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Valve is up to something, and it has to do with the future of Steam
Valve is up to something, and it has to do with the future of Steam
September 20, 2013 | By Kris Graft

September 20, 2013 | By Kris Graft
Comments
    57 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing



Alright, so our readers know that we don't typically run stories about teaser sites, but this particular tease points to something that could be quite a big deal.

Over on Valve Software's official Steam site, there's a countdown timer set to hit zero on Monday morning. At the top of the page, it says "The Steam Universe Is Expanding in 2014," with additional hints of a big move by Valve into the living room. Valve said in an email that we can expect three announcements, the first one taking place Monday.

Any additional move by Valve towards greater living room presence for games is noteworthy. The platform has 50 million registered users, and this announcement will come at a time when major next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft are about to hit, not to mention probable Android-based entries from Google and Amazon.

Whatever is revealed will be what Valve founder Gabe Newell was hinting at earlier this week at LinuxCon, where he said, "Next week we're going to be rolling out more information about how we get there and what are the hardware opportunities we see for bringing Linux into the living room."

More vague messaging is seen on the Steam teaser site, which suggests that Valve will be tapping into the community -- something that Valve tends to do -- to help shape the future of whatever is on the horizon:

Last year, we shipped a software feature called Big Picture, a user-interface tailored for televisions and gamepads.

This year we've been working on even more ways to connect the dots for customers who want Steam in the living-room. Soon, we'll be adding you to our design process, so that you can help us shape the future of Steam.

Newell hasn't been shy about his vision of Steam in the living room. Aside from launching Big Picture mode, Valve has talked openly about releasing its own hardware, a "Steam Box," that would connect to televisions, offering convenience of a game console with the openness of the PC platform.

That openness of PC has been a focal point of Newell's vision of the future. Long a proponent of open systems, he said Windows 8 is a "catastrophe" that signals a larger move to a closed ecosystem, and pointed to open-source Linux as sort of a lifeboat that just needs some games and serious support in order to become more viable an option for users.

"Systems which are innovation-friendly and embrace openness are going to have a greater competitive advantage to closed or tightly regulated systems," he said at LinuxCon.


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Comments


Dane MacMahon
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I'm still baffled by the whole idea of a Linux Steambox. I hope Newell blows me away with the announcement and makes me "get it." Because right now I see the complete lack of Linux versions on Steam games, the complete lack of Linux gamers on Steam, and I just don't see how either significantly changes by 2014.

Also, on a more personal note, I still struggle to understand why living room gaming is more "convenient." I don't want to fight my wife and kids for the TV, I don't want to broadcast my annoying and often mature gameplay audio to the entire house, I don't want to be distracted by constant interruptions that occur at the focal point of the house. I love going to my den and playing games on my 30" monitor in peace and quiet. I have a great reclining chair that is probably just as comfortable as my couch. I have never understood why so many think living room gaming is living the high-life.

Anyway... it's obviously still the preferred method and I'm insane or something, so it will be interesting to see what Valve announces. I do have concerns about PC gaming basically turning into another console, but hey, at least it will be an open platform.

E Zachary Knight
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The big draw of living room gaming is being with other people. Whether that means other people playing with you or just spectators. It is the social aspect that draws people to the living room.

The type of gaming you describe is typically that done by one's self or over the internet.

While both have their draws to different people, both have strengths and weaknesses. Valve, the dominant player in PC gaming, realizes that there is a huge untapped market for them that they want to reach. They want to bring the power of the PC to the living room to have more social living room experiences.

Dane MacMahon
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I played a lot of Goldeneye with my high school friends. I get the appeal. However I don't think many games today are made for that kind of gameplay.

Mike Jenkins
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"I played a lot of Goldeneye with my high school friends. I get the appeal. However I don't think many games today are made for that kind of gameplay."

There are plenty. Co-optimus.com has a pretty nifty database, search by system and "couch co-op." This doesn't even include competitive couch games, like Goldeneye. In fact, Diablo 3's console advertising campaign seems to be focused on it.

Nathan Mates
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This is a point I brought up a while about the new SimCity's effectively-forced play with others: some people are introverted gamers, preferring to play by themselves. Some people are extroverted - prefer playing with others. I guess that needs to bifurcate again - playing with friends nearby and also playing with remote players. But, the introverted/extroverted split remains.

