What’s Valve Up To?

I love reading the news. I’ve been doing that lately, and, I’d like to make some predictions about what I’ve seen. And chief among them was Gabe Newell, Valve co-founder and managing director. In a recent interview he stated that Windows 8 was a “catastrophe” for developers who didn’t want to be beholden to Microsoft. See, Microsoft, ever the schizophrenic company, now wants to own a storefront, like Apple with iOS/iTunes, Google with Android/Play Store(/and, well, ads), and Valve with games.

Comments from Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell aren’t every day fare. He appeared at Sony’s 2010 E3 event where he stated that the PS3 version would be “THE best” console version. In an interview with the then-new Penny Arcade Report earlier this year in 2012 Newell famously said “Well, if we have to sell hardware we will” starting a flood of rumors about a possible Valve console (the “Steam Box”). The man is important in the industry, not only for the games he’s contributed, but the digital storefront his company has pioneered. When he appears, it’s important. Expect a rebuttal next week from Microsoft as Newell’s comment gains traction, as being too quick would lend it legitimacy, but I think there’s a bigger story than his slamming Win8. It’s his constant talk of fixing problems.

The Linux Success Story

I expect Valve to push a new Linux desktop. One of Steam’s freeform teams is spearheading Linux game development; their current project is Left 4 Dead 2, but I expect that to widen. Valve will push Linux for gamers by giving Linux copies of games when you purchase it, much how they currently give you both a Windows and Mac version of so many now. With more people familiar with smart phone interfaces, tablets, and even “smart TVs”, they’re just not as scared of new things as they once were. Families around the world will wake up with their Windows box gone, change by the IT guy of the family to something new. Linux will finally take the home. This will be the true “open source success“, not simply “no longer being taboo.”

But how to sell gamers on it? How about a free copy of Half-Life 3? Yup, I’m there. On top of that, they can make it easier for gamers by offering Linux copies of games you’ve already bought, like they’ve done with their push onto Mac. Gabe wants gamers to have an real choice. At least, he wants them to be able to install Steam. Doesn’t take a genius to see why. But if Macs go the way of iOS? If Windows does? Or if they both just have their store as the path of least resistance? Well, those “more closed” platforms hurt Steam’s ability to get their product in front of consumers, so, expect to see Valve push Linux. Hard. And to push into the living room on a console. And I don’t mean the “Steam Box”.

Kickstarting A Revolution

Speaking of consoles, I can think of one that’s got a lot of buzz these days, and it’s Linux-based…

I expect OUYA, developer of the self-titled Android console, has already gotten calls from Steam, just like they have OnLive, Square-Enix, and Vevo. If this product takes off, and I expect it to, then hardware design, manufacturing, marketing, and selling, is one less industry Valve has to do, and one more format to sell games on. Success for the OUYA can make Steam pivot back away from potential hardware seller and stick with what they know; selling software. Don’t expect any of the big 3 console manufacturers to do that.

“But the OUYA won’t install Left 4 Dead 2, even if it is for Linux!” you say? Sure. But expect buying Plants Versus Zombies to give you a Windows, Mac, Linux, AND Android version. (Well, bad example as EA bought PopCap, but you get the point.) Also, more importantly? In a long enough time span the truth is that it’s inevitable, you will be able to play L4D2 on OUYA. How? By streaming it.

The Steam Stream

I expect Valve already has a team on a streaming service for games owned through Steam. Like I said, it’s kind of inevitable. I genuinely expect customers to never have to install most games, just stream them from Valve’s servers, for a small monthly fee paid to Valve to account for server space, bandwidth, and related costs. They can go one of two ways with this. They can buy OnLive and fold it in, or go original.

Buying OnLive is probably easiest, but is probably bad for gamers, as owner-concentration usually is for any group. An interesting turn of events would see Steam doing their own thing, going against GameFly, and and OnLive partner with Good Old Games. (Not holding my breath, however. Everyone wants to sell or buy. No one wants to work together.) That’s the Nintendo v Sony v Microsoft (Ninty v Sega) of the future.

The First Step

Am I right? Who knows. Not I. I did email Gabe Newell a few peripherally related questions, but got no response. But it’s obvious Valve has something up their sleeve. Their recent blog lineup and the “leak” of their handbook? The best stealth recruitment campaign ever. For every top level developer in every field. Not against other game developers, or other digital storefronts… But against every other corporate giant out there.