Valve Corporation is working on a console of its own, according to reports, and could announce its move into the hardware market at GDC later this week.
The Verge reports that Valve is planning on putting Steam "at the centre of an open gaming universe" similar to Google's role in the Android operating system. Sources claim the company is working on hardware specs – a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GPU – but that "Steam Box", as it's being called, would be software, rather than hardware.
That would mean that any hardware could be made by a number of different manufacturers – a theory given further weight by comments given by Gabe Newell in a recent interview with Penny Arcade.
"We'd rather hardware people that are good at manufacturing and distributing hardware do it," he said. "We think it's important enough that if that's what we end up having to do, then that's what we end up having to do."
Sources go on to claim that Steam Box will be able to run existing PC titles, and allow rival services like EA Origin. Hardware changes would be expected every three or four years so developers know what they're working towards, and with no devkit or licence fees required it would remove the barriers to entry that prevent indie or hobbyist developers from releasing games on Xbox Live Arcade or PSN.
A "wide variety" of USB peripherals will be supported, sources claim, but Valve is reportedly working on a proprietary controller with swappable components so it can be reconfigured according to the type of game being played – an outlandish claim but one backed up by a patent filed by Valve last year. More outlandish still is the claim that the console will incorporate some form of biometric feedback.
Any Valve console would support Big Picture Mode, which redesigns the Steam interface for the living room TV; announced at GDC last year, it has yet to see the light of day. The Verge reports that Valve could unveil Steam Box at this year's GDC, which kicks off today, though claims the company may wait until E3 before revealing its first foray into the hardware market.
While any such announcement would be cause for concern at Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, the report claims that the real target in Valve's sights is Apple, which is expected to unveil a new generation of the Apple TV device and has been rumoured for some time to be plotting a move into the hardware arms race.
Again, the report turns to extracts from a Newell interview. "On the platform side, it's sort of ominous that the world seems to be moving away from open platforms," he told the Seattle Times. "They build a shiny sparkling thing that attracts users, and then they control people's access to those things."
It's a tantalising prospect: one that unites Valve's platform infrastructure with the living room TV screen, democratising console development in one fell swoop and, of course, bringing with it those regular Steam sales, with big-name games discounted to a relative, irresistible pittance. Nintendo's Wii U will be released later this year, but with Microsoft and Sony seemingly dragging their heels on the next generation, 2012 could be the perfect time for Valve to step in.
Source: The Verge