I think that as game development teams have gotten bigger, they've effectively self-selected for people that can handle being part of a big team -- and larger projects game designers must communicate effectively to each other and the team. That's effectively a place for extroverts, mainly. And thus, the larger teams get a pile of extroverted developers working on them. And then they're surprised (see: Simcity) when a bunch of introverted game players -- who were fully happy with previous iterations of a franchise -- are annoyed that extroverted play is the new normal. Introverts don't like being treated like defective extroverts.

So, the challenge is this: how to be aware of this so that large company/team game development can be a place that can handle introverted developers and game experience?

Maybe Valve has enough research that shows that they've got the introverted and remote-extroverted player market locked up, and there's X number of potential new players in local-extroverted players, rather than self-selected extroverts going "everyone must want to play like me"

Dane MacMahon
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@ Nathan

Great reply that deserves its own article. Not wanting to be treated like a broken extrovert is hitting the nail on the head.

Sadly I don't see things changing.

David Navarro
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" It is the social aspect that draws people to the living room. "

I always thought that what drew people to game in the living room was an enormous TV.

Kyle McBain
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@Knight I don't think they really care about social living room expereinces. You could be right but did they actually say that? I know actions speak louder than words but you could also say they are probably just trying to make things more accessible in order to profit.

For everyone that keeps commenting on how they have uncomfortable furniture, a small place, or can't afford a gaming rig I hate to be insensitive, but being as that I am in the same boat I think it is fair for me to say that developing games and hardware based upon what people can afford is hurting the overall gaming experience. Simply doing what is profitable is what will in turn diminish the integrity of the game.

Affordability and comfort aside I honestly don't understand why anyone would want to play third party games on anything other than a PC. You can achieve basically every experience possible depending on how you set it up and it has way better visuals.

Jay Anne
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I sit in a computer chair all day. I don't want to play games at a computer chair when I come home.

Dane MacMahon
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How is a couch really changing the sitting-on-something experience?

Jay Anne
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Couches are softer and you can lean back farther. The TV experience is less demanding than the PC experience.

Adam Bishop
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My couch at home is *way* comfier than the chair at my desk at work.

Dane MacMahon
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You guys need better chairs.

And even if sitting up on my couch was comfier I would still game elsewhere for all the reasons I listed.

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Harry Fields
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Leaning back on a big ol' soft couch, feet up on the coffee table, controller in one hand and beer in another, while enjoying software/hardware that, very generally speaking, just *works*. Love my PC, too... but I do prefer the consoles for most experiences. Something about the bright and vibrant 65" TV, booming full-room surround sound, occasional multiplayer with the family, proximity to the kitchen LOL.

Dane MacMahon
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It likely has a lot to do with what you're used to. I've been playing PC games almost exclusively for 25 years. I don't get why the above appeals more than my setup. Peace and quiet, soft comfy reclining chair, better graphics on a screen larger than your tv because of how close I sit to it, etc.

Anyway that's why I said on a personal note. I just like to poit out the living room isn't the best for everyone.

Jay Anne
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@Dane
I think most people don't have reclining computer chairs. This turns out to be the mystical secret behind console gaming: chairs that bend 45 degrees! ;)

Dane MacMahon
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Built in consoles on recliners! The future!

*runs to patent office*

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Dan Jones
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Not to turn this whole comments section into a debate on the comforts of the living room, but I do want to offer a counterpoint to your situation:

Some of us don't currently have the luxury of a separate room in which to play PC games in relative isolation. My computer desk (and my quite comfortable office chair, I might add) are located in the bedroom where my wife (and now our 4 month old son) almost always go to sleep before I do. So, my prime gaming time, when I'm the only one awake, needs to be done relatively quietly. Sure, I can use headphones, but what about when I'm playing co-op and would like to voice-chat?

In times like that, (which is almost every night) I'd love to be able to walk down the hall to the living room, flip on the TV, and play my Steam library from the couch without disturbing my slumbering family.

Jason Withrow
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Me, I like to get away from my computer after an entire day spent on it. Even my PC gaming would be improved if I could just do it on some other computer. Maybe if I could upgrade one without the old one catching fire... (true story). The short point being: anywhere but here, on the work computer. If Valve can give me "anywhere but here," I might not buy straight-out, but I'm listening.

