The announcement last month that I thought got little to no fanfare across the web and gaming blogosphere had to do with a little company announcing its new Operating System, SteamOS. The ramifications of which require us to backtrack just a little and drop some gaming history on your head. Needless to say I’m fucking excited for this announcement and so should you, my fellow PC gamers.
Valve, producer of big titles like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress 2 and DOTA 2 announced the creation of a brand new Operating System called SteamOS. A few dozen news stories covered the release and they ranged from skeptical to dubious that this product would impact anyone at all. Most of these same authors write for major publications that announced the era of PC gaming was dead and had already crowned Nintendo king of the gaming megaverse (clearly the WiiU has been the second coming of gaming ::snort::).
Remember ten years ago (almost exactly) in early 2003 when Valve required the use of Steam to force players to play its mega hit Half-Life 2. Actually you probably don’t, but its one of the key factors that permitted Steam to survive. A game like Half Life 2 spawned some of the most popular first person shooters that are continually played to this day. At the same time it forced players to download a client that was just as revolutionary as the game itself (though at launch it was closer to a hellish nightmare). Steam provided a platform for gamers to skip out of the retail cycle and download games directly over the internet, foreshadowing the retail downfall of the genre as a whole.
As important as Steam has become to the millions of gamers who use it daily, its provided an opportunity for Valve to use the platform as a stepping stone into our living room. Microsoft successfully did the jump from Windows to the XBOX consoles, but its been a crowded market and one difficult to crown an absolute winner. So why exactly is SteamOS such a big deal? For the first time an operating system is being produced for the sole purpose of gaming. That alone isn’t exactly something Wallstreet will look at it and take notice, but here is why they should; Tablets (editors note: I don’t own one yet!).
The era of Windows dominating our home computers and offices is a tentative and clearly vulnerable position. The rise of tablets and smartphone mobile devices has dramatically impacted the home computer buying market. If the trend continues, and it mostly has according to market data to this point, PCs might one day stop being sold. Well, that might be true, if it weren’t for PC gaming.
As more and more productivity software makes it way to the tablet market, it leaves the PC’s previous stranglehold on desktop and laptop productivity markets incredibly fragile. The number one remaining purpose for a computer shifts quickly to a category near and dear to our hearts; Gaming.
SteamOS and Windows Live Gaming
Windows Live Gaming served as a disaster for the company. The people responsible have been properly flogged and fired. The Windows Live Gaming effort lasted for sometime, though no gamers certainly noticed. So at this point gaming’s success on the platform has been not because of Microsoft, but because there have been no other alternatives. Sure Linux existed, but developers were not likely to develop content for a diverse market place of free OS’s. A surefire winner had to emerge to be truly successful on the platform. Steam introduced Linux gaming to its service, but results haven’t been explosive (nor were they expected to be). Windows was truly the only game in town.
Fast forward to Valves announcement this last Monday and you might begin to piece together why I’m excited. As Microsofts clumsy efforts to remain relevant continue in the mobile cellphone and PC markets, my concern grows with what should happen if they disappear altogether. We aren’t looking at Windows going anyway in the near future, but its something that should concern every gamer. If tablets continue to dominate and replace PCs, the cost of developing and selling Microsoft’s flagship product Windows, might make it futile to continue to develop the OS. So who would be left to fill that gap? Well, coincidently, Valve would be.
An operating system developed exclusively for the purposes of gaming is certainly a contender to take over should Microsoft continue to stumble (especially if productivity finds a permanent home on mobile computing devices). Valves also in the key position of forcing players to use its software. Imagine if they released Half-Life 3 tomorrow, but only on SteamOS (some of you balk at the idea, but they already did a similar move in requiring you to download Steam to play HL2!). You think consumers and industry specialists alike would take note of such a move? Absolutely.
Valve positioning its OS as a gaming only platform attracts the type of consumer that hardware producers love; the ones who will spend lots of cash on expensive upgrades. They’ve already announced dozens of interested hardware manufacturers looking to pump out the Steam Boxes! It also attracts the type of consumers that software companies love; the kind that will spend upwards of $50 on your digitally distributed game (talk about cost savings for game developers, bad news for publishers ;p). The gaming audience is clearly the winner of this announcement, regardless of which OS you personally root for.
One of the topics I frequently rant about here is the MMO genre. SteamOS should interest you too. With many of the game developers out there mentioning console versions of their popular games lately; The Elder Scrolls Online, Diablo III, and others… Its should come as a welcome announcement. Now I can play my fancy new MMO on my TV (if that strikes your fancy). Not that many of you will, the whole typing/keyboard thing is a big no no on TV gaming consoles right? Yet, SteamOS is a computer.
Will millions of people buy an additional PC to drop in their living room for SteamOS? Probably not. Yet for someone like me who would be more then happy to drop Windows should someone show me they could do better… I’m intrigued. Time will tell as the details and releases of the OS hit the market. You certainly can’t complain about a free gaming OS though!