Toot Toot: First Steamboxes Might Be Here By June

By Alec Meer on March 6th, 2013 at 4:00 pm.

I want a pony for Christmas!

Gabe Newell doesn’t just spend his time making himself look like Austrian Santa Claus – he also heads up gaming software titan Valve. And, soon, gaming hardware titan Valve. Their ‘Steambox‘ PC-as-a-console concept isn’t a secret anymore, and indeed Newell now claims the first units might well be in the wild within the next three to four months.

The BBC grabbed Gabe at last night’s gaming BAFTAs and encouraged him to talk about time-scales, design and what stops it from happening right now. You should watch the whole video, both because of the Austrian Santa thing and because there’s a whole lot more about the Steambox concept in there, but here are some pertinent quotes.

“We’re working with partners trying to nail down how fast we can make it. We’ll be giving out some prototypes to customers to gauge their reactions, I guess, in the next three to four months,” he told a surprisingly gaming-informed Auntie. He says “yeah, your average gamer has a pretty good idea of what it will be like” in response to questioning about whether it’s basically a PC in a box or not.

However, “There are noise issues and heat issues and being able to [deal with] that while still offering a powerful enough gaming experience is the challenge in building it.” This suggests to me that there’s some pretty saucy hardware in there – given you can stick a low-to-midrange system in a reasonably thin and quiet laptop these days. He acknowledges there’ll be a lot of solid state bits in there to try and keep heat and noise down.

Gamepads – or whatever brave new hand-based world they’re trying out – are also presenting obstacles, apparently. “We have a couple of different controller prototypes that we’re using, and that’s one of the things that we’re giving to customers.”

Outside of button pushing is the wearable computing concepts Valve’s long been talking up, which will apparently play a part in the Steambox. “You need to actually be able to directly measure how aroused the player is – what their heart rate is, things like that – in order to offer them a new experience each time they play.” Er. I am NOT COOL with Valve knowing how aroused I’m feeling, nor am I sticking any tubes into Little Alec.

Newell also reckoned the biometric stuff would be available outside of Steamboxes too, which is good news for us true-blue PC players. Presumably this means I might be wiring my heart up to a spare USB port any month now.

He also refuses to talk about Half-Life 3 in any way. Boo!

More here.

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66 Comments »

  1. ResonanceCascade says:

    Steambox I could take or leave, since I already have my PC hooked up to my TV, but those controllers sound very interesting indeed…

  2. cjlr says:

    So… what was the bloody point to this thing, again? I can’t remember.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      Science isn’t about why. It’s about why not.

      • Simon Hawthorne says:

        Please provide an Impact Summary and a Pathways to Impact statement.

    • Premium User Badge

      Zephro says:

      An extra PC to run in the lounge for people who can’t be bothered setting up all their own gear. Basically it’s not meant to replace your PC or even aimed at people who only play PC.

      • Shuck says:

        Except it’s a Linux box, which is effectively a new (albeit open) console as it doesn’t run the existing catalog of games and is premised on the hope that people will develop for it starting now.

        • Premium User Badge

          Zephro says:

          Linux is still a PC…

          If it lets me play a portion of my Steam collection on the couch then I won’t feel the need to invest in a PS4 until something major comes out. But anyway the point remains it is supplemental to the PC Steam market not a replacement for. As some people do seem to get their knickers in a twist about that.

        • solidsquid says:

          Valve’s porting their stuff over to Linux and I’m guessing the new Source engine will support it. Unity released Linux support in it’s most recent version too, so a lot of existing games built with that could be ported over. More developers also seem to be looking at Linux as a good way to get positive PR for their game, and depending on how they develop it the cost can be pretty low for porting it (especially if they’re already porting to Mac)

          That aside, most consoles are released with a limited range of games initially, the Steambox will have a decent library of games and be able to run them at a good frame rate and high graphic fidelity (or that seems to be the intent anyway), with the benefits of the PC modding community to help improve things.

          • Premium User Badge

            Zephro says:

            Also it will hopefully get games like Crusader Kings 2 or Civ 5 which will never see the light of day on the console.

            Mmmmm grand strategy on my big TV, I will feel like a total Evil Genius.

          • rustybroomhandle says:

            Crusader Kings 2 + all DLC already on Linux, but you are right that Civ 5 will likely never get a port.

          • Nick says:

            never express hope for the release of civ 5.

          • spindaden says:

            I expect when i shuffle off this mortal coil and and am cast into the deepest levels of hell they’ll force me to try to play CK2 with something other than a mouse and keyboard.

