Valve’s SteamOS Arms Linux Gaming for Living Room Wars

After bringing its Steam gaming service to Linux earlier this year, Valve on Tuesday unveiled SteamOS, a new, Linux-based operating system that is designed to deliver PC entertainment in the living room.

The new OS will connect with the Steam gaming service, offering all of the features PC-based Steam users are accustomed to, and yet is designed with the big screen in mind, Valve said.

SteamOS is not limited to gaming, however. Rather, Valve touts the new system as a way to watch movies and listen to music as well, potentially placing it in direct competition not just with gaming systems from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo but also media services from Apple and Google.

SteamOS will be available as a free stand-alone OS for living room machines, though no time frame for its release was disclosed. Valve is also widely expected to launch its own “Steam Box” running the new software, which will be freely licensable for device manufacturers as well.

Valve says it will make two more related announcements this week. The company did not respond to our request for further details.

‘An Open Market’

“The way to look at it, at least in potential, is what Android did to the tablet and even phone market,” said video game and technology consultant Mark Baldwin. “It is a potentially new approach. From Valve’s point of view, it massively increases the Steam market.”

From the user’s point of view, on the other hand, “it provides an open market from which to select games — including the independents — that they did not have before,” Baldwin told LinuxInsider. “A lot will be tied to the marketing. That’s where the success or failure will occur.”

The announcement answers a fundamental question about Valve’s Linux plans, George Chronis, game industry analyst for DFC Dossier, told LinuxInsider.

Namely, “we have recognized for some time that for more PC gamers to make the switch to Linux to play Steam titles, there was going to have to be a recommended and promoted set of Linux distributions, components and device drivers that all work well with Steam,” Chronis explained.

“On top of that, Valve would also need to work ahead of the curve to test and evaluate upcoming distributions and drivers,” he added. “This takes a lot of effort that Valve could not expect to rely on the community to perform.

“SteamOS is the best answer to those needs, as Valve now has a platform to tweak as needed to assure positive gameplay experiences in Linux without dependence on other Linux players,” he said.

‘250 Games on Linux’

Gaming on Linux has gained considerable momentum over the past year or so, but it’s clear Valve will have work to do to keep that going.

“Valve estimates there are currently over 250 games on Linux,” said Wanda Meloni, senior analyst at M2 Research. “The key will be convincing more developers to support Linux.”

In fact, Valve cofounder and Managing Director Gabe Newell “has said Linux games currently make up less than one percent of all games revenue, so it will take a big shift to get more development moved over,” Meloni told LinuxInsider.

Of course, “if any company is able to take the reins and shift this beast to an open system, it would be Valve,” she concluded.

Transition to the Couch

Making that shift won’t be simply a matter of convincing developers, either. Also playing a key role will be the extent to which Valve can ensure that games made for the PC can translate to the “couch” gaming experience provided by traditional consoles such as those from Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony.

“It is important to understand that the vast majority of gamers consider ‘PC gaming’ to be a situation where the display is a few feet away from the gamer,” said Ted Pollak, senior analyst for the game industry at Jon Peddie Research. “Its origin stems from people playing on high-power work computers, which has evolved into desktop and notebook PC gaming in its modern form.”

Perhaps even more important than the PC vs. console question, though, “is that Valve’s move toward Linux cuts Microsoft Windows out of the picture,” Pollak pointed out.

“PC gamers have historically enjoyed more performance than consoles,” yet “many people think that the Windows environment holds back the performance capabilities of the hardware in the PCs,” he noted. “If processing efficiencies can be proven, this Linux effort may win the support of PC gamers who will continue to play from the desktop ergonomic.”

‘A Welcome Choice’

Valve’s open approach, meanwhile, will certainly set its technology apart.

“As most of the competing consoles have a closed environment, we think Valve’s open source effort could be a welcome choice for gamers who want to play from the couch,” said Pollak.

Indeed, “an open system is obviously the opposite move to what everyone else is doing, and Valve also has the distribution in place, Meloni noted. “If they can get the developer support and the pricing right on the Steam Box, it has a good chance of being very successful.”

1 Comment

  • This is awesome, but in my opinion, this doesn’t work unless they can bring WINE up to full DX-11 and .NET 4.5 support, so that Windows titles run flawlessly out of the box. I don’t think a Steam OS Linux distro will gain real traction in the market until this happens.

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