Harry Fields
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I have a SteamBox homebuild plugged into the TV. a 65" Tv is a highly impractical size for a monitor that's not at least 7 feet away, ergo, the only purpose of this box is gaming. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse, but I simply cannot find a comfortable way to do it, other than use "controller-friendly" games on Steam. That and the graphics card took some tweaking to not suffer horrible overscan. Point is, it took fiddling and farting around to get optimal results out of the SteamBox (not the official one to be announced). For the Xbox, I plug it in, I put in the disc, I turn it on... and I go...

Now obviously for productivity, the old set up in the home office of a pair of 26" monitors on a desk works fine.... I simply prefer gaming on the couch, but again... It's a very personal thing. Everyone has their own getup that they love. Some people, mostly young love gaming from a rocker chair or bean bag 2 feet away from the screen. Some love PC gaming with headphones on. To each their own.

MrPhil Ludington
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I see this as two prongs in a cohesive strategy:

The 1st Prong and primary prong is how do you deal with Microsoft's movement towards a closed system. Steam depends on Windows being open and a lot of the devs that provide games on Steam are also dependent on an open system. Linux is the safe space to start building infrastructure in preparation for the potential and likely scenario that Windows will become a closed system. Think of it as a Huge Plan B because Microsoft could pull the rug out from under everyone.

The 2nd Prong is carving out a new space and market, expanding the reach into the console market aka the living room. It isn't a necessary move like the 1st Prong, but it's fertile ground just sitting their that mights as well be targeted by the efforts of the 1st Prong.

Dane MacMahon
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Is it really likely Microsoft makes Windows a closed system any time soon? This is an actual question, not a statement. Given their business focus and the fact Windows 8 is completely open despite people acting like it isn't I just get a very paranoid vibe from that kind of talk.

Gabe Newell is not an idiot though, so I assume there is a real chance?

Jay Anne
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Aside from the closed system issue, there's still the issue of having an OS for a console you're making. Selling a Steambox running Windows means that extra license cost.

Ben Sly
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Dane:
Windows 8 with its focus on the Windows App Store and its curated content along with the move away from the desktop to the app page is a move is a move towards a closed system. There is still a lot of distance between Windows and iOS as far as system openness goes and a hell of a lot of customers would be quite frustrated with Microsoft if it suddenly closed that distance, but Microsoft has demonstrated its willingness to make ill-conceived leaps on various bandwagons before.

Still, I don't think it's likely Windows will become a closed system any time soon. Perhaps after a few more releases it will, but perhaps Windows 8's just an experiment.

And yet, PC gaming is currently standing on the back of Windows; if the great lumbering beast shifts, then a digital content sales competitor like Steam would be very wise to find a home elsewhere. But there's nothing else like Windows out there right now, and few substantial inroads have been made towards making Linux a viable competitor for gaming because there's no-one large and interested enough to support it. Valve is trying to change that to protect Steam, and - if Windows 8 is indicative of what Microsoft is trying to achieve - it's a very good business strategy maybe ten years down the line. And even if Microsoft has no intention of killing Steam off, having a significant Linux foothold means that Valve is no longer at Microsoft's mercy if it wants more control over gaming.

Dane MacMahon
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Oh I don't blame Valve at all for trying to get out from under Microsoft's thumb. It makes complete sense to me.

I just don't know as a consumer I should personally care. Unless Microsoft literally makes Windows a closed platform in the future I just don't see why anyone but Gabe needs to sweat over it.

Jay Anne
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@Dane
When Microsoft started their moves towards a closed system, many developers tried to make the PR case to consumers that a closed platform would ultimately decrease software innovation. But it's hard to convince consumers of this, since they probably don't think innovation is dead on the iOS app store, which is the model that Microsoft was adopting.

Dane MacMahon
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Well Windows 8 was certainly not a huge success, so maybe that campaign worked. Honestly though I kind if rolled my eyes at it a bit, since its nowhere near a closed system yet and due to the business focus I doubt it will become one any time soon.

I'm still using Win7 though, so I can't really say. I don't see a reason to upgrade yet, so I haven't. I'm building a new PC to coincide with next-gen consoles though, so I might get it then.

Jay Anne
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Oh great. Yet another OS to support. Windows, Linux, Android, iOS, web browsers.

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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Name some four player split screen PC games... GO!

Dane MacMahon
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Only ones in my library with any offline coop are Castle Crahsers and Trine, as far as I know.