          • Shuck says:

            The selection of Linux games is limited enough that they’re far from enough to drive the sales of the box (only a tiny, tiny fraction of even the new games is on Linux, the back catalog will never be). So the development dynamics are essentially like those of a console – they’re hoping that devs will start to make games for this platform because their particular bit of hardware now exists. I hope they’re working like mad behind the scenes to generate interest in getting more developers to port to Linux, because otherwise this is pretty pointless.

          • HothMonster says:

            You know when the xbox/PS4 comes out it’s only going to have a handful of games available for it. Way less then the Steambox will have available on launch day.

        • Falcon says:

          It will be an HTPC with good hardware in it. While the Valve one will come with Linux, there’s nothing to stop you from installing Windows 8 on it or trying to make a Hackintosh and other hardware partners will have Windows boxes.

          It’s definitely appealing to me. I love my desktop but I also would love to have an HTPC that can play games in Big Picture Mode on my TV without having a desktop form factor sitting next to it. Sure, I can build an HTPC (or I could move my desktop every time or use wireless HDMI), but this will be another option and may have a better price/cooling/noise/heat/attractiveness ratio than I could get on my own depending on how they source their parts.

          Steam being on Linux is a big step toward more developers embracing Linux as a gaming platform. No, the game library isn’t all there yet, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          It comes with Linux, but you can put Windows on it (as I’m assuming many people will).

          “We’re not going to make it hard” — Gabe

          • benkc says:

            That quote pairs nicely with “You need to actually be able to directly measure how aroused the player is”.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Its supposed to be a couchputer with cheaper games and more freedom. I’m fine with that.

    • cjlr says:

      Well, I’ve already got my PC wired through to my receiver; I realize many people don’t, but it’s not like it’s hard (you just need walls and a drill EDIT: and a cable!). Maybe I’m wearing my GLORIOUS PC GAMING MASTER RACE spectacles, but this seems like a redundant, more-restrictive-by-definition way to do something very easy.

      Er, and besides, in another couple years local wireless bandwidth will be sufficient that you won’t even need the cable from A to B. WHDI is the future. Thus leaving a pretty narrow time-frame for this to be even remotely useful.

      • Premium User Badge

        Continuity says:

        Yeah, for your average core PC gamer you’re possibly right. However I think Gabe is eyeing up the console/casual market here.

  3. SuicideKing says:

    I wonder if it has TrackIR stuff built in?

  4. Rian Snuff says:

    I love the idea of a controller reading your vitals. Never considered that in this way before, love it.
    Since I do have a capable gaming machine chances are I won’t buy one of these unless my father wants one. But I’ll most definitively be using their controllers to replace my xbox one.

    I can’t wait. All the best luck to this taking off.

    • The First Door says:

      A guy at our uni made a version of Tetris which sped up when you got stressed by detecting your heart rate and skin conductivity. Suffice it to say, it was a rather downward spiral when you started losing!

      • Rian Snuff says:

        HA, that sounds awesome.
        I wonder if it’d have a useful application for helping train people with emotional/anger issues keep them under control by rewarding them cookies.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Didn’t Nintendo try developing this sort of biometric-recording controller for the wii, only to abandon it when they couldn’t find a useful application of it?

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        It sounds to me like Valve came to the controller the opposite way: their game design required biometrics readings, so they built a controller to support that.

      • InternetBatman says:

        I heard that it was the other way around. They had ideas for it but the hardware wasn’t there. This is just rumors though.

  5. Brosepholis says:

    Wearable computing too! Steambox will have ALL the gimmicks.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Except they keep saying that their AR project is still years away…

  6. MuscleHorse says:

    Left 4 Dead 3 : reads your pulse/heart beat to measure how stressed it’s making you.

    • Marik Bentusi says:

      Heart rate going down? Have this Hunter out of a dark corner behind you!
      Wow, he’s still nervous? Better calm him down with some joking NPCs and freebies so I can surprise him later!

      Oh the possible upgrades for the AI Director.

      Actually, it might be pretty amazing if your character shook like you shake, with ingame chars reacting to it,
      Tho probably more immersion-ruining than -helping.
      But I’d still like to see it done at least once!

  7. thecat17 says:

    He refuses to mention Hale-Life 3 because it’s going to be bundled with every Steambox sold and he wants to keep such a thing as a secret weapon that will basically ensure the console’s dominance over Sony’s and Microsoft’s next-gen offerings… right?

    Please tell me I’m right.

    • solidsquid says:

      I suspect they’re waiting to release that with the new Source engine as the first release on it. Whether this will be tied to the release of the steambox? No idea

  8. DickSocrates says:

    The stress test won’t work for me in online games. No matter what the game is about, the moment there are other real people around in the game I get maximum stressed.

    And measuring *that* kind arousal is a band that goes around your wee-willy-winkie, not a tube that goes inside. You may want to tell the police about that clinical trial you thought you’d signed up for.

