By now there's a chance you've heard the rumors. If you haven't, Valve may be making their own console.
I'll let that sink in for just a moment.
Now, I'm writing this entire bit under the guise that this is happening, that a miracle console will decend upon us in the near future to the sound of trumpets (8-bit trumpets, but trumpets). What would VALVe need to do to have a successful console launch? VALVe, who have already conquered most of the PC gaming world with Steam, may be setting its sights squarely on Microsoft/Sony territory. I cannot possibly overstate the potential shockwaves that this could send through the entire gaming industry, nay the entire entertainment industry. The barrier between PC gamer and Console gamer could colapse. Harmony may come at last. Hunger would end. The world would be at peace. And standing atop it all would be Gabe Newell, a man whos epicness at that point would be inspiration for the likes of John Woo or Michael Bay.
Okay, it sounds like I'm overstating this, but hear me out. I really do think a VALVe console has the potential to end gaming as we currently know it. The mere concept that this could happen should be something that is making Microsoft and Sony take notice. There are a few holes in this idea, and I'll get to those, but first: Why this is a good idea. A VALVe console would certainly use Steam, this should be a no brainer. The thought of having most games available for instant download is something PC gamers have had for years now thanks to Steam. But what if this came to the living room? What if, instead of having to spend upwards of $700 for a good PC, assuming you could build it yourself, you instead could have the same convenience PC gamers have with plug-and-play convenience (and likely half the price)? I'd say, for the average consumer, thats a damn good deal.
The real challenge here is trying to imagine how far VALVe could take this console. What if this console is more than just...a console? What if you could choose between a mouse/keyboard or a controler for EVERY game? What if this console has the same entertainment options as XBox Live or PSN, such as Netflix and Hulu? I literally think that this new console has the potential to move beyond our current classifications and become a true first "entertainment hub". Want to watch your new favorite show? Thats on VALVe's console. Want to send that episode and some music onto your MP3 player? VALVe's console can do that too. It can also surf the web (with Flash too!), you can video chat with friends, etc. etc.
But VALVe need something big. Something to burst out of the gate with. Something none of the other consoles will have at first. A killer app. OH, look here, we have something called Half-Life 3 waiting in the wings, one of the most highly anticipated games of all time. Maybe even Team Fortress 3? Okay, my point is, VALVe has a huge opportunity here. One where they could, in one potential wide swoop, take a HUGE chunk of the entertainment industry as their own. And I don't mean just a XBox sized chunk, I mean an Apple sized chunk. VALVe understands what makes their clients happy, and if they can add the console market to those potential clients, the sky is the limit.
Problems? Well, it really all comes down to the launch. Sure, console owners purchased The Orange Box by the dozens at least, so they know who VALVe is. But what they don't know is what Steam is. By this point in the current console war, is there really enough room for a third major contender to be fighting over the exact same games as Sony and Microsoft (because lets face it, they wont go into Nintendo territory. There be sacred.)? Apart from Half-Life 3 as a potential exclusive, what could VALVe offer us that the current consoles don't already? They won't get Uncharted or Halo anytime soon, thats for sure, and that hurts. If the vast majority of its library is already available to the other consoles...why pay for a new one?
Also, console players like their controllers; the PS3 Dualshock is a classic thats familiar to all, and the XBox 360's controller is arguably the most comfortable controller to hold in console history. If VALVe can't make a good controller, the console is dead in the water from the start, because console players will NOT (for the mostpart) want to use a keyboard and mouse. With so much unknown about Microsoft or Sony's plans for their next console generation, VALVe would be placing a major gamble on its console being unique amongst the group. PS4 or XBox 720 (yeah I'm hoping for that name) might have their own Steam like system coming, which would suddenly make adding Steam to the console market a bit overkill.
Let us not forget cost. Assuming that 90% or so of all game purchases on a VALVe system would be done over Steam (assuming there would even be a CD drive in the thing), that means it better come with a hefty amount of storage space. That can get expensive. To really make an impact with its arrival, this console would have to be affordable. Just look at how long PS3 took to get a solid foothold in the current console wars. The only reason Sony had that luxury is the fact that the PS2 gave them an enormous financial safety net. As of early 2010 Sony was still losing money on every PS3 they sold. Steam is redicuously successful, but is VALVe willing to have the same kind of safety net? VALVe has a difficult dance ahead of them if they want to find a balace of hardware quality and initial pricing if they want to avoid the route the PS3 took.
For me, the one problem I find is...the love of actual games. I mean physical games. Having the disk, the cartridge, in one's posession. I'm not sure if I'm ready to give that up completely. Yes, I play games on PC, but at heart I suppose I really am a console gamer. I like having a game collection that is actually there for you to see. I don't want that to ever become completely digital. Sure, its overall cheaper that way and less waste and the environment and yeah yeah yeah, but my goal is to someday have an actual video game Library, and that will never feel the same if I always choose my game via an on screen menu. Yes, PC gamers, I know you have been doing this for years. It might not hurt that I'm a sucker for Collectors Edition items like with Uncharted 3 or Skyrim, but to me theres always been a difference in owning a game and actually having the same game.
Could a VALVe system work? Oh man could it. It could change everything we know about entertainment and how we get it. VALVe needs a perfect shot, a royal flush, to pull this off. If they can offer enough incentives to choose a console with Steam over its competition, we could see a completely new chapter of gaming begin. But if the price is off, or the incentives uninviting, or the controller poor, or the exclusives weak, or one of so many other things gamers can debate about from here until we hear something concrete, this could fall flat on its face.
Or this could never happen and this could all be a rumor. But hey, I'm hopeful. _END RANT_