Rumor: Valve planning 'Steam Box' PC gaming platform

It's long been rumoured that Valve has plans to get into the hardware game. Now a new set of rumours are saying the Steam and Half-Life maker is planning a PC gaming platform, with standardised hardware and software it'll share with companies to make thei

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As the developer behind Steam and game series including Half-Life, Portal, Left 4 Dead and Counter-Strike, Valve is the de facto figurehead of modern PC gaming, and it's long been rumoured that it'll get into hardware. A fresh rumour is now circulating, saying Valve's planning a standardised PC platform dubbed the 'Steam Box,' which may be revealed at GDC this week.

According to anonymous sources who whispered in the ear of The Verge, Valve is not producing hardware itself, rather drawing up a hardware specification and software solution for PC manufacturers to whip up their own Steam Box--a bit like Google's Android platform. Supposedly, Dell's shiny Alienware X51 was built to an early version of the spec, and could later be upgraded with the Steam Box software.

The anonymous and unconfirmed reports say that Valve demonstrated a Steam Box to potential hardware partners at CES in January. The supposed basic specs of the hand-built PC included an an Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GPU. The PCs would have a planned lifecycle, so developers could count on certain specs, with refreshes every three or four years.

Steam's upcoming 'Big Picture' mode, which tweaks Steam to work on televisions in living room setups, is said to play into the plans, helping bring PC gaming away from the study and desk.

The Steam Box will reportedly ship with a customisable controller boasting swappable inputs, an idea Valve patented last year. The shadowy figures also hint that the controllers may support gathering biometric data, a field's Valve's been interested in for some time, and has already hooked into Dota 2.

Valve head honcho Gabe Newell did recently tell The Penny Arcade Report, "if we have to sell hardware we will," though this followed on from chat about biometrics devices and wearable computers.

While Steam would undoubtedly be at the heart of any Steam Box, The Verge's sources say it'll unsurprisingly also be able to run any PC game, as well as rival platforms such as EA's Origin--so it won't be locked down too tight. Last October, Valve head honcho Gabe Newell lamented platform holders locking users into their software of choice.

The Steam Box could be revealed at GDC this week, The Verge's sources say, or Valve may hold out for E3 in June.

The idea of a standardised gaming PC has often been mooted as a solution to make PC gaming more accessible, but nothing has ever took off. Valve may well have the clout for such a coup, but let's not forget none of this has been confirmed. We've dropped Valve a line, in the vain hope that it fancies casually revealing top-secret plans that could change the face of PC gaming.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 5, 2012 6:45 AM

    Alice O'Connor posted a new article, Rumor: Valve planning 'Steam Box' PC gaming platform.

    It's long been rumoured that Valve has plans to get into the hardware game. Now a new set of rumours are saying the Steam and Half-Life maker is planning a PC gaming platform, with standardised hardware and software it'll share with companies to make thei

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      March 5, 2012 6:52 AM

      What version of Windows would they be using?

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        March 5, 2012 7:05 AM

        Depending on when this thing is released, 7 or 8. Most likely 7 though.

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      March 5, 2012 6:52 AM

      And Half-Life 3 is an exclusive to this Steam Box.

      DUN DUN DUN

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      March 5, 2012 7:05 AM

      I guess I can see potential in this, but it seems to me like your buying a PC you can't upgrade......which I always found the point for being PC.

      Sure it will run games at full speed when it just comes out, but towards the end of that "life cycle" it will begin to act like....wait for it.........a console. And instead of being able to upgrade the parts that are needed most and stretching your cash, you'll just have to buy a new box.

      But I guess if you have no idea what you are doing, and refuse to take the small amount of time it takes to get a basic understanding of how to upgrade stuff, then I guess this "console" is for you.

      I wonder how it would handle the driver updates and shit, since that seems to be the main thing that drags a PC down. Will it defrag automatically? Is it just going to be for gaming? (this all is starting to look like that "Frag Box" thing that was out a while ago when Lan parties were huge)

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        March 5, 2012 7:22 AM

        Consider this possibility:

        For people who want to continue to upgrade their PC, you can just build a PC in a HTPC case and hook that up to your television. Use Steam's upcoming "big screen" mode will do what you need.

        For those who don't want to bother with that, they buy a Steam Box.

        As a result, the PC versions of games become a lot more viable since the console crowd can buy a Steam Box and now they can play their multiplayer games with all the PC/Mac Steam users. Having MP-only games on consoles makes less sense when you have to split up the user base, now you can play against everybody.

