by Josh Hamel
When it was rumored Valve was working on hardware of their own, I had the thought that if the reports were true, it could have the potential to change the gaming landscape as we know it. With the rumors of a Steam Box made by the company put to rest, at least for the time being, I find myself disappointed and not just for the obvious reasons.
The developer has an amazing track record of releasing quality products and they have built up one of the most loyal fan bases in the industry because of it. So, of course I would want hardware produced by Valve because it would almost certainly be a worthy investment. I don’t think you’d have to convince too many people of that.
Other than Valve’s pedigree, though, there would have been a multitude of other reasons to be excited for a console from them. I wasn’t exaggerating my thoughts too much when I said it could potentially change the industry. I truly believe it would, and still could in the future, if the day ever comes where they feel it is necessary to release their own hardware.
The most obvious reason for excitement over a Valve console would be the Steam marketplace on a home console for the first time. While Steam was integrated into the PlayStation 3 version of Portal 2, the marketplace is strictly PC territory. Steam has revolutionized PC gaming and made digital downloads a much better option than buying boxed retail copies of games. That much is obvious.
It has made buying games a cheaper and more pleasant experience for the consumer. Not only that, but Steam has also improved things from the developer’s side. Who wouldn’t want that with all the ease of console gaming?
In a survey of 100 independent developers who have produced successful digital games done by Develop Online, Steam was rated the easiest platform to develop for with 64% saying it was “very easy.”
Compare that to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade which ranked 5th and 7th respectively with only 10% voting “very easy” for the former and none for the latter.
Developers of the darling Super Meat Boy, Team Meat, even called working with XBLA a “mind f***,” and that “everyone should love on Steam.”
If those statements alone don’t tell you that Sony and Microsoft need to open up their digital platforms, maybe sales numbers might. While there have been a few break out hits on consoles and there have been many left to starve on Steam, overall, the latter is where independent developer’s want there games.
According to Team Meat’s Twitter, “Steam out sold xbla, we have sold about 400k copies to date” and “it also out grossed. before the xmas sale we had made as much in those 2 weeks as we did on xbla.”
Games on the PlayStation Network are also notorious for not selling up to developer expectations outside of a few major hits. Nintendo WiiWare games barely even register to many consumers due to lack of exposure and a convoluted purchasing process.
Steam also provides developers easier access to their games after it has hit the platform with few hoops to jump through to put out patches quicker or something similar. One of the reasons Valve stopped support for Team Fortress 2 on The Orange Box for consoles was they couldn’t provide the updates they way they wanted. “On the consoles, they want us to charge money for them, because that’s in their model, and our model is very much more to grow the community by giving out free updates,” said Gabe Newell on the subject.
While this may seem redundant to many of you, or as if I am preaching to the choir, the point is that the major console makers need to take a lesson from Valve and Steam when it comes to digital marketplaces by making them more consumer friendly as well as more open to developers if we want unique experiences to come to them.
The big companies making consoles today can’t treat the digital space as they have the retail space because they are two very different worlds. They have to move away from the old business model if they want to be successful.
It may be too late to incorporate the changes necessary into current consoles, but Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo should look to Steam as the model for digital download services as we approach the next generation, especially if they wish to move to a solid state future in which the boxed retail copy is slowly phased out.
Or, Valve could just make the now defunct Steam Box rumors a reality.