Valve Software, a major video game developer and the owner of Steam game distribution service, said that Xi3 Corp.’s Piston video game system, which is currently in development, will be only one of such “Steam Box” devices. More Steam-centered game systems are incoming from other makers; moreover, Valve will offer its own-brand gaming devices going forward.
Valve’s Own Steam Box Incoming
“We will come out with our own and we will sell it to consumers by ourselves. That will be a Linux box, [and] if you want to install Windows you can. We are not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination. We also think that a controller that has higher precision and lower latency is another interesting thing to have,” said Gabe Newell, a co-founder and chief executive officer of Valve, in an interview with The Verge web-site.
On Tuesday Xi3 Corp. announced a development stage system optimized for computer gameplay on large high-definition television monitors. Xi3's Piston is designed specifically to support both Steam and its Big Picture mode for residential and LAN party computer gaming on larger high-def screens. While the details about Xi3 Piston are scarce, it is widely believed that the device is a small form-factor fully-fledged personal computer powered by AMD’s A-series Fusion “Trinity” or “Richland” accelerated processing unit and can be equipped with up to 1TB hard disk drive. Since the unit is a pre-production one, eventually it may gain A-series Kaveri APU with more advanced AMD Radeon HD 7000-series graphics core and up to four AMD Steamroller x86 cores.
Valve did not disclose any details about its own Steam Box game device.
Good, Better, Best Steam Boxes Incoming
While Valve has made an investment into Xi3 and the two companies are jointly showcasing Piston at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, Valve stresses that Xi3 Piston will not be the only Steam Box available on the market. At least three types of Steam-centered gaming devices will be available: some will just stream video games from PCs (e.g., Nvidia Shield) or even servers, other will be tightly-controlled by Valve and will render games locally, the third breed will offer something more than just Steam games.
“The way we sort of think of it is sort of ‘Good’, ‘Better’, or ‘Best’. Good are like these very low-cost streaming solutions that you are going to see that are using Miracast or Grid. […] ‘Better’ [will] have a dedicated CPU and GPU and that is the one that is going to be controlled. […] It has been surprisingly difficult when we say to people ‘don’t put an optical media drive in there’ and they put an optical media drive in there and you are like ‘that makes it hotter, that makes it more expensive, and it makes the box bigger’. Go ahead. You can always sell the ‘Best’ box, and those are just whatever those guys want to manufacture,” explained Mr. Newell.
Even though “good, better, best” approach has its advantages, it is obvious that Valve’s and its hardware partners interests are pretty different. Valve is interested in a stable platform, which will likely be similar to Xi3’s Piston and will be tightly controlled (to what extent?) by the platform designer. Essentially, the firmly-controlled design will quickly become a commodity and there will be few opportunities for hardware makers to differentiate. As a result, many of Valve’s partners will focus on best-type Steam Boxes, which will quickly evolve into small form-factor video game PCs.
Mobile Steam Boxes Incoming
While initially Valve Software plans to address personal computer gaming with its Steam Boxes running Linux or Windows operating systems, the company is also working on mobile gaming devices.
“This [Steam Box] is called ‘Bigfoot’ internally, and we also have ‘Littlefoot’. […] Our approach [to Littlefoot] will be pretty similar. We also think there is a lot that needs to be done in the tablet and mobile space to improve input for games. I understand Apple's [approach]; all the way back in '83 when I met Jobs for the first time, he was so super anti-gaming. In one of the designs that we are building on the controller side, it has this touchpad and we are trying to figure out where that is useful. We do not want to waste people’s money by just throwing in a touchpad. Once we understand what the role is of multi-touch in these kind of applications then it is easy to say you can use your phone for it,” said the head of Valve.