Steam Big Picture: why consoles shouldn’t be worried

Monday, 10 September 2012 21:19 GMT By Patrick Garratt

If some are to be believed, Valve’s imminent Steam Big Picture beta is the company taking a pop at the console space. Patrick Garratt begs to differ.

Is Steam Big Picture a move at the console market? No. It’s about PC gamers being able to interface with PC games wherever they happen to be. A PC with a nice text input system isn’t an alternative to PlayStation 4.

Steam Big Picture’s beta is upon us, bringing the world’s most popular PC gaming walled garden to the television in a bespoke format. Long awaited, and debuted yesterday in a Kotaku preview and YouTube video, Big Picture fills out the living room LCD and comes with controller functionality.

To listen to certain quarters of the PC games community, this is a play on the console space. Valve’s promo video, Appley voice and all, tells us that sometimes you just want to “kick it in the living room”. You certainly do, daddio. Either PC gaming’s just noticed there are other areas in the house aside from desks and toilets, or the idea that Valve’s seriously making a play for the Xbox and PlayStation market is arse about tit. Spoiler: it’s the latter.

Big Picture isn’t about replacing Xbox, but rather to do with Valve engendering platform ubiquity for Steam, regardless of what’s going on with its competitors. Valve wants Steam on all your screens. If you want to use Steam through your TV – or, as we’ve seen Valve supply this year, through your mobile phone – then voila.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that you still need a fast PC connected to your TV to get the best of it. Yes, there’s certain to be people in the comments below this article extolling the virtues of the $300 PC, but you still need another computer to make this happen outside your office/den/fudge-dungeon; unless you’re keen on building PCs and sourcing cheap components to do it, you’re looking at considerably more than that to live the Steam lounge dream. So don’t be throwing your 360 in the bin just yet.

And while it may be true that you want to take your Steam friends with you to the TV, that doesn’t mean you want to vapourise your Live and PSN contacts. Just because you’re using the service on another screen, one doesn’t immediately negate the other. Xbox Live’s pretty popular, word has it.

That’s not to say Big Picture doesn’t look attractive. There was some cool stuff in that presentation. The text input GUI for pads is genius. And a browser on a TV that actually works! Who knew. This is pure Valve obviousness, fixing daft problems that need fixing and giving us more reasons to want to kiss it on the front bottom.

But this is still open-ended gaming for the PC fan. I’m sure there are a bunch of people in the VG247 audience tempted by Big Picture enough to want to screw next-gen console early adoption, drop the cash on a new PC and hook it up to the TV. But aside from a small impact among the ultra-core, it’s logical that Big Picture won’t make any significant impact to Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo at all. It’s a different proposition for existing users. It isn’t a console. It doesn’t replace the service offered by Xbox or PlayStation, and nor will it ever: the truth is that there are millions of customers that just want to buy an eco-system in a box and stick with it for a generation. Steam Big Picture doesn’t cater for that.

It could be argued that Big Picture is a viable alternative to console gaming for an older, more knowledgable audience, providing the more affluent – and patient – with a way to play third-party games on TV. The truth, though, is that anyone with the wherewithal has been able to play PC games on TV screens forever. Big Picture just makes it easier and prettier.

Is Steam Big Picture a move at the console market? No. It’s about PC gamers being able to interface with PC games wherever they happen to be. A PC with a nice text input system isn’t an alternative to PlayStation 4.

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