Rumors have been flying fast and furious since CES that Valve was working on a secret project. Not Half Life 3, but something far more devious – a hardware project. Fueled by recent patent discoveries, the industry was sure that a product introduction was imminent. Valve Marketing Director Doug Lombardi, however, just shot it down.
According to an interview with Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo, Lombardi very explicitly said that nothing hardware-related would be seen from Valve. Not anytime soon, at least. While consoles have utterly dominated video gaming for the last several years, Valve’s Steam platform is one shining example of how PC gaming is still going strong. A Valve-dedicated console might be able to build on that success.
Should Valve ultimately choose to go that route, it’s going to be a hard road to travel. Consoles run proprietary software, use difficult to identify hardware. They bar customers from any sort of upgrades or modification. A lot of those qualities will turn off PC gamers to the idea.
Valve controller patent drawing.
Consoles do have upsides, however, and that is their unformity and longevity. Publishers know that a console manufacturer has sold X number of systems to the public, and that all of these systems are capable of the same performance. As a result, game developers may be more willing to create software for those systems, since it means they don’t need to worry about millions of combinations of CPUs, GPUs, storage devices and more.
The bigger consideration for Valve, however, is their library of software titles – both those that they own and those that they sell for others – as these games mostly require Windows (or, to a limited extent, OS X) to work. That’s an easy fix; Valve could just install Windows onto their console device. That raises its own problems, though, since gamers would just argue that they could replicate the same experience with their own hardware.
A more promising approach might be a certification program, whereby Valve creates a set of standards by which entrants to their program agree to adhere. Then, those systems can be sold as Valve-Certified, or better yet, as some kind of Steam Boxes. You buy one of these, and you get a guaranteed level of performance in this set of games, no matter what. It’s kind of like the approach Dell is taking with its Alienware X51 gaming desktop.
At least we don’t have to worry about it right now:
“Lombardi refused to flat-out say that Valve isn’t working on a console. When I posted it to him this way—’What you’re saying is, there’s definitely nothing coming any time soon, nothing at GDC or E3, but what you’re not ruling out is the possibility that, hey, maybe some day Valve would make hardware,’ he said, ‘I think that’s accurate.'”
So, bottom line – Valve might make a console, or a computer, or some mix, or a set of specs, or who knows what…but they won’t be doing it anytime soon.