On Monday, Sept. 23, Valve announced the impending release of SteamOS, an operating system that will deliver the ability to play games from the company’s Steam platform to what the company calls “living room machines.”
It will soon be available for free download for users and free licensing by hardware manufacturers. The move is seen as an attempt by the famous developer and publisher to secure their market position in the face of continuously declining PC game sales.
A statement released on the company’s Steam website said: “We’ve been working on bringing Steam to the living room; we’ve come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself.”
Steam’s current customer base is estimated to be about 50 million customers, whose purchases make up over 75 percent of PC games sales according to IHS Screen Digest, a consultancy whose statistics are widely cited in reports about the company.
Steam’s servers host about 2,000 games, available on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. This new software will be based on the Linux operating system, whose source code is freely available for adaptation by its user community.
Valve recently ported the Steam client application to Linux before this release. Company founder Gabe Newell delivered a speech to a Linux development conference last week, saying, “Right now, you’re sort of in this bizarre situation where as soon as you sit on the couch, you’re supposed to have lost connection with all of your other computing platforms.
We really don’t think the fragmentation around the physical location or in terms of computation is necessary or desirable for software developers or consumers” (BBC).
Valve has promised that machines running SteamOS will also be able to play Windows and Mac games by streaming the data from a computer connected to the same local network.
The company’s announcement page also promises a feature called family sharing, which will allow different members of a family to play games from each other’s profiles with minimal hassle.
The company’s rhetoric also promises that the OS will be a “collaborative many-to-many entertainment platform” that will empower its users to make modifications and additions to the system’s capabilities.
In addition to this operating system, many analysts have noted that the company has been implying that it will produce its own hardware, reportedly called Steam Box.
Gabe Newell reported to Kotaku writer Jason Schreier that this year will see the release or at least the announcement of such a device, which has provoked considerable excitement in the gaming community. However, this so far hypothetical device has also attracted some skepticism.
Forbes analyst Erik Kain argues, “If, as many predict, [dedicated] consoles are in their last generation, it may be the right time to plant this kind of seed … but the long, long view is risky and shrouded in the fog of uncertainty.”
No matter the outcome of Valve’s efforts, they are joining a movement toward upsetting the settled market for dedicated game consoles.
With a number of other devices, like the Ouya and Sony’s Vita TV (the latter of which is only slated for a Japanese release at this point) entering the fray, there is much uncertainty as to what the future of television-based gaming will look like.