Valve is slowly unveiling its plan to conquer living rooms worldwide this week, having already unveiled SteamOS and Steam Machines this week, with another announcement coming on Friday. And while I have no idea what news Friday will bring — some have speculated it’s Half Life 3, but I rather doubt that as it doesn’t fit with the “living room” theme of the other announcements — I do think that SteamOS and the coming of Steam Machines is very good news for gamers in Asia. Here’s why:
They’re highly customizable. Steam machines can be custom-built using regular PC hardware, and even the source code of SteamOS itself will be downloadable and tweakable. This should allow for lots of clever localization efforts across Asia. Enterprising users could, for example, hack the OS to include more support for Asian languages, or build Steam Machines specifically designed for running the most popular local games at the lowest possible price point. This kind of customizability is what has made PC games the option of choice throughout most of Asia; SteamOS and Steam Machines look poised to finally let Asian gamers enjoy this same customizability while still being able to easily play games on their TVs.
They can’t be easily banned or taxed. Game consoles are illegal in China. Other countries tax the import of consoles and games quite heavily. But since SteamOS is digital, as are Steam games, and Steam Machines can be built by anyone using regular PC hardware and are basically just regular computers, it would be very difficult to ban or tax them. This means that Chinese gamers will likely be able to enjoy legal gaming on their TVs, and gamers in other markets should be able to enjoy living room gaming without having to pay inflated prices because the games and hardware are imported.
They can probably play non-Steam games, too. While we don’t know all the particulars of SteamOS just yet, it seems likely that it will have a web browser of some sort and likely will be capable of running the browser-based games that are popular in some parts of Asia. (Even if it can’t do this by default, I’m sure someone will create a version that can once the source code is released).
They’ll (probably) be affordable. Again, we don’t know any specific details about hardware requirements or pricing yet, but the fact that multiple manufacturers will be making Steam Machines, and the fact that you’ll also be able to download the OS for free and install it on custom machines, means that certainly someone will come up with a way to make the things affordable. That kind of competition doesn’t exist in the console market right now; if you want to play Playstation games, for example, you have to buy Sony’s console. There are no third-party or home-made options.
Personally, I’m excited to learn more about SteamOS and Steam Machines, and I think gamers throughout the world should be too. But I think that especially for China, Valve could be delivering the country the first legal version of something that some (granted, a minority) Chinese gamers have been wanting for a long time: a console.