“If we have to sell hardware we will.”
Gabe Newell said those words to Penny Arcade’s Ben Kuchera in mid-February. Of course, he also said there’s no reason to think they’d be “any good at it” and that Valve would prefer hardware people that know how to manufacture and distribute the stuff keep their hands on the reigns of such things. In retrospect it seems likely yon Mr. Newell was engaging in a bit of foreshadowing, given Friday’s news, revealed at The Verge, that cites company “sources” that Valve is working on a hardware and software platform capable of delivering “open” gaming experiences and competing directly for a share of your living room alongside (or in place of) products from Microsoft, Sony, and even Apple.
You can click through to The Verge’s article for more details, including the rather hefty specs rumored for such a device. I also recommend their review of the very impressive Alienware X51, which The Verge says is rumored to have been designed with Steam Box specs in mind. It’ll be interesting to see if more concrete news about this venture comes out of GDC this week, as rumored, or if we’ll be speculating about it clear through to E3 in June.
In the meantime, let’s assume this is the real thing (and I believe that it is). Who’s lining up to buy one? I’ve gotta say, as a pure consumer, I’d sure give it some serious thought. To pull this off, however, Valve needs to be able to sell this to people who have had, to this point, no interest in Steam whatsoever, if they’ve even heard of it. Even non-gamers have heard of the Xbox. How many people know what Steam is or why a Steam Box might be right for their home? It’s not an easy market to crack into, but then Valve basically defined a non-existent digital distribution space. They know how to break new ground with a compelling offering and see it through to maturation. Never bet against these guys.