Valve’s recent announcement of their new operating system as well as their new line of consoles, the Steam Machines, has caused a stir in gaming circles. Steam has long held dominance over the PC gaming market and is celebrated for their customer friendly business policies and ethics. With their move into the major console market Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo should be more than slightly worried.

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Photo: PC Mag

Valve has long been seen as a company that encourages community driven work and projects on their products. On Steam this is implemented in such features as game modification, source film making and user customisation. This is directly opposed to the restrictive practices of the big three console companies. With the announcement of the next console generation earlier this year, both Microsoft and Sony were criticised for a variety of DRM policies seen as anti-consumer. On either system the user experience is restricted to the on disc content leaving little customization with no form of modding tolerated. The Steam Machine is a fully customisable console, playing the same games that valve currently sell through their PC distribution service, happily inviting user created content. How Sony and Microsoft will counter this, if at all, will be a defining issue of the console landscape.

Another interesting concept behind Valve’s move into the console market is what this means for game pricing and availability. This applies to both of the triple AAA industry and indie games. Despite the rapid rise of the indie developer in recent years Microsoft and Sony have often made it notoriously difficult for these games to be released on their platform. Valve on the other hand is one of the key factors in the rise of indie games, offering easy access to a huge digital distribution system that minimizes cost for the developer with reasonable pricing and ease of access for the consumer. With the release of the Steam Machine, smaller developers can now easily get their games onto a major console.

In terms of pricing, Valve are famous for their sales, with the summer and Christmas sales offering big name titles for up to 80% of the retail price. Contrast this with Microsoft, who’s recent ‘ultimate game sale’ offered downloads of Bioshock Infinite for £39.00, nearly ten percent more than physical copies of the game. Will the Steam Machines mean that the customer can expect a much greater deal on their game purchases in the near future?

Valve is currently preparing to ship beta machines to signed up testers and early reports are promising. It now seems that the always-on DRM scandal of the summer isn’t the biggest worry the industry has on its hands, and the console war has a promising new contender.