Print 25 comment(s) - last by Helbore.. on Sep 13 at 9:39 AM

Job posting hints at novel peripherals, but full plans are anyone's guess

While precise numbers are hard to come by, recent reports pin PC game sales in the 30-40 million unit range, well off their peak levels of 1999.  With more and more gamers opting for consoles over gaming PCs, and with the additional pressures of piracy, many smaller developers have been forced to jump ship to mobile devices or consoles.  The result has been a general contraction in enthusiast hardware demand, which has led some companies to scale back the scope of their product lines.

Amidst that backdrop grizzled veteran PC gamemaker Valve, owners of the Steam digital distribution service, surprised many by announcing its intent to enter into the PC gaming/enthusiast hardware space.

The announcement came in a roundabout sort of way, when Valve posted a job listing dubbed "Industrial Designer".  In the job details lies a juicy nugget:

Open platforms like the PC and Mac are important to us, as they enable us and our partners to have a robust and direct relationship with customers. We’re frustrated by the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space though, so we’re jumping in. Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven’t really changed in any meaningful way over the years. There’s a real void in the marketplace, and opportunities to create compelling user experiences are being overlooked.

While about as unambiguous as possible about Valve's determination to become a hardware player, the real question is what exactly it will produce.

Valve wide
Valve is entering the hardware market, but the question remains what it will opt to produce.
[Image Source: Valve]

A low-hanging fruit could perhaps be customer PC gaming controllers/peripherals playing off Valve's beloved franchises -- Half LifePortalCounterstrike, etc. -- a possibility suggested by the "basic input, the keyboard and mouse" part.  Still, the ambiguity has encouraged some to let their imagination run wild -- suggesting Valve may even be looking to come up with a console.

Valve recently drew mixed reactions when its President voiced his displeasure with Windows 8 despite the fact that the operating system packs in DirectX 11.1 and a plethora of performance improvements.  Valve traditionally made games exclusively for Windows PCs, but recent migrated to the Mac as well.  Likewise, its accusation that peripheral makers lack creativity may ruffle some feathers; after all some companies like OCZ have toyed with brain-"mice" -- thought controlled input devices.

But Valve does have one thing right.  The I/O space has yet to see such an innovative controller device catch on in a big way ("brain mice" have been released, but have been a low-volume niche product).  Most PC gamers still use the same thing they did a decade and a half ago -- a mouse and keyboard.  The question facing Valve is whether it will be able to use its market clout to change that situation.

Source: Valve

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By GulWestfale on 9/4/2012 3:23:11 PM , Rating: 2
given that macs are moving towards an app store-only environment, and that windows 8 will have its own store as well, valve loses its biggest moneymaker, the steam store.

so they have to move into other markets in order to continue making money. but what could they be doing?

they cannot possibly innovate on any meaningful level; new processor architectures or graphics chips are costly to develop and require expertise, and they're not looking for an engineer, only for an industrial designer.
so the obvious answer is that they'll be making peripherals like keyboards, mice, gamepads; and perhaps later on, valve-branded RAM or SSDs.

it's a dangerous strategy, as sub-par quality or features could ruin their reputation in the gaming market, and the field of keyboard makers is already pretty overcrowded. they have to come up with something really special if they don't wanna be an also ran.

RE: logical
By stm1185 on 9/4/2012 3:30:14 PM , Rating: 5
I think its a first step towards selling their own PCs and consoles running a modified version of Linux that is built around the Steam store.

And as for them complaining about a lack of innovation in the Mouse and Keyboard; well you can't fix whats not broken. Give me a MX518 mouse and a Sidewinder X4 keyboard over any Kinect, Wiimote, Move, gamepad, joystick, touchpad... They still offer far superior control at comparable cost.

RE: logical
By Reclaimer77 on 9/4/2012 3:49:53 PM , Rating: 3
I think its a first step towards selling their own PCs and consoles running a modified version of Linux that is built around the Steam store.

Who would buy that?

RE: logical
By kleinma on 9/4/2012 4:31:07 PM , Rating: 3

RE: logical
By Solandri on 9/4/2012 6:08:51 PM , Rating: 2

Mind you, I think it's a boondoggle, and most of the contributors are gaming and Linux/Android enthusiasts who don't realize they've become newbie venture capitalist investors by funding the kickstarter. But it seems there's plenty of people willing to pay money for this sort of thing.

