Last week, Valve co-founder and executive director Gabe Newell hinted at upcoming big Steam announcements at LinuxCon 2013 in New Orleans, and the company did not disappoint. This week, Valve announced the upcoming release of SteamOS, a new Linux-based operating system built around Steam. “With SteamOS, 'openness' means that the hardware industry can iterate in the living room at a much faster pace than they’ve been able to,” the announcement says.
In the new open source spirit of Steam, Valve also announced a hardware prototype today, which will be released to the public in 2014, and the company asked for help from the community. "As always, we believe the best way to ensure that the right products are getting made it to let people try them out and then make changes as we go," the announcement says. The company plans to ship 300 of the beta boxes to Steam users, free of charge, for testing.
Although not available to the public yet, SteamOS sounds promising. The Valve announcement says that the operating system will be available as a free download for users and as a freely licensable operating system for manufacturers. Steam has been translated into 25 languages already and is available in 185 countries. Imagine sitting in your living room and connecting with millions of people via your SteamOS. But then you switch to your Linux laptop in your office, and you pick up where you left off. The Steam Cloud means you don't have to update every system or change settings on each device.
It's hard not to get excited about the potential, even if you aren't already a Steam user or gamer. SteamOS and the Steam client promise to blend in-home streaming, media services, family sharing, and family options. This means you also can play Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, choose from almost 3,000 games in the Steam catalog, or access AAA titles scheduled to be released for SteamOS in 2014. SteamOS will let family members control which titles are shared in the games library.
The SteamOS announcement promises in-home streaming, but which media services will be included when the operating system launches remains unclear. The announcement says, “We’re working with many of the media services you know and love. Soon we will begin bringing them online, allowing you to access your favorite music and video with Steam and SteamOS.”
The Future of Gaming
Founded in 1996 by Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington, former Microsoft employees, Valve is already well-known for its Steam software distribution platform. “Now a lot of our decisions and our thinking about the future is based on what we see as structural changes that are the consequence of the ongoing improvements in performance and price performance in computing and networking,” Newell said in his LinuxCon keynote. "I think that people always underestimate these things in the short run and overestimate them in the long run."
Newell said that a couple of years ago, the free-to-play model grew out of their observation that the marginal costs of having another player was less than the marginal community benefits of having that player in the community. He notes that other phenomena occur, such as Twitch t.v., a video platform and community for gamers that allows gamers from around the world to broadcast, watch, and chat while gaming. Newell notes that developers need to think about the novel ways that content creators and experiencers are going to be generated. For example, Newell says that a recent Valve game tournament, between a Swedish and Russian/Ukrainian team, had more than a million people watching simultaneously.
Still, Newell admits that by any metric (e.g., revenue, players, player minutes), Linux gaming is currently insignificant; however, Valve sees Linux as the future of gaming. Several years ago, Valve became concerned about the direction of the PC platform and its proprietary, closed-source model. Now they are noticing significant year-over-year declines in PC units sold. Going forward, Newell says that the democratization of gaming will blur the lines between game creator and consumer. And this is where SteamOS has the potential to be a real game changer, so to speak.
If you want to participate in the Steam Box beta testing, complete the Eligibility Quest on Steam. By October 25, potential beta testers must log into Steam, visit their quest page, and complete five additional steps. Then potential testers will be added to the pool of beta participants who might receive the hardware units. The list will be locked on October 25.