Earlier this year at E3, Valve and CEO Gabe Newell gave us the first look at the Steam Box, the microconsole set to compete with Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. The video game company behind hit titles like “Half-Life” and “Portal” promised a release date in late 2013, but we’re approaching the end of October and there’s still no sign when the Steam Box will be ours. So what do we know?
Just What Is A Microconsole, Anyways?
While Sony and Microsoft battle for the biggest, baddest next-gen console, Valve is reaching out to a different niche of video game publishers: indie. While both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 pack impressive hardware, developing games for the two most popular gaming consoles often leave small publishers in the dust. As long as companies like EA and Activision rule the landscape, it’s tough to compete.
The Steam Box aims at those publishers looking circumvent working with Microsoft and Sony. But what makes a microconsole different from an Xbox or Playstation? Microconsoles, like microcomputers (think Raspberry Pi), are mostly barebones and cheaper machines with open-source software for developers to work with.
“Cross Platform” Gaming
It’s an idea the industry’s experimented with but never fully implemented. You can play “Call of Duty” on Xbox and on PC, but you can’t play against someone on Xbox from your PC. Since a Steam Box is essentially a PC and uses the same Steam concept as Windows or Mac, it does bring one of the first elements of true “cross platform” gaming.
Steam is arguably the best gaming platform on PC today. It really has everything: a store, insane summer sales, game collection organization, multiple machine downloads, game save cloud storage. Any gamer who plays on the PC likely plays through Steam. A successful console wouldn’t be possible without this momentum. Online gaming, both PC and console, has gamers demanding massive bandwidth from ISP providers. Since the Steam Box is essentially a PC and uses Steam as the platform, any game you own on Steam, you already own on the Steam Box. It already has a user base the moment it launches.
So, Where Is It?
It’s important to note that the Steam Box isn’t technically made by Valve. A company called Xi3 worked with Valve to create the “Piston” which is, for now, the unofficial Steam Box. It’s possible we’ll see a number of manufacturers making their own Steam Boxes with similar specs (much like when Google TV first launched).
At first glance, the Piston looks just like a small computer, a box-shaped case with a plethora of USB ports on the back, HDMI and other input/outputs you’d see on any other PC. Unlike the Xbox or Playstation, Valve’s goal is to keep the Steam Box as open as possible so that PC users can make the seamless transition. We’re still waiting on the Piston’s arrival, though no specific release date has been set. When the microconsole drops, it will be interesting how it affects the industry dominated by the big three.