Game Maker Valve Enters Living Room War With SteamOS

on Monday, Sep. 23rd

Last year game developer Valve, whose Steam distribution platform is the 800-pound gorilla of PC gaming, began bringing computer games to the TV with the release of "Big Picture" mode.

This was seen by many to be the first step in an attempt by the company to use their strong customer base as a beachhead in the console wars. The past year has seen talk from Valve of a "Steam Box", a dedicated gaming PC that would take the role that a console gaming system that forthcoming the Playstation 4 and XBox One play.

Today the Bellevue, Washington based company made an announcement that is a giant step towards that possibility: they will be releasing their own operating system in 2014.

Notes from Valve and our analysis after the jump.

As we’ve been working on bringing Steam to the living room, we’ve come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself. SteamOS combines the rock-solid architecture of Linux with a gaming experience built for the big screen. It will be available soon as a free stand-alone operating system for living room machines.

As of this moment Valve is not announcing their own hardware to go with the OS. They are touting this as a platform that manufacturers can use to iterate on, in order to drive innovation. What the game maker pledges to bring to the living room are "thousands of games, millions of users" via a freely distributed OS.

This doesn't mean that the company won't be entering the hardware category. Valve isn't finished with living room related announcements this week. Instead of pulling an Apple or a Microsoft and putting all of their cards on the table in one day, Valve is pulling an Edward Snowden, letting out a bit of news at a time. The next announcement is due at 10:00AM PDT, Wednesday the 25th.

In addition to a large library of games that will work with the OS out of the box (so to say), Valve claims to be working with "many of the media services you know and love". (Translation: Netflix is a no-brainer, and Amazon is fairly hardware agnostic.) Games that do not support the Linux-based OS will streamable from PC and Macs to the living room box.

Analysis: This move by Valve is the most significant new entry in the living room console war since the arrival of the first XBox. The massive, loyal customer base they bring with them has the potential to make a big dent in the "hardcore" base of the two consoles set to be released this holiday season. Toss in a potential update of the Apple TV from Apple that could bring iOS games to the living room and Sony and Microsoft could find themselves caught in an ad hoc pincer movement.

However the quality, and price, of the hardware is at this point entirely theoretical. Without a strong core-spec on the hardware major adoption of the SteamOS system outside of gaming's "hardcore" will be tricky. This could hold back development of major, so-called "AAA" titles, for the OS which in turn could shift core-gamers living room loyalty back to the traditional consoles.

The wild cards: Valve still has their own first-party games they can debut exclusively on SteamOS, and support for Oculus VR's forthcoming Rift virtual reality system would be a major incentive for gamers who have grown tired of well worn formulas and are seeking the "next big thing."

Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)


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