Although Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have long been the big names in console development, there could soon be a new name alongside them – Valve.
The video game development and digital distribution company, best known for its Steam network and games including Half-Life, Counter-Strike and Portal, is examining alternatives to break into the living-room.
In a podcast interview with Seven Day Cooldown, Valve co-founder and CEO Gabe Newell says that the company was looking at alternatives to closed console technologies that are difficult to update and develop downloadable content for.
"We’re looking hard at both the living-room space and the mobile space to try to see if we can create open hardware platforms that the industry can use so we can get out of proprietary traps that we’re headed in both of those,” Newell says.
Open-platform development is probably the best direction for console development to go in – essentially, it means DLC is easier to develop and adapt for different consoles, and it gives developers more time to spend on polishing new releases as opposed to altering them drastically between consoles.
By acting as a digital distribution service, Valve’s Steam network is in itself a testament to open-hardware gaming, and Newell has long opposed the "closed platform philosophies” of the existing console developers.
In a panel discussion last year, Newell criticised incumbent console makers Microsoft, Nintendo and Apple, describing them as "rent guys”.
"They build a shiny sparkling thing that attracts users and then they control people’s access to those things,” he said.
But Valve’s success alone shows that open-hardware is not a bad business model. Social gaming and ease of access have helped Valve become a multi-billion dollar company.
And Newell says the reason developers are so turned off by open-hardware development is the attraction of exclusivity – if the platform is hard to develop for, it becomes difficult to emulate and potentially removes competition.
"I’m worried that the things that traditionally have been the source of a lot of innovation are going – there’s going to be an attempt to close those off so somebody will say ‘I’m tired of competing with Google, I’m tired of competing with Facebook, I’ll apply a console model and exclude the competitors I don’t like from my world’.”
Although the proposed console has been rumoured for a while under the name ‘Steam Box’, whether or not it will ever see the light of day still remains to be seen.
Would you like to see an open-hardware platform hit the market? Or is exclusivity not necessarily a bad thing? Let us know your thoughts below.