Valve has done a lot more for this game industry than you might imagine. Sure, their collaborative work consists of nothing but great games, like the Half-Life series (ask any fan how badly they want Half-Life 3), Portal 2, the Left 4 Dead games, Counter-Strike and numerous others. But they've also laid the ground work for a dedicated online gaming service over the years, Steam, which has millions of users flocking to download and play games with others, without the need for physical product.
But would you believe us if we told you that the team isn't done just yet? Yes, we already know they're working on some big things for the next few months, including the rolling out of Big Picture mode, a new feature that will allow you to play games on your TV without the need for a supplementary console. But it could be something more than that. Much more.
According to a recent Engadget interview, Jeri Ellsworth, who started out as a former hardware hacker before joining the team at Valve, explained that a public beta test was set to roll out sometime in 2013, and it was related to hardware. Now, she did not elaborate on just what the hardware would be, nor did she confirm that it was a new console, one that's been rumored ever since the buzz built over Apple's visit to the studio a few weeks back. But the hardware division is definitely lining up for something, and early 2013 is right around the corner.
Now's the time to really speculate. Could we be looking at the much-rumored "Steam box" that will enable gamers to log into their account and play on their television, without the need to use the Big Picture mode or even turn on their computer? Or maybe even it could be some sort of mobile service, along the same lines of what OnLive was looking to set up before they were bought out over the summer? Or maybe it's a partnership with a streaming service, one that we didn't even see coming, like OUYA? After all, they're gaining a whole lot of steam (no pun intended) with their Kickstarter project being so immensely successful, so anything is truly possible.
Let's look at each of these options, and even throw in a wild card or two…
A new console wouldn't be a bad idea. Sure, the OnLive Microconsole didn't take off like suggested, but that's mainly because they didn't have enough partners to really generate huge interest in the service, despite big names like Darksiders II and Saints Row the Third being on board. They're also behind on big releases, like Borderlands 2, a game that happily came out on Steam this week. In fact, it led every other title on the service in pre-loads, showing the high demand – and Valve's dedication to filling said demand – from the millions of users.
If Valve did announce some sort of "Steam Box" console (that's a figurative name, nothing official), they'd have to partner with someone who knows manufacturing, despite the fact that they're pretty savvy themselves. That's where someone like OUYA or Apple could easily enter the picture. As you're probably aware, Apple leads the charge when it comes to technology. Just look at their retina-display friendly new iPad and iPhone 5, or even their computer line-up. If they can make something like Apple TV click, they can surely do a game console.
OUYA shouldn't be scoffed at either. Even though they're making something that resembles a Rubik's Cube, there's no question of the potential that lies in that little box, especially when all you need to do to game is log in to Steam and choose the game you want to play. Accessibility is everything when it comes to getting a hold of your game library – why else would Xbox Live and PlayStation Network be offering full games on the digital front? It provides a comfort to getting up and putting a disc in the tray, or, worse yet, getting it damaged. Downloadable games don't have that problem.
Moving To the Mobile Front?
Mobile gaming is HUGE right now. Like mega huge. Angry Birds didn't clear millions upon million in sales by accident. The casual gaming market is going more and more into Android and App Store purchases, and even more hardcore players are turning to games like Infinity Blade II and the recently released Rayman Jungle Run.
If Valve could find a way to grasp said mobile technology and somehow make it click for their immediately accessible Steam library through Cloud services (which is possible – strenuous, but we've seen devices download full games with no problem before through OnLive), they could easily open the door to a new way to play old favorites. Sure, a controller like MOGA would probably be necessary to get the utmost out of your titles (compared to lame touch-screen controls), but think about it. Steam could easily knock OnLive and Gaikai alike off their collective perches if Valve made the right adapters for it – and with the right hardware division, they could do just that.
Of course, that's just a guess (and a very thin one at that) as people obviously prefer the comfort of a mouse and keyboard, or joypad, to using a touch-screen for their play. But the possibility is out there, and it could open up a whole new door of revenue for the company. And with the mobile market going the way it is, anything's possible.
Until we find out the official details from Gabe Newell and company, your guess on what Valve is up to is probably as good as ours. But it's bound to be a promising future, as you can tell from their previous projects.
You know, unless they re-introduce the Virtual Boy in their own build. Yikes!