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Valve's Big Picture Could Be a Linux Game Console 272

Posted by timothy
from the speculative-fiction dept.
Penurious Penguin writes that "a hopeful article at The Verge persuasively suggests that through Valve, Linux could soon become a formidable contender in the gaming arena, capable of holding its own against such giants as Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the Wii. With 50 million users, a growing Linux team, a caboodle of interesting experiments ('Steam Box' hardware baselines, etc.) and a strong conviction that more-open platforms are the way, Valve may actually see it through."
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Valve's Big Picture Could Be a Linux Game Console

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  • Piracy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @09:15PM (#42016113)

    Okay, perfectly serious question, and one the game developers and studios are going to ask you: How are you going to protect against piracy if the platform is open? Explain how if it's made trivially-easy for people to download and pirate the games, how their revenue stream benefits from this... because open platforms encourage piracy. Or at least, that's the argument that's going to be made.

    Please guys, serious answers only, not a giant flag of a penguin and patriotic music playing while you explain in great detail why open is better, etc. Pretend I'm a game developer and sell me on the concept. You can start by telling me how it'll be at least as profitable, if not more so, than the competitors. I don't care about linux, or the GPL, or open source: I want a business case made.

  • An old dream (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CmdrEdem (2229572) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @09:19PM (#42016137) Homepage

    For years I dreamed about a Linux distro with all the fat out but the bare minimum to run games, so we can get all the power from the hardware. I really hope this can become real but I`m well aware of the hurdles they will face to get to that.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DewDude (537374) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @09:44PM (#42016303)
    Don't forget; the Sega Dreamcast ran WindowsCE; and performed very well IMO. So, maybe the problem isn't the general purpose OS itself; but the fact it hasn't had any optimizations made to it. If you're that devoted to making an excellent Linux based platform; surely you'd be thinking about how to make the OS as unobtrusive as possible to performance. Linux powers most of the touchscreen bartop Megatouch branded video games. If you've ever seen a Fast and the Furious arcade game; it's some version of Windows (2000 or XP, I can't remember). I say if anyone had the ability to make a successful "home game console"; Valve would be the ones to do it, and do it well.
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @09:48PM (#42016327)

    How is it trolling to ask a question that any developer who's going to give serious consideration to this platform is going to ask? The console market thrives mostly on store-bought purchases, many of which are recycled into the used-games market a year after their release, but 95% of the games aren't pirated. The PC gaming market, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite: Most games, especially single-player games, sitting on PCs are pirated. So to get the same profit, you'd have to sell games for this console either at about 20 times the volume or 20 times the profit margin, to make up the difference.

    This is math guys. It's business. I'm making no arguments as to technical feasibility of producing such a console, but one of the reasons for the success of the PS3 and one reason so many developed for it was because it had strong DRM: If you wanted to play a game on the PS3, you either had to buy it, or go through convoluted steps or modify the hardware in ways that often left you unable to use that console online for multiplayer games. Every console marketed in the last decade has tried to follow the same business model.

    Now you have Valve coming along with a new, untested, business model. The burden of proving feasibility is on them; And I really, truly, and sincerely want to know what their argument is either for limiting piracy on their platform or describing how it won't affect sales or the profitability of games developed for the console. It is not trolling to point out a legitimate concern about an untested and unproven business model in an industry where game development costs many millions and the industry itself is prone to failure. Look at the (very) long list of failed games and gaming companies. Entertainment is a risky business.

    So the question has to be answered, solidly, how those risks are mitigated. Not. A. Troll.

  • Re:Piracy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @09:52PM (#42016349)

    Steam is already on Windows and that can be considered 'open' too, since you are referencing console lockdown. It is not perfect but it seems to be working well enough.

    The market is a lot bigger; The piracy rate is higher, but so is the purchase rate, so it evens out. But consoles are a small market -- almost everyone owns a computer. Not nearly as many own consoles. If the piracy rate on a console was the same as the PC, the market would collapse; it would be very difficult for all but the most successful titles to get a return on investment.

  • Unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frinsore (153020) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @09:53PM (#42016355)

    Now is probably the best time that Valve could release a console: get first mover status in North America against MS & Sony and probably Europe as well. But valve is a software company. Their experience with manufacturing, shipping, retailers, etc is limited at best. The boxed copies of Valve games are published by one of the traditional large publishers. I love valve as much as the next fan boy but the massive operational organization that is needed to support a console launch is slightly outside of their reach. Valve could partner with a distribution/manufacturing partner but the people that have experience in the entertainment space and who would be able to accomplish the undertaking is a pretty short list. EA could probably swing it and would scare both MS & Sony as their consoles would lose EA's games but with origin vs steam on the PC side of things I see this as slightly unlikely. I'd love Sega to make a Steam box, but that's simply nostalgia talking. Sony is the most likely partner as steam is already on PS3 (for some definition of steam) and ps3 runs a version of unix, but it would probably be another wedge between Sony & retail stores.

    More then likely this is probably valve's experimentation into console space. They'll probably stream line it so that it's trivial to get your home linux machine to output to hdmi at the push of a controller button. Once the home experience is as simple as it can get then they'll make a business case for releasing their own console or not based upon revenue. Look at what valve has done with micro-transactions, free to play games, crowd sourcing, and non-game software: they dip a toe into the water and then once they're confident they move into that space.

  • by sootman (158191) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @11:24PM (#42016739) Homepage Journal

    Joel Spolsky coined the term "Commoditize your complements" ten years ago. [joelonsoftware.com] Steam, who sells software, wants consoles (or PCs acting as consoles) to be as cheap as possible, so as many people as possible can afford to have hardware that will run their games.