        For those who want to keep a really powerful PC as their main system but would be OK with a less powerful but still capable of playing games system for their living room (the classic "comfy couch" argument), you can buy a Steam Box. And as a bonus you only have to buy a game once to play on both (Portal 2's PS3 disc with PC copy was sort of a trial of this concept).

        Not being able logged be into both your PC and the Steam Box at the same time might be an issue but imagine if Valve put in an exception - your PC and your Steam Box can be logged in at the same time, just not playing the same game. Or maybe you could play the same game for an additional fee.

        I can't help but wonder if Valve was going to do a lot of this with Sony and PSN but then that whole PSN hacked and down for weeks thing happened and they said fuck it we'll do it ourselves.

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          March 5, 2012 3:22 PM

          They'd have to sort out the account stuff, or there's no way in hell I'd touch it.

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        March 5, 2012 7:29 AM

        It looks to be more of a spec recommended to current manufacturers, something like Android for PC gaming. That being said, I've felt the sweet spot will be once APU like chips get fast enough for medium setting gaming at 1080p. So 2013/2014 should be the beginning of a really great time for this kind of stuff.

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        March 5, 2012 8:19 AM

        I would think of it more like a gaming laptop than a traditional PC. They have the same issues with upgradeability, but they fill a hole in the market that PCs don't cover.

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      March 5, 2012 7:07 AM

      Rumor: Hemtroll planning Steam Box purchase

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      March 5, 2012 7:07 AM

      Five hundred ninety nine dollars...

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      March 5, 2012 7:08 AM

      This makes me think that steam's "big picture mode" is going to be more than just that. All valve really had to do for a big picture mode was triple the font size and add some navigational tabs. They could have released that (or at least the beta UI) long ago. But I think it's going to act more like a shell and will run full screen in it's own environment on top of windows (meaning, no windows task bar unless you alt-tab out of steam).

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      March 5, 2012 7:09 AM

      Also, if this ends up being true I hope it has a GPU more powerful than what is in Alienware's X51. AND it needs the entire system needs to be a little cheaper. Go with an i5-2500 (or i5-2500k) with an upcoming Kepler GPU and it could be a great, long-term PC gaming solution.

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        March 5, 2012 7:31 AM

        No need for a 2500K, in fact, low power consumption parts will likely be the norm, that way they can get smaller, cheaper PSU's and bring the total system price down. These are going to be built for people who don't want to mess around with this kind of thing.

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          March 5, 2012 7:31 AM

          this kind of thing tweaking.

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            March 5, 2012 7:38 AM

            Agreed, I almost didn't put the K in my idea of specs for that reason. The tweaker in me couldn't resist, though. An i5-2500, or upcoming Ivy Bridge CPU that has similar performance (but lower TDP) would be great. Powerful, but not blowing the budget on power.

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              March 5, 2012 7:43 AM

              It needs to be good enough to last a couple years, after that, it's all about reducing price and power consumption. That means a capable quad-core at this point, probably something like the newly released 7850 after it drops 50-100 bucks, probably just 4GiB RAM though I would really rather see 8, and good enough parts for the remainder within a sleek, unobtrusive chassis. Once OEMs can manufacture this (or something like it) for under $500 I see big potential changes in the gaming industry.

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          March 5, 2012 7:40 AM

          Yes. PCI-E 3.0 isn't needed for gaming at 1080 so a cheap but fast Sandy- or Ivy Bridge i3 and a mid-range GPU would make a lot of sense and be pretty efficient.

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      March 5, 2012 7:46 AM

      I am not going to buy another piece of hardware just to play a specific studio's games. Sorry Valve, but I will skip your games if you do this.

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      March 5, 2012 7:48 AM

      I hope this is true, and that Valve even subsidizes the hardware by a small amount. I would love to see PC gaming shatter perceptions of it being too expensive and not meant for couch play.

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      March 5, 2012 9:23 AM

      Steam, now suffering from consolitis. I love it.

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      March 5, 2012 9:43 AM

      The idea of a standard PC platform isn’t new. I can see a developer give a sigh of relief not having to worry about multiple hardware drivers and incompatibility issues, general benefits of a console. If this is done I just wonder what OS would be utilized. Windows would mostly be the simplest but is one of the reasons that many gamers deicide on a console to begin with. I don’t see Valve really getting in to bed with Microsoft and letting them have the benefit of having yet another console like product on the market. Which I think would be against the idea of Valve producing a console to begin with if the idea is to change the PC game market. I can see an open Linux platform developed by Valve with a simplified UI that would bring the Steam as the focus. If this is just a Valve branded Windows PC it will sell but ultimately fail to gain Hard Core PC gamer who update frequently and not capture console gamers who what something that is simple to use and hassle free.