  9. Kollega says:

    Given that i don’t like Valve that much anymore, the last thing i want to do is letting Gabe Newell know how aroused i am.

  10. omNOMinator says:

    Woah what an interview! Aweosme.

  11. Stevostin says:

    “nor am I sticking any tubes into Little Alec”

    It’s ok. John will.

  12. Ratchet says:

    I keep wondering why we are waiting for this physical mini-PC when, from everything I keep reading “Steambox” seems like it’s just a specification for hardware. Can’t I create a “Steambox” of my own? Is there one under my desk right now?

    • Hahaha says:

      It’s valve

    • HothMonster says:

      I’d bet they will release the OS for free if you want to build your own. The Steambox as a product seems aimed more towards people who would normally buy a console who might be willing to pay a little more on hardware to get better hardware and cheaper games. Or people on the market for a htpc.

      I don’t think they are planning to sell units to the existing PC crowd except maybe some people with a great distance between their desktop and tv. Personally I’ll probably dual boot my laptop with the SteamOS to see what it’s all about but I got too much hardware laying around to need their box.

  13. JackMayol says:

    Gabe looks like Robin Williams with a few pounds more on the ribs on this pic :)

  14. Niko says:

    “There are noise issues and heat issues”

  15. Premium User Badge

    TheApologist says:

    Isn’t the interesting thing him saying their business was up 50%? If we presume that this refers largely to the growth of Steam, that’s actually a significant slow down in the rate of growth via Steam etc., right?

    (Still impressive of course, but…)

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Oh noes! Sell your shares now!

    • Premium User Badge

      Continuity says:

      If you’re at 50% revenue growth in a year when the rest of the industry is down 20%, then you probably don’t have much to worry about.

      • Premium User Badge

        TheApologist says:

        I really am not worried in the least. :)

        Steam has been, I think, one of a number of useful signals of the size and rate of growth of a viable, modern PC gaming market in the last few years. So, when there is a significant fall off in the rate of growth, that’s a notable thing and I was wondering what it might tell us.

        It might, for example, indicate something about why Valve is interested in moving into hardware development, and what its goals are for doing so. Maybe?

        I certainly wasn’t thinking ‘oh noes’.

  16. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    Waste of time/money few will buy if they want a desktop PC just go to Dell & buy an Alienware X51 not sure why Valve are wasting anymore resource on this (apart from the threat of Windows 8 that is!).

  17. Radiant says:

    Can have a permanent ‘staring eyes’ tag for Gabe?

    CONSIDERING THEY’RE NOT HIS.

  18. Beernut says:

    The BBC reporter talks about “video game sales being down about 20% in the last year” at the end of the video. Am I correct in assuming, that this number is only considering traditional retail-sale-figures without digital-distribution or all the newer business models like DLCs or micro-transactions in FTP-games, which can’t be easily measured by looking at box-sales in a shop?

  19. Solidstate89 says:

    So taking Valve-Time into account, we’ll see them in about a year or two.

  20. mickygor says:

    I know it’s oddly specific, but I really hope that the biometrics aspect of the steam box is optional. I have a phobia of pulses, and just knowing that mine is being read would probably make me throw up.

  21. JWendin says:

    They should name it the SteamBox 500 to further the (good) Amiga vibe :)

  22. caddyB says:

    Half Life 3 linux exclusive, heard it here first folks!

  23. solymer89 says:

    Yes, yes. I can see it now. The bio metric stuff will inform them of just how unhealthy most of their player base is. They will then turn around and sell said information to the insurance companies thereby increasing profits. All the while increasing our rates, driving us all further into depression, and thereby further into their game worlds! A sick and vicious circle of which there is no escape…

    I’ll stick with my Desktop thanks!

    P.S. I don’t actually mind them knowing how aroused I am, they still won’t know what to do with that info ;)

  24. Shadrach says:

    I hope they don’t force their controller (whatever it turns out to be) on everyone, and lets people use for instance 360 controllers if they have. I strongly doubt Valve could improve on them and they are the de facto supported standard for PC game controllers.

    • iniudan says:

      It damn easy to improve on 360 controller, first put left joystick and D-pad into a hot swapping module (like a saitek cyborg rumble pad), that way you can switch their position, second use a SNES D-Pad instead of the the crap they have on it.

  25. DXN says:

    Not to be superficial — well, maybe to be superficial — but Gabe looks about a million times better now than he did a few years ago.

    • Panda Powered says:

      He needs a pointy hat with sparkles on it. He looks like a wizard.

  26. Josh W says:

    A new way to force review scores out of rps! Alec may not admit it, but his arousal during this game was significantly above average.

    Also love the casual engineering creepyness of this.

  27. DestroyYourEgo says:

    Once again, I am lured here under false pretenses of Randy Newman….