So Valve want to make the PC better. Let’s take a step back


So: Valve want to make a better PC. They’re thinking about nuts and bolts, not gimmicks. And they’re not going to be dragged down in the race to the bottom on price.

*start the gibbering*

It will have biometric sensors and use Big Picture, and Linux and also run Windows and be modular and gaze track and oh no it’s not coming out in 2013 but a man from Valve said it was and Piston and Windows 8 and open devices and all our hopes and dreams now reside with The Lord of the digital download GabeN and…

Relax. Breathe. Focus.

This year is going to be silly. There is going to be a new console generation launched. It will be probably be quite good, but also quite boring. Microsoft and Sony will produce quite high-specification PC parts subsidised by extremely high priced native games and endless streams of DLC, season passes, and subscription TV apps. With even more motion controls. Not exactly fist pump material.

What’s left is an enthusiasm vacuum. Gamers want something to be excited about. The next-gen consoles, for all their bluster, just aren’t very interesting.

Enter Valve.

Valve have a problem they’re trying to solve: for a long time, PC’s weren’t very good, and they’re getting worse.

What makes PC gaming great is that it’s open. We can all hop in and make a game. Brilliant.

What can drag it down, is that individual companies that are responsible for the infrastructure and logistics of our platform make baffling, horrendous decisions.

Like: PC manufacturers, and the race to sacrifice performance to reach price points. That led to terrible, horrendous netbooks that can barely open a web-page, let alone Minecraft. Take the absurd abandonment of improving consumer level monitor resolutions and displays beyond 1080p, once HDTVs hit the market. Take the rise of tablets, and the hysterical volte face they induced in Microsoft.

That pressure has led us to today: where Microsoft’s Windows 8 panic attack has led to manufacturers throwing anything, absolutely anything at consumers in the hope that it sticks.
Witness the mutant albatross touchscreen tabphlabs atrocities that are good for absolutely nothing.

If you just want to buy a comfortable and well engineered PC: well, either build it yourself or visit a few specialist and boutique retailers.

It’s time to force some change.

So: Valve want to make a better PC. They’re thinking about nuts and bolts, not gimmicks. And they’re not going to be dragged down in the race to the bottom on price.

They want to make a PC that will work in the living room. They want it to run Linux, because Microsoft’s operating systems have become a ‘catastrophe’, and because OpenGL will probably offer improvements to native games over DirectX. Game downloads and purchases will be powered by Steam, through The Big Picture Mode that launched last year will be included. But if you want to chuck Windows, and Origin or uPlay, or anything else on there, you can, because it’s a PC, and that’s what PCs are for.

But they’re not just going it alone: part of making their own system is to prove the value of good, capable PCs in the living room to hardware manufacturers, who can help catalyse change.

It’s quite interesting.

In the enthusiasm vacuum, this is game changing. This is ‘first shots fired’, and ‘a broadside against’ and ‘the end of the conso…’


For one, Valve’s version of the box won’t be out this year. For two: the PC we’re calling the Steambox already exists, as Big Picture Mode. It’s great. For three: it’s not going to be a cheap console: PC’s still cost what PC’s cost to build.

Here’s what I find exciting about what they’re doing. Porting PC games to the television is one more step toward creating one ubiquitous, device agnostic gaming library. In the near future, you’ll be able to play Skyrim on your PC, then, when you’re bored of sitting at a desk, move to the television and continue your game. The next morning, you could continue that game on a laptop at work or at school. All saves migrate, all mods download. This is a brilliant, brilliant thing.

But it’s not going to stop consoles in their tracks.

It’s not a game changer.

I think there have been just a few developments that really mattered, long-term in PC gaming in the past couple of decades. Quakeworld: online client/server multiplayer built for the masses. Then, the advent and adoption of 3D accelerators. Steam brought robust digital downloads.

Valve launching their own under-television PC isn’t game changing. It’s game enhancing. It will probably encourage far better PC ports of console games. And it will further encourage hardcore gamers to choose the PC version of, say, Skyrim 2, rather than console version because it can be played everywhere…

It’s a wonderful thing. But let’s not get carried away.

Tonight, I’ll go home and play Planetside 2. Tomorrow, I’ll probably do the same. In two years time, when all these devices are here, and functioning, alive and active, I’ll probably still go home and play Planetside 2.

To paraphrase Fallout: war never changes. It just gets a little bit better every day.