RE: logical
By NellyFromMA on 9/4/2012 4:54:39 PM , Rating: 2
On the one hand, I have to beleive no one. On the other hand, this is essentialyl what people buy when they buy android phones. Modified Linux distros that are mobile. People bit down on that so idk, anything is possible I suppose... Stil, with thelaw suits and what not, it's hard to imagine a world where Valve competes with MS and Apple without actually licensing much of the required tech.

Valve's way out of their league on this one.

RE: logical
By GulWestfale on 9/4/2012 5:16:42 PM , Rating: 2
they'd need tons of exclusive content for a console, and considering the competition i don't think they'd be dumb enough to risk it. there is an open-source console out there, by the way:

granted, it's little more than a tegra 3 tablet without the screen, but it's possibly still more powerful than the wiiU lol.

RE: logical
By TakinYourPoints on 9/4/2012 7:42:27 PM , Rating: 4
I think its a first step towards selling their own PCs and consoles running a modified version of Linux that is built around the Steam store.

Nope, that is pointless.

This is most likely research into new physical UIs. I know for a fact that Valve had a VR head rig before Carmack demonstrated his earlier this year, and that they have hired engineers who have done research on biometric and wearable interfaces.

This type of research may never directly lead into a specific product, but this sort of blue sky R&D is important. Nobody ever knows where that sort of thing leads.

RE: logical
By TakinYourPoints on 9/4/2012 9:02:05 PM , Rating: 2
Hell, they've had biometric feedback built into their games for a while, at least on the developer side. They had heartrate monitors built into the DOTA 2 client for The International tournament last year, and they've used eyeball tracking and heartrate monitors for Left 4 Dead playtesting.

Again, who knows if and when this will end up in a commercial user interface, but they'll never know without experimenting and prototyping. It is the same type of extensive UI R&D that Apple and Nintendo do so well.

Something like a Valve produced console, PC, or laptop would be a waste of Valve's energy. It pushes nothing forward and anybody can do that. Valve entire history has been based on figuring out where to go before anyone else does (narrative FPS, e-commerce, and now executing eSports with DOTA 2 on a level beyond anyone else).

RE: logical
By Schadenfroh on 9/4/2012 10:58:04 PM , Rating: 3
you can't fix whats not broken

I'm still using an IBM Model M keyboard ("clicky" key). You cannot fix that which is impossible to break...

RE: logical
By albus on 9/4/2012 3:30:17 PM , Rating: 2
As long as they don't make any new Valve product compulsory and leave Steam untouched, it is a safe ploy. Even if the new adventure fails, they will continue to make money from the existing model.

RE: logical
By Newspapercrane on 9/4/2012 3:36:27 PM , Rating: 3
Just because Windows will have an app store doesn't mean that the steam store is going to go anywhere. Whether Windows 8 takes off or flops, Valve has a deep foothold in that market already. They're not dumb enough to let Microsoft take their devs away, and based on how Microsoft has treated indie developers on XBL, they won't be going anywhere.

I think there may be room in the market for another platform in contender in the gaming space, and I think the Ooya proved that. Time will tell what Valve comes up with, but one thing is for certain: Valve has to have the money to pull something like this off. Based on their development of a Linux version of the source engine/Steam I would think that it's probably going to be some kind of linux box, with perhaps a utilization of "Plays on SteamBox" badge for valve games, as well as those from participating indie developers.

The interesting part in this for me would be what kind of processor/GPU this thing would have. Most Intel platforms would probably be too expensive, and the thought of Gaming on an Atom platform makes me want to blow my brains out. ARM is a decent option, but games with the "Works on Steambox" cert would have to be reworked to work with ARM. Didn't the unreal engine just get ported to ARM? That might make this interesting, though I'm not so sure they'd play nice with Valve on this one. This might also be an interesting implementation of AMD's Llano line, though to be honest I haven't heard anything super-amazing out of that, though I expect that the APU will get better with maturity.

RE: logical
By Newspapercrane on 9/4/2012 3:39:34 PM , Rating: 2
All of my speculation is based on the idea that they'd be making a Steam box as an affordable console replacement priced from $200-$400.

RE: logical
By tayb on 9/4/2012 3:38:01 PM , Rating: 3
given that macs are moving towards an app store-only environment, and that windows 8 will have its own store as well, valve loses its biggest moneymaker, the steam store.

