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DICE’s Patrick Bach on SteamOS: “If PC wants to be bigger then they need to look at ease of use”

Battlefield 3

These days, DICE epitomise the multiplatform developer, attending to four or five variously sized plates in such a way that they’re all spinning at about the same rate. But Battlefield was once exclusively a PC shooter, and the PC remained by some margin the best place to play it until 2008 and Bad Company came along.

So executive producer Patrich Bach cares about the PC. He cares about its play for the living room in SteamOS – but worries there’s a balance to strike between ease of use and the hardware customisation we’ve all come to enjoy.

“I think there’s a combination of ease of use and output,” Bach told GamesIndustry in a recent interview. “Most consumers don’t really care what platform they’re playing on, they just want a great experience.

“It’s like watching a movie – if you go to the cinema you don’t really care about all the symbols that flash up. People don’t really care if it’s digital or optical projection, they just want the great movie, it’s the content that matters. In the end if it’s PC, or console or even iPhone, people just want to play great games.”

That said, Bach acknowledged that SteamOS represented a specific tension between the “hardcore” aspect of running a gaming-capable PC and the accessibility players have come to expect from their consoles.

“If PC wants to be bigger then they need to look at the ease of use of their products and that’s really hard, because PC is multi-layered,” he said. “It’s big, but it’s still niche, the niche market for geeky things is still big – we’re all nerds.

“We all love hardcore things, but we also like ease of use. Nobody could sell me a stove that I need to experiment with to make it work. I just want it to work, but when I’m at my PC I could argue the opposite: why can’t I do this or change that?”

Like John Carmack, however, Bach’s wariness of SteamOS seems tempered by Valve’s track record for doing the impossible.

“A few years ago, everyone was saying [the PC] was dying and we were stupid to lead development with it, but at the same time Steam was rising,” he said elsewhere in the interview. “Now, PC gaming has never been stronger – partly because it’s so much more than traditional PC gaming, which you could argue has moved onto console. PC gaming is more indie than ever, more experimental than ever.

“It’s also more blockbustery than it ever was – there are some really big games on the PC. You can also see the hardware manufacturers really pushing the bar on PC when it comes to everything from CPU to memory.”

The various manufacturers building living room-ready Steam Machines will all be working to find their own balance between ease of use and modability. Though with their own machine, Valve intend to have their cake and mod it.

What would you expect from a living room PC? Customisability? Espresso coffee?