I’m starting a discussion in the forum because there are too many news stories on this to keep track of, and my first post is probably going to be damned long
Lets start off with what we know about the so called “Steambox”: almost nothing. The only things we know for sure: It’s internally known as “bigfoot” and is unlikely to be officially announced until 2014 at the earliest.
What we know it definitely isn’t: http://www.vg247.com/2013/01/08/valve-backed-living-room-pc-system-debuts-today/ <this thing. When you think “Steambox” remove all thoughts of this device from your head. This is a small form factor PC running windows designed by Xi3 in conjunction with Valve, it is not Bigfoot, any references to capabilities of this machine or its pricing have nothing to do with Bigfoot.
Now we know what it isn’t we’re free to speculate on what it might be, what it could be, what we’d like it to be and what sort of position it could occupy in the market.
The way I see it the Bigfoot Valve made console could occupy a tidy niche between PC and console. A single hardware configuration device focussed on games running a Linux OS. Running Linux is what makes the device interesting and opens up possibilities. The potential exists for Bigfoot not to just exist as a dedicated gaming box, but additionally be capable really of any PC function within the limits of the hardware.
As long as Valve don’t close the OS to 3rd party non-game software then Bigfoot could be as capable as any full Linux dektop. Bigfoot users wouldn’t be limited to just playing games or accessing a limited subset of media providers. Instead they would have:
-access to any media provider whether through web interface (and Valve built a very controller friendly browser for Big Picture) or dedicated application,
-access to office suites,
-image editing suites,
-video editing suites (and potentially screen capture without the need for dedicated additional hardware)
You may be thinking “Hey, but I have a PC, why do I need this?” Maybe you do, but not everybody does, and if money is tight a Bigfoot may a way to have both instead of being forced to choose or buy a horrible cheap computer. Bigfoot would also be a great choice for kids and adults who are stupid because Linux is less prone to the kinds of security issues that can affect Windows. You buy a kid a Bigfoot and you’ve bought him a highly capable gaming machine and a safe PC to do his homework on. Another question might be, is your PC actually any good, and maybe this is better?
What about Games?
I have no delusions here, there is absolutely no chance the entire Steam catalogue will be available on this thing day one, I’d go as far as to say the majority of the catalogue may never appear on Bigfoot. The Bigfoot launch lineup will likely comprise whatever small fraction of the Steam catalogue is compatible with Linux at the time of launch. At the moment this comprises around 40 titles from smaller developers and Indies, whether the AAA market picks up Linux or not is still a big question at this point. It may be that there are a decent number of current generation AAA titles available at launch or it might be Zero, it is simply too early in to Valve’s Linux push to call at this time.
I actually think 3rd party support for new games is more important than legacy support at the launch of a new console, I think people should be less concerned about whether older PC games will appear on the Bigfoot and more concerned about whether or not 3rd party devs will build next-gen titles for the machine. Will they? Unknown. Put it this way, how successful could you see a home console being if it was shunned by CoD, BF, FIFA etc?
There is the possibility that Valve will choose to lock future installments of their game IP to Steam and Bigfoot. In an absolute fantasy world Bigfoot launches in November 2014 bundled with “The Black Box” comprising Half-Life 3, Portal 3, Team Fortress 3 and Left 4 Dead 3 exclusive to Bigfoot and Steam. Likely? Maybe, maybe not. Valve have often expressed displeasure at the restrictions they face on the existing console networks, flying solo allows them to provide the best support to their “console” customers. I think until Valve get close to releasing another game this is pure speculation.
What about PC developers who don’t currently sell through Steam? I think it would be foolish of Valve to lock out non-Steam games from the system. Bigfoot might be a good fit for devs like Blizzard who have expressed interest in the console space but have yet to dip their toes in. I think Valve have a big opportunity to make an extremely developer friendly system by leaving it relatively open.
“I look at the prices on Steam and it makes me wary of their Digital-only economy”
This is true, the base prices on Steam tend to be high except during sales, but you don’t have to buy Steam games directly from Valve. There is now so much competition in the Steam key business that Steam actually got bitch-slapped on pricing in this years winter sales by the likes of Amazon.com, GreenManGaming, GetGames and a plethora of other legitimate businesses who sell games in the form of Steam keys. There’s nothing to stop game publishers from selling game keys in brick & mortar stores either - pricing competition is not an issue on Steam now and is unlikely to be in the future unless Valve go insane and decide to kill their own business.
I have more to say but this is hella long already so imma post it.