Opinion: The Ups And Downs Of Valve's SteamOS Announcement

by Mike Futter on Sep 23, 2013 at 10:19 AM

Expect a lot of news, opinion, and solicitation of feedback on Valve and Steam this week. The company is rolling out three announcements tied to a push into the living room. Today saw the first, with the reveal of SteamOS.

There are both strengths and weaknesses in Valve's announcement. While the long-term relevance of SteamOS is tightly tied to the remaining two reveals, Valve led with SteamOS, so we're looking at what went right and what could have gone better.

The Good: The Big Splash
Valve gave us an entire weekend to obsess about its trio of announcements. Social media was lit up as the countdown clock wound down to 1 PM Eastern today. PC gamers already enamored of Steam for its regular sales and stability of access were eager to find out what was behind curtain number one.

The Bad: A Disembodied Brain
I'm hard pressed to think that anyone will purchase a second high-end PC just to run SteamOS alongside the living room television. Ah, but what about the long-anticipated SteamBox?

That's just it. Without the accompanying (affordable) specialty hardware, it's hard to get excited about SteamOS. Valve decided to make the operating system the beginning of the discussion, and that doesn't seem like the smartest decision.

The Good: The Feature Set
Right now, there aren't a lot of Linux-compatible games in the Steam library (at least not compared against the whole of the PC catalog). All of those titles will work natively on SteamOS, though. 

What makes the operating system a bit more appealing is the ability to stream titles from any PC or Mac running Steam. If you've already got a Mac or (preferably) a PC that has access to the whole library.

The Bad: Burying the Lead
The single most impressive thing we know about SteamOS right now (that isn't based on supposition) is that it will be a receiver for streamed game content from a PC or Mac running Steam. This fact was halfway down the page, grouped with less-impressive features like "Music, TV, and Movies" and "Family Sharing."

Of course, streaming can be dicey, and we have to hope that Valve has cracked that nut. This is the same concern I have with streaming games from a PS4 to a Vita or a Vita TV. Input lag and a hit to resolution are big obstacles to overcome.

The Unknown: Why Would I Install SteamOS?
The video game market works on three pillars: user experience, hardware, and software. SteamOS covers the user experience. The likely announcement of a SteamBox handles the hardware. But only one thing is likely to get me to cross the finish line with SteamOS: games I can't get anywhere else.

Valve has been dodgy about its most anticipated title (Half-Life 3), and if it wants to hook users, the big guns need to come out. I don't expect that any SteamOS-exclusive titles would remain that way forever. If the operating system launched with Half-Life 3 as a timed exclusive though, that might swing people.

We'll know what's behind curtain number two on Wednesday at 1 PM Eastern. Presumably the final stage will be revealed on Friday.