The rumours that Valve is looking to create a home console are looking more and more possible, if not likely. And Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony should be worried.
While many were able to dismiss Apple’s role as a gaming hardware manufactured based on the company’s relative inexperience with games, a corporate culture that isn’t friendly to gaming, and hardware that is arguably not appropriate for gaming (lacking physical buttons as it does), Valve knows gaming as well as anyone. Its Steam platform was the first (and still the most successful) at unifying the PC gaming industry into a centralised platform, and few would doubt the potential of a “Steam Console.”
One has to ask then; is there room for four different consoles in the set top box market? I would suggest not; especially when three of them (Sony, Microsoft and Valve) would be competing against very similar game libraries to one another. Differentiation is becoming more challenging, which is why Sony and Microsoft have worked so hard to add it non-gaming features to their hardwares, and add mobile compatibility to keep people invested in their brands.
Already the hardware market has been commoditised; there’s no room for margin with hardware any longer, and another player in the space is only going to squeeze margin further.
Valve would of course face problems of its own were it to release a Steam Console. It would become a first party developer, but one that is not nearly prolific enough to maintain its own console with exclusives. While Steam itself enjoys a large number of PC-exclusive games, those don’t necessarily transfer over as the kinds of games console gamers like.
And finally, Steam itself doesn’t have those content partnerships that Sony and Microsoft have worked so hard to develop. The company would be the upstart in the market in every sense of the word, but to dismiss it would be foolish.
This would be the first time there are four major hardware manufacturers in the games industry, and taking into account some erosion from Apple’s iPhone and iPad, it’s hard to see all four manufacturers being long-term sustainable. So Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo should indeed be worried by the potential of a “Steam Box.”