Gabe Newell, co-founder and Managing Director of Steam’s parent company, Valve, is aiming high.
On December 3rd, 2012 the company launched the Steam Big Picture mode, with the slogan The revolution will be televised, which had been in beta since earlier in the year.
The services was announced thus on the Steam website:
Heading to the living room—or anywhere there’s a big screen—is Steam’s soon-to-be-released big-picture mode, offering simple, easy-to-read navigation designed specifically for TV. With full controller support, big-picture mode will let gamers kick back and enjoy their favorite games on the biggest screen in the house.
Steam’s big-picture mode doesn’t require any additional development from you. Just ensure your game works well with a controller, and we’ll take care of the rest. And don’t worry, keyboard and mouse aren’t going anywhere—users will be able to switch between input devices at any time.
Nothing beyond a physical connection between a computer and TV is required for the new service to work.
The move is just the start of Valve’s living room revolution”. Speaking to Kotaku’s Jason Schreier (who also did the in-depth write-up on The Big Picture mode) at the Video Games Awards last week, Newell confirmed that in 2013, he expects companies to start selling “Valve-approved” PC-based systems designed to hook up to a TV and run Steam straight out of the box – and which will be able to go toe-to-toe with traditional console offerings.
“I think in general that most customers and most developers are gonna find that [the PC is] a better environment for them,” Newell said. “‘Cause they won’t have to split the world into thinking about ‘why are my friends in the living room, why are my video sources in the living room different from everyone else?’ So in a sense we hopefully are gonna unify those environments.”
There are significant hurdles to be overcome for this to work – the PC boxes won’t be as open to tinkering, for example, as Newell notes in talking to Kotaku. There’s also the case as to how well some games may translate from keyboard to controller – although the company is, interestingly, working on a “moddable controller” with elements which can be switched around to allow for customised gaming, as well as a system by which the controller can be used in place of a QWERTY keyboard for conversing in role-play based games.
So, with Second Life expected to arrive on Steam “pretty soon” TM if not possibly “real soon” TM, these moves could yet see Second Life itself make the move from the computer screen to the big screen – and possibly broaden its appeal in the process (although that is perhaps an awfully big “possibly”).
Valve are also moving ahead in other areas of hardware development which may also benefit SL. Newell’s interest in wearable computing options such as motion sensors, etc., is well-known. It is an interest shared by Michael Abrash, in a blog post on the matter also revealed he has a common source of inspiration as Philip Rosedale. Wearable / motion sensing systems have been connected with SL for some time now, particularly where Kinect is concerned. If Valve develop a system which works out-of-the-box with SL, it could well have a major impact on carious combats systems / environments in SL and potentially further leverage SL as a games enablement platform with the attraction that the environments in which the games themselves are played is totally configurable via SL’s content creation options.
Does this really mean that Second Life is coming to a living room near you? Well, maybe, maybe not. Part of this may come down to how the TV in your lounge is used (and what you get up to in SL vs. who else is around in real-time to witness it!). However, the TV was itself long ago freed from the lounge. It can be found in the bedroom, the study, the den … so one can see a certain attraction in sitting up in bed and spending time in-world (as some do) with just a hand controller and the TV rather than a laptop perched on legs…
Time will tell, as they say. In the meantime, these developments from Valve, if successful, could be of major impact to gaming as a whole, and are doubtless going to be watched with interest.
With thanks to Kotaku.