOS is not being publicly released yet. It sounds more like a recommended configuration than an actual product.
The "Steam Controller"......... is a joke. I don't care how cool it looks...
I'm sorry, but trackpads make for poor game controllers for the same reason that your predictive keyboard on your smartphone sucks for writing blog posts. There's a disconnect that can't be resolved by any combination of shimmy, shake or resistance in a trackpad.
It appears to be more of an exercise in design than utility. Valve is quick to point out that you can still use your current mouse or keyboard with the new OS and Hardware platforms.
There's nothing revolutionary here and too many questions answered with glittering generalities. Let's also be mindful that the whole platform is "open" meaning Valve hasn't really committed to anything but a loose specification.
The solution to Windows and Mac games is streaming them from another PC in your house? Not exactly original or ideal. Latency from wireless controllers is bad enough, imagine processing an entire game.
What about virtualization? What about emulation? The only compatibility fix was hosting OnLive at home? The hype isn't living up to the reality and Valve will have to do a whole lot better than what they're offering now. Linux still has only 1.52% of market share on desktops where most major titles are played outside of the consoles.
These new Steam branded offerings are likely destined to fail because they aren't really so much a platform as a specification. It's not a PC, it's not a console and it's not offering anything we haven't seen before.
So what's the point? Do we really need another Mythbuntu?