To hear Valve tell it, the mega-developer’s Seattle lair is a boundless, endlessly blossoming field of creativity – not some rigidly structured hive of hirings and firings. People clamber into the top secret treehouse, and then they affix themselves to whatever project strikes their fancy, or so the story goes. But it’s a bit tougher to bite those claims hook, (company) line, and sinker when not-so-good-old-fashioned layoffs strike. Earlier this year, Valve let go of around 30 employees, many of whom were allegedly involved in hardware and Steam Box endeavors. Rumblings suggested the sudden turn of events signaled a change of focus for Valve, but all we got beyond that was the world’s longest “no comment” from Gabe Newell. As it turns out, however, Valve’s Steam Box survived the Great Valve Purge of ’13, and now some sort of reveal is just around the corner.
Gabe Newell recently gave a talk during LinuxCon in New Orleans, and there he reiterated modern day Valve’s biggest mission statement: openness. Linux, he further suggested, remains a key piece in a puzzle that the likes of Microsoft and Apple have decided to chuck into the broom closet in favor of jealously guarded proprietary systems. He noted that it’s especially apparent in the strange divide between playing games on our PCs versus in our living rooms.
“Right now, you’re sort of in this bizarre situation where as soon as you sit on your couch, you’re supposed to have lost connection with all of your other computing platforms. It’s like ‘Ah well, just buy your games all over again’ and the input methods are incompatible and… yes, you can have music but you need to buy it from us rather than somebody else.”
“We thought that was just an incorrect way.”
And thus, Steam Big Picture mode was born. That, however, was only phase one. Now it’s time for PCs to supplant walled garden living room boxes, but via a form factor that’s maybe a bit less, er, monolithic than the towering monster machines we’re used to. “The next step in our contribution to this is to release some work we’ve done on the hardware side,” said Newell. “Next week we’re going to be rolling out more information about how we get there and what are the hardware opportunities that we see for bringing Linux into the living room and getting it even more unified with [other devices].”
So basically, Valve wants all devices – PC, consoles, mobile, etc – to both remain open and play nicely together. That’s quite a tall order, but Newell and co don’t often release a project from their gurgling synthesis tubes unless they feel like it’s got a very, very good shot at success. Time will tell, but in this case it’s a pretty narrow gap. I’m just about to fire up the ol’ Speculatron, and I plan to roast marshmallows in its “hmmm”-ing and “harumph”-ing glow until next week. Here’s hoping for the best.