Steam, the purveyor of digital game downloads are no longer content being the leading online game distribution network, confirming it has hardware on its mind. CEO Gabe Newell let slip recently during an interview with Kotaku that Steam is indeed working on a hardware platform, the Steam Box.
Designed specifically for the living room big screen TV experience the Steam Box will be a Linux based mid range PC on the inside with a Steam interface upfront. Competing directly for our living room TV time, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft should all be looking over their shoulders.
The Steam Box won’t be just competing with the consoles; by mid 2013 a number of Windows 8 boxes designed for the living room will also be available. Covering all of their bases Steam already has client software for all of the competing platforms, win win.
The story of the Steam Box has slowly been evolving throughout 2012. Newell first mentioned the possibility of Steam hardware in March 2012 during an interview with website Penny Arcade. A short time later Steam began advertising for Hardware Engineers which sent the rumor mill spinning at full speed. Since those early days Newell has constantly discussed his disappointment in Windows 8, subtle hint.
More recently two Steam developments have been critical catalysts in the development of the Steam Box, convincing Newell that the Box was essential to Steams future.
Steam on Linux gives Steam the right platform for the job, the right one is of course anything not Windows 8. Recently the client entered open Beta with many Linux users giving it very positive reviews, they also seemed very positive about having actual games to install on their operating system.
For Steam the important thing though is the ability to build their own operating system, free of ownership issues. Users of the Linux Steam client beta have already released a script allowing a Linux box to boot directly into Steam’s Big Screen app, providing a very console like experience.
Also helping to convince Newell was the success of Steam’s recently released Big Screen application, which was far more successful than even Steam had anticipated. Newell mentions this as an important indicator for the Steam Box project.
Even though the hardware will based on off the shelf PC components Newell describes the Steam Box as more console like than PC, “If you want more flexibility, you can always buy a more general purpose PC,” he said. “For people who want a more turnkey solution, that’s what some people are really gonna want for their living room. The nice thing about a PC is a lot of different people can try out different solutions and customers can find the ones that work best for them.”
The decision to base the system on Linux does leave the sticky question of content, especially important for a content delivery company. Initially the Steam Box will be limited to Linux compatible games, of which Steam already lists 29 titles, while there is always the virtual machine option. Not an option we expect Steam to take but technically it is not an impossible proposition to run Windows games using the right software.
While the development of the Steam Box is underway the functions are still being kept under wraps. Steam TV is just one of the rumored functions Steam are considering.
Expect the Steam Box to appear late 2013, giving Steam a year to build up the Linux back catalog and hopefully attract a few big names to the platform.
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