Valve getting into hardware development has been a long running, popular rumour among the gaming population (rivalled only by rumours of Half-Life 3’s launch date). The so-called “Steam Box” is a rumoured console-like system with PC components that would allow you to play all of your Steam games in the living room using a variety of input methods (including a custom controller). Although the company has previously dismissed the notion, increasing evidence suggests that such a device could be in the works.
The most recent indication that Valve may be diving into hardware development after all is a job listing in which the company stated that it is seeking an industrial designer with at least six years of experience shipping “world-class, high-tech technology products,” working knowledge of design principles, and familiarity with 2D/3D design software (among other qualifiers).
This does not, by itself, confirm Valve will start developing the Steam Box, but when combined with other hints over the last couple of years, such a device does not sound out of the question.
In 2009, Valve filed for a pair of patents (US 2011/0105231 A1 and US 2011/0009193 A1 respectively) that covered both a modular game controller with interchangeable inputs, and a method to control a video game using biometric inputs (something Sony is also working on).
Since then, the company has also worked on its Big Picture Mode, which is a 10-foot interface designed to make the Steam client easier to use on a TV screen in the living room (by having larger text, and making it controllable with a remote control). In addition, the company has announced the upcoming Steam client and Source engine port to the Linux operating system. Valve has even been quoted by Penny Arcade as saying “if we have to sell hardware [to innovate] we will.”
All of those, and similar announcements and actions lend a credibility to the Steam Box theory – and now would be a great time for Valve to jump into the hardware game with its own platform. Microsoft is pushing for more control in the software that is run on its operating system – and wants to control the distribution and sales of said (Metro) apps as well. Then there’s the fact that the Android-powered Ouya console experienced a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, indeed breaking records with the initial speed of the funding pouring in.
Meanwhile Microsoft and Sony are taking their sweet time bringing next-generation consoles to market, leaving a nice opening for someone to come in and market to gamers with a new console. Should that someone be Valve, they could bring PC gamers to the living room while also bringing the best aspects of the PC to console gamers.
So the time is right for Valve – and evidence suggests that the firm is at least considering developing its own hardware platform. The combination of powerful PC hardware, the Steam distribution channel, indie developer friendly programs like Greenlight, and a living room friendly interface would be an extremely potent one.
It is impossible to say for sure if Valve is going to bring the long-awaited Steam Box to the gamers who have been clamouring for it, but the future of Valve hardware seems promising.
If you want to check out the full job spec and requirements, then head to the Valve job listings page and click on Industrial Designer.
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