Listen Up, Valve: This is How to Conquer the Living Room

In a recent Kotaku article, Valve Head Honcho and all-around good guy Gabe Newell made it known that the next target in his company’s sites is the space between the couch and the TV: your living room. Steam’s Big Picture mode is, supposedly, a stepping stone on the way to computing hardware designed to live in your entertainment center rather than on your desk. That’s great news for gaming and even better news for those of us who tend to spill things.

“I think in general that most customers and most developers are gonna find that [the PC is] a better environment for them,” Newell explained to Kotaku. “Cause they won’t have to split the world into thinking about ‘why are my friends in the living room, why are my video sources in the living room different from everyone else?’ So in a sense we hopefully are gonna unify those environments.”

Makes sense to me. That PC-in-the-living-room thing has been the pot of gold at the end of many a company’s rainbow. WebTV, anyone? ANYONE? Fine. I’m old. It was kind of like AppleTV except ugly and sans interesting content and the people that used it weren’t snooty. No, your iPad couldn’t control it. Just stop. Besides, AppleTV never really made it, either.

Thing is, if anyone can pull this off, it’s Valve. These guys don’t make mistakes. Hardcore Half-Life fans might grouse about Gaben’s decision to push Team Fortress and Left For Dead rather than rush to finish the One Free Man’s story, but they can’t deny the success of either property. Steam, meanwhile, is probably the best digital distribution platform going. If it’s possible to bring the PC to the living room, Valve can do it.

Now, if you’ll pardon me while I pry my puckered lips from Gaben’s sumptuous ass, I’ve got two cents I’d like to throw into the pot. I’ve been doing this gaming thing for a long time, see, and I’ve got some insights I think the boys at Valve should take into consideration that will really push their foray into the living room right over the top.

– Give us a choice of input devices. I’ve never been all that into PC gaming because I prefer a controller to a mouse and keyboard. Yes, I know, I’m a loser. But I’m a loser with personal preferences, damn it, and those preferences are going to guide my hand when it comes time to reach into my back pocket for my wallet. Valve could make itchy analog-stick-loving people like me feel a lot better about their product if they introduced a standardized controller. That said, they should also mandate mouse and keyboard input for every game to satisfy the PC gamer crowd. Granted, there are a multitude of controllers available for the PC, but a standardized piece of hardware would guarantee that a gamepad would almost always be a usable option (for some games, of course, it just wouldn’t make sense). A choice of input devices, both guaranteed to work with a game? Sign me up.

– Tie purchases to user accounts, not devices. I can’t imagine Valve would get this one wrong, but you never know: if I purchase a title on the Steambox on my living room, I shouldn’t have to pay to play it again on the PC on my desk. Likewise, if I go to a friend’s place, I should be able to log in to his Steam console and play the games I’ve purchased with him (following any requisite downloads, of course). Keep it simple. Keep it flexible. Make it whoop the ass of the Wii U’s mobile game pad play and the Vita’s Remote Play (if that’s even still a thing).

– Tempt us with timed exclusives of Valve’s biggest properties. Should Valve continue releasing Half-Life, Left for Dead, Team Fortress, and Portal titles for other consoles? Of course. Should they release those versions at the same time as their Steam versions? Of course not. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If they need a more noble excuse than “we’d like to make some money and drive sales of our own hardware,” they can always play the “of course our software is going to be done for our own console first!” card.

– Make it good for more than just gaming. A PC-based living room device is probably really flexible, right? Well…maybe not. “…certainly our hardware will be a very controlled environment,” Newell told Kotaku. That sets alarm bells off in my head. On the one hand, this thing isn’t going to gain traction with your Average Joe consumer if it involves a lot of fiddling with device drivers or a convoluted interface. On the other hand, we’ve got more than enough walled gardens in our world. Rather than force consumers to buy more movies and music from a controlled source, embed the best Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify services ever attached to a device. Add a social component reminiscent to Wii U’s popular MiiVerse, but also make sure it works well with Facebook and Instagram. Curating the experience is fine; limiting it is not.

Hopefully something in the above is helpful to Valve. If it is, I’d like a hallway named after me in company headquarters. It doesn’t even have to be particularly nice. Just make sure it’s cleaned once a month and I’ll be happy–but not as happy as I’ll be if Valve gets this living room thing right.

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  • Everett Johnson

    A standerized controller? Steam sells software, not hardware. If you want a controller, for which I do not blame you I use one, use an Xbox controller. If a game supports a controller, it’s an Xbox 360 one. It’s easier on developers. Also what does “mandate mouse and keyboard input for every game” even mean? Control what they do their controls in? That’s not even feasible. Steam doesn’t control games at all, they only sell them. I believe they have some API’s to easily link achievements to steam, but they can’t control the games themselves. That’s the developers.

    Games are already tied in to your user name, not your device. I can log into any computer and download and play any of my games.

    But for the rest, I agree with some, and am wary of the rest. I like the idea of what this would be for me, but it would start to become less of PC gaming and more of a console that runs PC games. While this would dominate the living room, it would also dominate your computer. That much going on? You would need a strong computer to handle all of it. Hardware is too different among Steam users for this to be feasible. If you made a “Steam console” then well idk. I would probably buy it, but it’s not really PC gaming then. It would be different.