John Flush
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This is my very problem with PC gaming. It is also becoming my problem with console gaming. My X360 plays Minecraft, Terraria, Castle Crashers, Doom and Doom2 almost non-stop because that is all we got that plays 4 player split screen. We recently added COD: MW, but still. I wish one of the big console people would realize that was the boom to just about every house at some point. N64 had golden eye, Xbox Halo (and Burnout 3 in my house), the Wii was Wii Sports and other 4 controller multiplayer.

However, it seems like "online" has killed the idea that the family can play real games without being online, it has basically turned the console into the PC again.

Henry Shilling
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A console only game has just sold $1Billion in three days and you wonder why Steam wants to be in the living room?

Everyone has a console, poor people have Xbox or PS, the deal will be can he make it cheap enough? I don't see Linux as any issue whatsoever. Linux can right now handle games as well as any console, it's just that the numbers aren't there for the consumer market.

Dane MacMahon
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I know why consoles are more popular. I even know why living room gaming is, I just don't "get it."

Anyway, on the main point, if you make a Steambox people are going to expect it to play more than 90's games in Wine and a few modern games Valve makes or gets publishers to port. The reason I am skeptical is because I don't see Linux becoming a real gaming platform in the next 6 months just because Valve wants it to.

Would be happy to be surprised though.

sean lindskog
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This is obvious, but the reason most games don't release on linux is that there isn't a market for it. If Steam releases a steambox, it is quite possible they can completely change the market. Once that happens, many more games will release on linux.

I agree, it won't be instantaneous. But there are some linux games already. Given a new, big market, there will be a land rush of other indies to join in, and a little more slowly the big game engines will move to support linux as well. Once that happens, most large titles will easily be portable to linux. I believe Unity3D is already supporting linux.

I think Wine works reasonably well for some newer games as well (not just "90's games"), which will provide a temporary filler until more native ports are released.

Dane MacMahon
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Unless they're going to port every decent game ever made for Windows to Linux I will have to dual-boot anyway, in addition to learning a new OS. It's just not worth it to me unless they literally go full crazy and make Half Life 3 a Linux exclusive, which they won't do.

Kujel s
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In defense of linux on the whole learning a new OS, Mint at the very least is almost the same as using windows and I'm sure Valve would use a distro that is also similar.

I may not like Valve for a number of reasons but I don't think Gabe is stupid and using a distro of linux that would be too different from the classic windows UI would be stupid which I'm skeptical Gabe would do.

Scott Lavigne
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There's really not a huge amount to learn for someone who just wants to play their games. Linux has made user-friendliness progress in leaps and bounds in the last decade. It's not like you'll ever have to use a command line if you don't want to.

warren blyth
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question (for anyone):
I have this idea of how things are, but no hard facts.
Curious if anyone would support this perspective or destroy it:

1) A lot of people seemed to scoff when Steam announced Mac support. There were almost zero mac games for many months, and it seemed like that OS would never really draw in major developers.
2) Now it seems like Mac support has really taken off (because major releases, from Bioshock Infinite to Borderlands 2 to Batman Arkham City, are there).
3) So isn't it reasonable to assume Linux support will go down the same path?

I assume it takes a while to build up because: the first year, Steam just gathers stats on which gamers are using the new OS. Then they present these stats to major publishers as proof that it'd be worth the support. then more and more games come out with support, until most major titles also come out on the new OS with months of the PC release.

- But maybe Mac OS went well because of the large existing user base? (i have this idea only a small group of hardcore nerds put together linux boxes).
- Or maybe adding one extra OS (mac) was all publishers could afford? and they'll draw the line at a third?

these are the only 2 reasons I can see linux support not following the success of the mac support roll out.
But hoping someone can school me here.

Dane MacMahon
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I'm not really up on Linux stats and such, but what I can say is there have been Mac ports of big games for a long, long time. Much longer than Steam Mac support. Linux on the other hand has never had that level of support from publishers.

Harry Fields
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Linux in the home market is at what? 1%... And how many of those are even gamers? Linux powering a platform is one thing. Linux being the platform... well, Dane has it here.

John Flush
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I would also add that lots of people own a Mac these days. I'm hard pressed to find a large group of Linux... and everyone I know is a "nerd" that should have their own box.

I don't see it taking off unless Valve finds a way to market it without people thinking it is 'Linux' to begin with.