This is no given. I won't say never but it is highly unlikely that Apple would transition its desktop OS into an app store only model. Offering a convenient place to download and distribute software does not mean they're planning to make that the ONLY place to get software. Quite unlikely and if it were to happen it would have to be phased in very slowly.

Further, both the Windows 8 Store and the Mac Store charge hefty fees of up to 30% of revenue for the "privilege" of selling through the store. I don't think it will be difficult for Steam to undercut that and offer game developers a cheaper and easier place to distribute games.

They're thinking peripherals. The listing is for someone to design some gear. Probably backpacks, gaming keyboards/mice, mousepads, water bottles, etc.

RE: logical
By FITCamaro on 9/4/2012 6:01:26 PM , Rating: 3
Exactly. Microsoft's and Apple's stores don't block the existence of other stores. Hell everyone is creating a store right now for better or worse (usually worse...looking at you EA).

RE: logical
By nafhan on 9/5/2012 11:03:07 AM , Rating: 2
They don't block them, but they do make them into second class citizens as first party stores have capabilities that third party stores will/do not have.

Not saying that the OS "stores" are necessarily bad, just pointing out that they have some advantages that may make it easy for MS/Apple to marginalize other sources of software even if they don't outright block them.

RE: logical
By rob19478 on 9/11/2012 2:36:51 AM , Rating: 2
Like other top notch hardware companies they can buy chinese OEM products and stick their brand logo on it.

Hopes & Prayers
By Silvio on 9/4/2012 4:36:12 PM , Rating: 2
Am I the only one hoping that Valve puts research into keyboard layout, and that we finally get something that wasn't designed by typewriter manufactureres to slow people down?

And don't you dare say 'There's always Dvorak'. Try and buy a Dvorak keyboard. Last time I did I was looking at an outlay of over $100 for an ugly, clunky keyboard.

RE: Hopes & Prayers
By Newspapercrane on 9/4/2012 4:42:47 PM , Rating: 2
Get a keyboard with removable keycaps and move them around yourself. It's fairly common for higher end keyboards these days (or if you're like me... your IBM Model M). Or, better yet, get a DAS keyboard pro. It's blank, so it won't need to be moved around. Think of the hilarity which would ensue to see a touch typist... or even a hunt and peck typist... using your computer.

RE: Hopes & Prayers
By Helbore on 9/4/2012 6:57:47 PM , Rating: 2
Moving the keycaps wouldn't actually change what characters the underlying keys output.

RE: Hopes & Prayers
By DaveLessnau on 9/5/2012 9:56:49 AM , Rating: 2
RE: Hopes & Prayers
By Helbore on 9/13/2012 9:39:35 AM , Rating: 2
Wow, never knew you could do that! Live and learn.

RE: Hopes & Prayers
By kattanna on 9/4/2012 4:54:16 PM , Rating: 2
i dont really see a need for a new keyboard layout, not now anyways.

its been the same layout for decades now and it works.

plus having to get used to a new one at home and the old standard one at thanks. its not enough of an issue for the hassle.

RE: Hopes & Prayers
By tayb on 9/4/2012 4:54:27 PM , Rating: 2
It's debatable as to the true motivations for the qwerty keyboard. Whether it was intended to reduce jamming by moving associated letters away from each other or reduce jamming by making the keyboard confusing we shall never know.

You are literally the first person I have ever heard of that wanted to type on a non-QWERTY keyboard. I sometimes wonder if we could re-engineer the keyboard and make it faster to type but it's basically a world-wide standard so it never ends up being anything but a random thought. Even if I replaced my home keyboards it would be a gigantic pain in the ass to replace my laptop keyboard and then there is my phone, etc, etc. I just live with it.

I seriously doubt the market for non-QWERTY keyboards is even remotely large enough for Valve to spend R&D entering.

By Amiga500 on 9/5/2012 4:58:14 AM , Rating: 2
Copy the Commodore 64 or Amiga? A keyboard that incorporates the hardware.

Use a single standard GPU at a level good enough for gaming on a single 1080P screen so coders know what to aim for and the whole thing is more flexible than a console due to the inherent keyboard (which can hook to USB mice/joysticks/steering wheels etc). AMD's Lightening Bolt may be a useful consideration too.

If so - I cannot wait. It is a total no-brainer!! :-)

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