Well Valve. You've certainly been busy. Not only have you just let slip that Half Life 3 has a big team of developers working on it, but you're bringing your own Linux based operating system, Linux based miniature PC and revolutionary controller to the living room gaming experience, all within the next 12 months. That's going to shake things up a bit.
The question is how much and in what ways? Everyone thought that the Ouya might be a big game changer and ultimately it turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.
So no doubt Valve will take all sorts of precautions to make sure that doesn't happen. First off, it's going to take plenty of time, discussing elements of the controller and the SteamBox options with the community. This means that we're unlikely to see anything until next year, which is why 2014 is going to be the year Valve and its various Steam projects, hit home with gaming in a very big way.
Assuming all goes to plan, how is thing going to change the face of gaming?
First up, the use of Linux as the base for SteamOS and making that the default OS on the SteamBox, has the potential to completely make-over the PC gaming landscape. For as long as PC gaming has existed, it's been on Windows. There's always been a small Mac gaming community, but until recently the best game on offer was Warcraft III and even now, that group of gamers represents a small minority.
In the future though, with a gaming orientated Linux operating system, with hardware designed with Linux in mind, with Nvidia and AMD offering new ways of exploiting their hardware through advanced drivers designed with the non-Windows operating system in mind, things get very interesting.
For one, it's means bypassing the under-developed DirectX API, which has been holding back PC visuals for years thanks to Microsoft's lack of focus. Secondly, since Linux is open source, it means suddenly gamers can have a more secure place to play and potentially an operating system that works with their games far more succinctly.
It'll take developers to come onboard of course, but it sounds like Valve has already developed a workaround if it's managed to get almost the entirety of the Steam library working on the new Steam OS before it's even been released.
But software aside, the SteamBox itself has the potential to not only bring in a huge new audience to PC gaming, but to offer a better gaming experience than the super high end desktops we're used to championing.
Ultimately, the SteamBox could make it easier for everyone. It has a standardised hardware set, admittedly customisable if people want to, but several suggested options. This makes the purchasing practice far easier (and likely more economical since there will be a focus on cost saving) for those not that versed in do-it-yourself PC building and therefore makes them much more likely to get hold of a gaming PC at a price they can afford.
It makes it easier for developers too. While of course PC game makers are now looking at having to create a Windows and Linux version of their game (they're doing PS4 and Xbox One versions most likely anyway so that's not such a big deal), they now have several set hardware brackets to aim for. This means better optimisation, which in turn means better performance per dollar spent by the consumer. The mid-range SteamBox should theoretically (drivers willing) perform better than a comparatively priced and specced PC, because the developers know what they're optimising for.
On top of that, Valve is much more likely to let developers get deeper into the operating system's inner workings, along with driver makers, thanks to the open source nature of the OS, meaning they'll be able to wring extra performance out of it.
Thanks to most living room gamers using a single 1080P TV as well, that's the maximum resolution that needs to be supported, until 4K becomes more dominant. That means more time and effort can be put into developing other visual effects.
Bringing the SteamBox into the living room as well, whether it's simply to stream from your desktop or to game on the little device itself, also has the potential for changing the face of PC gaming in a social sense. While consoles have always had a much more companionable feel to them because of their location in the home and the fact that they are usually played from a multi-seat piece of furniture, PCs have been much more solitary machines. They're almost always placed on or under a desk – a very businesslike part of your home - with a single office chair in-front of it.
That will all change with the SteamBox. By bringing the games we love to play into the living room, suddenly it's more of a social activity. Sales of COOP games wil increase, the number of PC gamers will go up and people could even begin to accept PC gaming on the same level as console gaming is: a mainstream hobby.
The controller is the final piece in Valve's puzzle and it has a lot of innovations that go beyond what both Microsoft and Sony have done with with their respective next-gen systems. The use of electro magnets instead of a lopsided motor could potentially offer much more realistic haptic feedback. The inclusion of a touch screen shows Sony was perhaps thinking in the right direction with its DS4, but it's the thumbsticks that could really change the picture.
Long has the console FPS player been at the mercy of the PC mouse and keyboard user. At least they would have been, had they ever been allowed to compete directly. Microsoft tried it once, but on internal testing (http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/ms-killed-pc-xbox-cross-platform-play) the console gamers got crushed every time.
But no more. With the added sensitivity of Valve's touchpad joysticks, finally those that are used to handling a controller instead of a mouse could theoretically go head to head with their more traditional counterparts and see who really is better.
There's also a lot of potential for added initiatives, as Valve has no problem reinventing the wheel when it needs to and if it's drivers are open source, you just wait and watch what the community does to that thing. Within six months we'll be plugging it into our brains. I guarantee it.
Valve is set to really make a splash next year with its new initiatives and while not everything I've talked about here may come to pass, it's sure to change the way we look at gaming in general, but specifically on the “PC,” for good.