The Steam Box is a-comin’ and relatively soon. Valve’s big boss, Gabe Newell, confirmed the long-speculated device’s existence and 2013 release while speaking with Kotaku at the 2012 Spike TV Video Game Awards. The news, naturally, kicked off even more speculation. It’s easy to see why.
Newell essentially launched a twin-headed salvo that states that PC gaming isn’t dead (the platform’s death is echoed in the more zealous console gamer circles) and is now ready for the living room. That’s a big deal. The Steam Box, regardless of whether Newell’s specialized PC/console emerges as a much sought-after game machine, carries much potential to shake up the video game industry.
There’s a scant amount of Steam Box information available, but a boy can dream about it, can’t he? Here’s what I want to see from Valve’s Steam Box.
The Steam Box Should Boot Directly Into Steam
Gabe Newell stated that 2013 will be the year when the PC becomes a living room fixture. That would be swell, but a PC shouldn’t behave like a PC in that environment — the Steam Box, especially. Valve’s Big Picture mode (Steam reformatted for large-screen televisions and game controllers) is a step, but to make the Steam Box more “easy chair” friendly, it needs to boot directly into Steam in a similar fashion as the Xbox takes you to the Dashboard. And quickly. If Valve’s living room PC is to be perceived as a game console, the end-user shouldn’t have to boot up the computer and then boot up Steam — it needs to be automatic. In fact, I could do without the traditional desktop entirely as long as I can tinker with options and settings in some manner.
The Steam Box Should Come In Different SKUs
Gabe Newell already confirmed that the Steam Box “will be a very controlled environment”, which led many — myself included — to suspect that tinkerers will be unable to upgrade their console PCs. Or, at least, easily. That doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be several different controlled environments. Imagine, a Steam Box from Acer with 4GB of RAM, a mid-range GPU, and 250GB HDD. Or a Steam Box from ASUS with 8GB of RAM, a high-end GPU, and 500GB hard drive. Valve could theoretically issue minimum specs for Steam Box units, but have manufacturers play with the builds beyond that. It could revolutionize the way that consoles enter the marketplace.
The Steam Box Should Offer a Base Model That’s Priced To Move
This point directly ties into the previous point. The average gamer erroneously associates PC gaming with thousand dollar (if not multi-thousand dollar) hardware, but it doesn’t have to be that pricey — and neither does the Stream Box. Valve could very likely opt for a cost-saving Linux operating system (though that may limit the number of compatible titles) and a mid-tier AMD chipset. Plus, the Steam Box eliminates the need for a monitor, optical drive, and keyboard, which shaves the price down even more. A Steam Box in the $300-$350 price range is not at all out of the question. In fact, Valve could probably take the hit on hardware and make up for it in software sales.
The Steam Box Should Have a Beautiful Box
We live in a post-Apple world where consumer tech design matters. Look at your phone. Look at your tablet. Look at your computer. A Steam Box should have a similar visual appeal that will make customers who eyeball it in Wal-Mart or online marketplaces want to say “wow.” If third-parties build their own Steam Boxes this could be a big differentiator between brands. In fact, the futuristic-looking Alienware X51 gaming PC was rumored to have been at one point the original Steam Box, but plans, as they are wont to do, fell through.
The Steam Box Should Be Running on Full Steam At E3 2013
How Valve markets the Steam Box is critical to its success. There’s a rumor that the Steam Box will make an appearance Q1 2013 — that’s fine. Valve can unveil it at CES. PAX East, even. Or, perhaps, its own event. Regardless, the Steam Box has to show up at E3 2013 — with a list of playable games and committed developers — to make the statement that, yes, it is a true gaming device. This is a vital element. If Valve doesn’t line up partners and make a splash on gaming’s big stage, the Steam Box may as well be the Ouya.