The biggest danger facing the success of Steam Box or any other PC ecosystem hoping to find space in the living room is Apple, according to a lecture given by Valve co-founder Gabe Newell to a class at the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs.
"The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share, and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform," Newell said. "I think that there's a scenario where we see sort of a dumbed down living room platform emerging — I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily. The question is can we make enough progress in the PC space to establish ourselves there, and also figure out better ways of addressing mobile before Apple takes over the living room?"
Companies attempting to make that jump with the PC platform need to sell the strengths of their hardware to find footing in the living room, Newell said — factors like increased hard drive space, customizable form factor and the ability to utilize hardware that the consumer may already own.
"I think a whole bunch of hardware companies are going to be releasing products in the next 12 months — you'll hear it referred to as Miracast, [Project] Shield from Nvidia, or lots of other people," Newell said. "There are going to be a huge set of products that say, 'If you want something that's incredibly cheap, at a price point well below anything that consoles will be able to reach, you're going to take advantage of the PC that's running somewhere in your house.'
"It's like one of those things where afterwards it will seem like it was very simple, when beforehand, everyone sort of denied that it was possible," Newell said.
"It's like one of those things where afterwards it will seem like it was very simple, when beforehand, everyone sort of denied that it was possible."
That's Valve's goal for the Steam Box, its own Linux-based gaming hardware which will bring Steam's Big Picture mode to living room televisions at an affordable price point. Valve is also teaming up with several hardware manufacturers, who are also trying to put together the most attractive hardware at the most attractive price, in order to make the PC platform's jump to the living room as painless as possible.
"We're happy to do it if nobody else will do it, mainly because everybody else will pile on, and people will have a lot of choices, but they'll have those characteristics. They'll say, 'Well, I could buy a console, which assumes I'll re-buy all my content, have a completely different video system, and, oh, I have a completely different group of friends, apparently. Or I can just extend everything I love about the PC and the internet into the living room.'"
But that transition is going to be made more difficult if Apple finds its footing in the living room first, according to Newell, who warned of this possibility in a 2011 Seattle Times interview. He argues that Apple's platform will shut out the open-source creativity that Steam, and its heavy focus on the monetization of user-generated content, hopes to foster.
"The biggest challenge, I don't think is from the consoles," Newell said. "I think the biggest challenge is that Apple moves on the living room before the PC industry sort of gets its act together."
We'll have more on Newell's lecture, which touched on the foundation of Valve and its potential place in the next generation of gaming hardware, in the coming days.