      Steam on the PS3 was a step in the right direction of this standard platform. I would like to see Valve expand on this with the release of CS:GO. Would like to see a day when there is a Steam icon in the xmedia bar, login and play games that are available on both PC and PS3. One license for the platforms that I choose to play on.

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        March 5, 2012 10:15 AM

        You'll need windows if you want directx support. Which, according to the rumours, it will have.

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        March 5, 2012 10:39 AM

        I have no idea why people are ever flirting with the idea of it running Linux for even a second. The whole point of this would be compatibility and minimizing some of the pains associated with PC gaming, and now they're going to switch to Linux and run everything through Wine or whatever? Uh...

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        March 5, 2012 11:02 AM

        It'd be pointless to go with anything other than Windows unless they have guarantees that a large majority of developers will develop for whatever the alternative is and a large majority of gamers will buy their steam box. It can easily appeal to console gamers because installing a game on Steam or Origin or whatever is super easy and with a standardized PC support and patching could go much smoother (I assume).

        The problems with PC gaming you bring up are only problems because there are a million different configurations of PC hardware and no one really likes sitting around for two hours trying to nail down the exact problem they're having just to play a game. If they release this thing as a standard baseline for PC gaming on Steam then the enthusiasts can either upgrade their Steam box or keep their old PC while console gamers who want a streamlined experience can buy this thing and use it like a console.

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          March 5, 2012 11:30 AM

          Wow I didn't know Linux was a four letter word.
          The average Consumer does't care was OS any product uses or want's to know. They just want that product to work. If Valve uses Linux, Windows, Unix, something new, ect. it doesn't matter.
          All that matters with this particular idea is to make a stable and consistent platform for developers and to eliminate the problems that currently exist with console and PC development of games.

          Remember this is a rumor. There are no facts.

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            March 5, 2012 11:41 AM

            They just want that product to work.

            And the most likely way to achieve this it to run all the games on the OS they were designed for

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            March 5, 2012 2:48 PM

            The way to make it "just work" with the majority of the Steam library is to go with Windows. DirectX is in nearly everything. Only a few companies (Valve, Blizzard) do OpenGL ports for OS X. If it wants to support the widest variety of games that will work properly without any kludges like WINE, it'll run Windows.

            There is no real conflict with the XBox in any case since this would just be a PC with a Windows license.

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            March 5, 2012 3:04 PM

            Dude, plenty of us use linux, it's not that. It's just not the best choice here. For one, you'd lose the entire back catalog support - solutions like Wine aren't really viable when you're trying to support the whole of PC gaming. I know; I've spent far too much of my time getting things working on it.

            The other major issue is that while drivers in linux are much better than they were a few years ago, the performance on any of the major providers - AMD or Nvidia - is still absolutely horrid compared to Windows. Fine for desktop use, but in game you're going to see massive differences, almost always in Windows' favor.

            It's just not a viable choice for something that's going to be an extension of the Steam we know.

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            March 5, 2012 3:17 PM

            Getting modern DirectX to run under Linux in an it just works scenario is a pipe dream

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          March 5, 2012 3:08 PM

          Well Windows isn't exactly cheap and this would be in direct competition to the Xbox so MS wouldn't do them any favors.

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            March 5, 2012 3:33 PM

            Yeah, definitely the achilles heel that I'm curious to see their solution for if this is real.

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            March 5, 2012 7:32 PM

            You really should say retail versions of Windows aren't cheap. The thing is most PC vendors have OEM,bulk or pre-install licensing that brings the cost to a manageable level. I really doubt that companies like dell or hp pay $99 per license let alone the $199 for the full retail price.

            There are other SKUs for Windows that fit for embedded projects like this.

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            March 5, 2012 7:38 PM

            [deleted]

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            March 5, 2012 8:14 PM

            I think they would welcome the competition.

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              March 5, 2012 8:38 PM

              I don't think Microsoft would mind either as would expand their ecosystem/platform. To Microsoft it would just be another embedded device. An example would be that some Sega Dreamcast games actually supported Windows CE.

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          March 6, 2012 4:40 AM

          Remember that Valve head honcho Gabe Newell has excellent connections to Microsoft

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      March 5, 2012 11:36 AM

      And more game built around a controller... no thanks valve. Portal 2 suffered enough with its stand still and solve the puzzle gameplay.

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      March 5, 2012 3:38 PM

      A controller with swappable inputs sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, with crap gumming up the connectors, lost/broken pieces, etc.

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      March 5, 2012 7:37 PM

      [deleted]

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      March 5, 2012 8:48 PM

      Is this why Jerry E is working with Valve?

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