Jay Anne
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@Warren and John
If I had to guess, they are entering a phase much like they did when they started Steam. They want to go bigger and have more control over things like input devices, hardware, OS. This is not a ploy to make Linux a successful platform or to find and grow a Linux market. They want Linux because they're creating a new platform and that platform needs an OS. This probably more closely resembles Google buying Android because they needed an OS (except of course, Linux is free).

It is probably a bit complicated because they don't want to start at zero with a completely new OS and a completely empty catalog, so they are looking to leverage the few companies that do port their games to Linux, as well as Valve's own Linux ports. So what would probably happen is that you can play your game on their Linux console, or on a PC running Linux. While it's unlikely that PC's running Linux will grow to be a huge market, that's ok because that is really only a side bonus, while the main prize is leveraging that to ease the transition of their userbase to a Linux TV-based console. At least, that's one theory.

Alex Covic
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Since Steam officially "launched" their Linux support the numbers of Linux users have declined - month by month. Everyone can see that on the Steam stats page. http://store.steampowered.com/hwsurvey

Even if those numbers are not the whole story, the things I heard from game devs offering their games also on Linux, the numbers do seem very marginal, despite all the new interest in Linux ... or rather mostly in OpenGL.

1. The user base isn't there on Linux Desktops
2. The user base is fragmented, like in the early 3D card days, where you had to code for each chip.
3. SDL 2.0 was in development for many years. There was no end in sight.


After Valve hired many well-known Linux devs, among them Sam Lantinga - in less than 3 months SDL 2 was released.

It tells me, Valve is serious about Linux.

There is no reason, why they - or anyone - could not offer a "black box" running on a Linux-kernel. The consumer doesn't need to know what's in it. They don't know, when their cars, traffic lights or TV sets run on embedded Linux neither?

Yet, it is a big fight & will cost more than just the effort of one healthy company? Gamedevs now have better and more tools than ever to leave the cozy wallgarden that Windows and DirectX was for them. But as long, as it is easy and you have the possibility of a promise to make Rockstar Games like money on the XBOX platform, nobody will put in the extra energy or cycles to code for a platform, which demands your highest skills only to reward you with a few hand-written letters from Brasil or Albania? It certainly sounds more like the Starbucks tip jar, than "real" profits? It is hard, when Valve, publishers, developers are trying to "convince" an audience?

In the end this is a business like any other business?

Change only happens, when pressure is applied? And the consumers are not crying "Over here! Linux!" - despite the 0.0001 people that do.

//I am saying this as someone who uses Linux kernels since v0.99 (20 yrs).

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Dane MacMahon
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@ Alex

I would imagine the only thing that would light that consumer demand fire would be Windows actually going closed platform, which I don't expect to happen any time soon.

Akeem Adkins
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I'm all for it. Between PC and console gaming, I feel like it's split down the middle. Steam has a tight grip on PC gaming so why not take it a step further and reel in those console gamers. Steam makes smart decisions for gamers and the business. There's no doubt in my mind that they can get a handle on console side of gaming.

Chris Clogg
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Instead of all of this stuff can we just get Half-life 3 lol? Please!!!

Michael Thornberg
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hear, all ye good people, hear what this brilliant and eloquent speaker has to say! :)

Although I have personally lost all hope of ever playing Half life 3 before I die of old age.

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Dane MacMahon
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I've moved my PC to my TV a few times when games came out which my wife and I wanted to experience together. It's a decent experience, it's just not as comfortable for me personally for several reasons I outlined above.

If I had to hazard a guess I would say Valve want to remove the typical PC hassles more than just make a good HTPC. I would guess their Linux based system, if that is indeed what this ends up being, would boot right into Steam and operate as a console for all intents and purposes.

Aiden Eades
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Valve said in an email that we can expect three announcements

three announcements. Half life 3 confirmed.

Scott Lavigne
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This is not the place.

warren blyth
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So now that they've laid out SteamOS, does anyone have more thoughts? (is there another thread somewhere?) ( http://store.steampowered.com/livingroom/ )

just based on the icons, i'm guessing the next announcment will be steambox, and the third announcement will be some mobile os solution (which ties into SteamOS). an improved steam app doesn't seem big enough to be a third pillar.

just curious.
The only unexpeected thing in today's announcement, for me (who knows nothing of Linux, or low level programming) is that you can stream your mac and pc games through the SteamOS. ... i don't quite "get it"

warren blyth
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oh, ok, there is the new strory/thread : http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/200805/Linuxbased_SteamOS_is_V
alves_big_play_for_the_living_room.php


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