Valve Set to ‘Steam’roll competitionFiled inside: Editorial
At the end of November, sites were abuzz with the news that Valve’s gaming platform Steam had reached a new concurrent user record of 7,190,520. That’s over 7 million players logged on at the same time. By December 29, Steam had beat that record by nearly 500,000 users and more are logging in every day. Why the growing interest? Thanks to an onslaught of platform releases, gadgets, and promotions, Steam is slated to breakout as a gaming standard in 2014 – and here’s why.
In the early aughts, Steam began as a digital rights management platform to protect Valve properties like “Half Life 2” from piracy. By tying online accounts to game purchases, the company navigated an uneasy world of collecting data metrics on its players. Faced with criticism, Valve knew the only way to come out ahead was to offer more.
The company went on to launch the Steam community with friend lists, Facebook integration, and features like deep discounts and offline playing. PS3 playability, Mac integration and cloud services followed, and soon Steam became known as a developer-friendly platform (though there is always an argument if such a thing exists) offering a home for independent and experimental games.
SteamOS: A Foundation To Build On
In December 2013, Valve released SteamOS, a free, custom version of the Linux operating system created specifically to run the Steam software. The system, built on the popular Linux flavor Debian, offers significant performance increases in graphics processing and reductions in latency. Speed aside, it’s the openness of the platform that has Valve’s CEO Gave Newell excited. At LinuxCon, he shared, “Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want. Gamers are empowered to join in the creation of the games they love.” In short, SteamOS is the foundation for what’s to come.
Steam Machines: Coming To Your Living Room
If this week’s CES 2014 is any indicator, Valve is already peacocking against the industry giants. On Thursday, the gaming company held its press event at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show during the same time as Sony’s. Valve announced partnerships with 14 PC makers to build systems based on its SteamOS, along with its custom game controller. With partners like Zotac, Alienware, and Gigabyte, Valve excitedly showed off their devices ranging from Roku-sized, set-top boxes to PC Towers with Intel i7 processors and 1-terabyte hard drives. It’s all in the name of making Steam gaming easier and more accessible for the consumer. What’s more, the machines go on sale later this year starting at $499 – also known as, the price of an Xbox One.
Perfecting The Steam Controller
Speaking of customized hardware, the Steam Controller may be the coolest innovation here; though, it’s not without its hiccups. In a video issued back in October, Steam showcased its design featuring two track pads in lieu of joysticks. Though initial plans also called for a neat center touchscreen rather than push buttons, early beta testing showed that layout to be a distraction; so buttons it is. In the meantime, we have a lot to look forward to with integrated API for developers, Bluetooth connect and system support for up to 16 controllers at once.
Steam Music: Play And Listen
Because gaming and music are meant for each other, another beta is in the works at Valve. This week, Steam Music started doling out early access and so far the feedback is positive. The music player allows users to browse and listen to local libraries through the Steam client with graceful playlist editing, song information, and album covers available via click during gameplay. Currently, the system only handles MP3s but Valve ensures that support for more file types are on the way.
Steam In-Home Streaming In Beta
Beta be damned; another new Steam feature is making its way through testing: in-home streaming. In another attempt to usurp the competition, Valve is building a streaming feature right into its free client. In mid-January, the company invited users to test its streaming capabilities, which requires little work beyond logging two computers into one Steam account. Automatically, the systems are paired and players can access any game in either computer’s library, whether Windows, Mac, or Linux. Though quality can vary depending on Internet setup, Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and other factors like network cards, the reviews are surprisingly positive. This is certainly a nice feature for those of us who don’t want to be tethered to one machine.
Coming Soon: Source 2 Engine
It’s hard to believe that the groundbreaking 3D graphics engine debuted all the way back in 2004. Of course, with its updatable architecture, the powerhouse engine was able to keep up with tech developments over the years. Still, much to the consumer’s delight, Valve CEO Newell confirmed development of a second generation of the engine, Source 2, in 2012. And just last month, company fan site Valvetime posted some possible leaks on just what the new engine could do. The screen shots reportedly come from an insider’s power point presentation featuring an updated version of scenes from “Left 4 Dead 2” with noticeably enhanced design details. If these screenshots of a screenshot are anywhere near true, we cannot wait to see the real thing.