    Every product in the marketplace has substitutes and complements. A substitute is another product you might buy if the first product is too expensive. Chicken is a substitute for beef. If you're a chicken farmer and the price of beef goes up, the people will want more chicken, and you will sell more.
     
    A complement is a product that you usually buy together with another product. Gas and cars are complements. Computer hardware is a classic complement of computer operating systems...
     
    All else being equal, demand for a product increases when the prices of its complements decrease... why don't the video chip vendors of the world try to commoditize the games, somehow? That' s a lot harder. If the game Halo is selling like crazy, it doesn't really have any substitutes. You're not going to go to the movie theatre to see Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and decide instead that you would be satisfied with a Woody Allen movie. They may both be great movies, but they're not perfect substitutes. Now: who would you rather be, a game publisher or a video chip vendor?

    Now that the cheapest hardware out there is ridiculously capable, of course Steam wants you to throw a free OS on there and turn it into a Steam appliance. Which can also browse the web, play videos, send emails, make Skype calls, etc etc etc.

  • Re:Piracy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OneAhead (1495535) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @11:37PM (#42016787)
    It's not like they'd have to rewrite their game from scratch - given a good initial choice of libraries/APIs and a modular software architecture, the investment of porting a Windows game to Linux is not that terrible. Especially relative to the amount of money that goes into into art and level design (none of which requires any porting) in big commercial games. So a tentative business model would be: release the game on Windows through Steam, then make a Linux port for extra revenue. Initially, this second revenue stream will be a lot smaller than the Windows version's, but again, so is the additional investment. And it has potential for growth; the steam box could potentially beat other consoles in hardware specs, making the same game look nicer, and allowing for more complex games to be run on it. It could be a stepping stone for console gamers to get into hardcore PC games. Valve doesn't even necessarily have to produce and sell the steamboxen themseves; they could just offer steam for Linux as an option to whichever intrepid company feels compelled to throw together some PC hardware and a minimalist Debian-based Linux distro and sell it as a console. The resulting competition could result in very attractive price/performance for the consumer - think the game console version of the Android ecosystem. In summary, there is a baseline potential for a modest second revenue stream with a fair return on investment, and lots of exciting possibilities for growth. How do you like my sales pitch?

    One more thing: Valve expressed its extreme displeasure with Windows 8's "walled garden" model. They could offer PC gamers to run steam from a bootable Linux flash drive, or better, do something like Portable Ubuntu but with better graphics support. I personally think the chances are pretty slim Valve will go that far, but it's not 100% impossible, and it would make Linux ports even more attractive to game publishers.
  • by Microlith (54737) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @11:39PM (#42016799)

    Microsoft doesn't have to deliver a great solution, just something good enough that Windows users don't look for alternatives. That's the advantage you have when your solution is included with every install of the OS and your OS is a monopoly in its market.

    The question will be if Steam and other stores have enough of a following to do what Netscape could not and ride out the anti-competitive maneuvers MSFT will make.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @12:29AM (#42016949) Journal

    The reason we are seeing more and more crap is simple....money. If given the choice of selling games or selling games AND shows AND music? Well its a no brainer for the company, although to be fair frankly I have a lot of customers that own consoles and the vast majority? Only play games on the things.

    As for TFA...how many of us have been saying the SECOND it was first announced that Steam was coming to Linux that the whole reason for it was a Steambox console? Like it or not Linux as a desktop platform has pretty much flatline for quite awhile now, pretty much staying at 1% with almost no growth, but as Google showed with Android you can make a hell of an embedded platform with it and as long as they stick with GPL V2 they can TiVo the hell out of it and thus have the DRM required by the game and media companies to get the content.

    So will it work? Possibly, after all if rumors are true the Xbox Next and PS4 are both gonna be X86 AMD APUs so you'd have three systems running X86, I'm sure Valve will come up with a nice dev kit to make porting your game from the PC to the Steambox easy, and of course they have a long relationship with game developers so that's always a plus.

    I wouldn't bet the farm on Steam staying on Linux proper for very long though, as we already see the distros starting to balk at the license terms and again like it or not Steam IS DRM which I have a feeling those core devs that work on the vital subsystems and treat the GPL like the ten commandments will probably go out of their way to make sure their updates "accidently" break Steam. Hell the last time I pointed this out I got a dozen posts basically saying "The GPL win win!" like it can magically get all the publishers just open up their games and switch to the honor system with their 100 million dollar triple A titles...yeah right.

    More likely Valve will put out one or two releases, the devs will break it and say "Well if you'd simply open up your code and get rid of the DRM that wouldn't happen" and Valve will simply say "Due to lack of popular demand we are ending Steam on the Linux platform, all those that bought games on it can have their games transferred to the PC or Steambox account" and that will be the end of that. The GPL and DRM will never be compatible so Linux just won't be a gaming platform, simple as that.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tibit (1762298) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:55AM (#42018579)

    I don't quite see, on a dedicated Linux system, how running anything in the kernel will improve things. The code still executes on the same CPU, same caches, etc. If the kernel includes broken drivers that disable interrupts for a long time (like the utter garbage USB device drivers for Raspberry PI), then whether you're in the kernel or outside, low latencies go out the window. As long as you don't include drivers written by people who have no clue, you'll be perfectly fine in the userland. Especially if you're the only process running at that time. I'm prototyping some rather low-end userspace PLC systems, and the userland performance is quite phenomenal if you're the sole process and are only using Ethernet communications (no USB). You can easily run cyclic tasks at 10kHz, and it's rock solid in performance.

    [Rant: No USB device driver has to block on anything. Ever. No exceptions. If you think otherwise, you're dumb, and I mean it.]

Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images. -- Jean Cocteau

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