Move Over Gas Guzzlers, Give Me Steam – A SteamOS Editorial
Over the past several months, and especially the past few weeks, my experiences in Steam on Linux have grown exponentially. To cap this off, as well as give my opinion on Pros and Cons of the current Beta experience, I decided to write an editorial about my experiences thus far. In no way am I an authoritative voice on the subject, but an avid Linux power user, as well as an I.T. Professional in my day to day work. I hope you find this meaningful and insightful. Once SteamOS moves out of Beta, a follow-up editorial will likely follow.
A Tale of Cars Over Trains
Why on earth would you use a train to get to your destination, when a car will get you there with air conditioning, bangin’ tunes, smartphone navigation, and a horn to obliterate your enemies on the road. A train is slow, on a static path, and impractical. The same comparison could be added to using Steam on Linux, more specifically SteamOS. Why on earth would you use a “less capable” OS, used by a small subset of the computing community, when the “car”, i.e. gaming consoles, get you there faster. Heck, a bullet train, i.e. Windows, will do it faster if you should still hate “the car.”
Why am I bringing this all up in such a comparison? Well, the fact of the matter is, under my opinion, gaming is changing. Sure, you can argue till dusk that AAA titles are the deciding factor, your gaming library numbers, or the ease of use, but hear me out. Ever since the debut of the PS3 and Xbox, I noticed a shift in console manufacturers priorities as enablers of personal gaming. Remember when we popped in a game cartridge, the game started right up, with no fuss? Sure, it is nice and dandy to have Netflix, Amazon Instant, and more at your finger tips, but as more console manufacturers focus more on media consumption over shaping the gaming industry as influential masters of the universe, I feel gamers are being left in the dust.
Of course this shift may take another gaming console cycle or two, but the pattern is already evident. Anyone can assure you that no matter what, there will be hardcore and casual gamers for quite some time filling the explicative packed gaming halls of Call of Duty 17 and Not Another Sequel or Reboot 14, but my interest in those areas has severely waned to a point that, unless the game is on a sharp sale, I don’t really even care any more. I am finding more imagination and enjoyable gameplay in seemingly branded “indie titles” than I am in “mega-hits.” Supporting these folks, also feels very gratifying, as well as being involved in games future growth on Steam’s Greenlight pages. Nice graphics can always be a selling point, as are Michael Bay’s explosions and meltdowns, but who wants to watch Transformers 7, when I can watch a brand new unique film that focuses more on the depth of characters and story, than it does with its visuals
I truly believe it is only a matter of time before another video game market crash. Saturation of the same franchises and gameplay will ultimately drive sales down, to the point where, “meh” will become a common response to “are you getting the latest <insert_AAA_title_here> on <insert_latest_gaming console_here>?” The only reason I see more gamers not embracing alternative platforms such as Linux and Steam/SteamOS, is the lack titles, and ease of use. If those categories should flesh out more with the help of Valve over the next year or two, that “catch 22” may just undo itself.
So why hasn’t this happened yet? Why should we drop Xbox One or PS4 at all? Well…You shouldn’t. If you require access to those games as a compliment to Steam, more specifically Steam on Linux, or SteamOS, then by all means. Heck, I still have my Xbox 360, although it sees very little use these days. More often, I am turning on my SteamOS machine to check out the latest developments, which are rapidly being deployed. I was happy to shuffle into the SteamOS browser today, only to see a few more nice options for page navigation. In due time, we may also see DRM services put into the mix.
In the end I truly do not see SteamOS dying off. As large as Valve’s weight is (come on, no Gabe Newell size jokes …), it is pretty evident that they are going to stick this war out and create a viable alternative to console gaming. Even if in the end, they do not replace the console as we know it, I expect SteamOS to be a very viable “#4” in the top line up.
Strangely enough, with all the buzz about SteamOS flying around, many of those critics are forgetting what SteamOS and Valve are doing by “trickle down game-a-nomics.” Developments of features Valve is pumping in SteamsOS will all but surely benefit their Linux client by extension. Big Picture mode as a setting extension to a normal Ubuntu Steam installation will still provide a few more configuration options at the moment, but Valve is implementing those features one by one, as well as working on new features at the same time. Linux as a whole will see amazing benefits in video driver support with AMD already being more of an active player in the space.
Keeping the Faith Brotha’
It’s not always easy to believe in a project, when there is strong criticism and apparent issues at its start, but don’t count Valve’s grand vision out here. What they are building is a modular platform, one that can be played on Linux, Windows, or Mac OS, one that has an amazing catelogue, and infinite possibilities. The features and usability over time since Steam was conceived has been nothing short of miraculous. Before steam, online PC gaming was sort of hit or miss, and up the game developers to make the infrastructure. Now, we still a unified interface, that is both economical (with constant game sales), but practical as well, with a common overlay system and online server presence. The Steam platform is also becoming increasingly beneficial to Indie developers. With new game engines providing cross-platform publishing. getting games on Linux and others easily should become much better overall in the coming years.
As I write this piece from my rained out corner of town, I see sunlight on the horizon. Steam is quickly becoming a platform that seems to open up opportunity, rather than lock it down. I don’t feel “caged” in a box with Steam. You could argue SteamOS is doing just the same, but I could fire back, “just use Steam on Ubuntu or another popular platform.” The fact is, Steam is growing based on a usable platform of infinite possibilities, rather than a black box dumpster for AAA game companies to send franchises to die. I am still surprised that “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” has not yet been rebooted into an FPS.
I’m sure I may be missing a few other points, but hopefully you get the idea of what I am going after here. I must stress that this is only my personal experience as a long time gamer and computer enthusiast. I mean heck, I used to be thrilled to death when my grandmother tapped me episodes of Tech TV. With Valve’s might, we just may see Steam move into a position of that a normal everyday person may someday speak “Hey, did you heave of these Steam machines?” This shift may take a long time, but it can most certainly happen. The same business models and number-crunching-sequel-baby-makers of today will only last so long. I can safely say that Gordon Gecko is wrong for the gaming industry, greed is not “good.”