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Valve Steam Box: Why it would be amazing and why it wouldn’t

Valve looks to be mulling a move into the living room; a job posting on Valve’s blog has reignited rumours of a so-called ‘Steam Box’.

The post for the Electronics Engineer on Valve’s site reads:

“For years, Valve has been all about writing software that provides great gameplay experiences. Now we’re developing hardware to enhance those experiences, and you can be a key part of making that happen. Join our highly motivated team that’s doing hardware design, prototyping, testing, and production across a wide range of platforms. We’re not talking about me-too mice and gamepads here – help us invent whole new gaming experiences.”

It’s the operative word in that second to last sentence that practically confirms Valve is working on something right now and has got us all rather excited.

Valve’s Steam platform, known as the ‘iTunes of gaming’ has over 40 million active users worldwide, and sells a range of titles for PC, OS X and PS3. Support for Steam on the Xbox 360 isn’t yet available. The job posting makes it look like Valve isn’t waiting to make its next move into the living room though.

At this stage, we can only really guess at what shape this hardware will be taking. The bit about “me-too mice and gamepads” has got us thinking along the lines of a WiiMote/Kinect-style motion sensors.

The job description says that experience with RF and antennas would be nice hints at mobile phone interplay – perhaps something along the lines of Xbox Companion for Windows Phone and something that’d tie in with the iOS and Android apps?

There’s little else to go on, other than knowledge of ARM and x86 system design being another recommended want from Valve.

Valve Steam Box: Why it would be awesome

Last year, Valve’s Gabe Newell reportedly expressed admiration of OnLive, which prompted rumours that the company was thinking of buying the cloud gaming service. If Valve is working on a Steam Box of its own, it wouldn’t have to.

As well as selling third party titles, Valve has got some pretty hot property itself in the form of the Half-Life series and Portal. Half Life 3 would make a pretty nice launch title for the Steam Box we think…

If the mobile phone apps could have an additional purpose (use your phone as a games controller?) then it could make the Steam Box more of a sell.

Valve Steam Box: Why it wouldn’t be awesome

There’s a problem with the OnLive ‘connected screen’ idea. You could, in theory, have an essentially dumb device that’s basically a screen with an internet connection for the service to work.

But the problem here is the connection. Even this week as BT launches its new fibre service, parts of the UK are still in the internet dark ages. The new iPad won’t play ball with 4G when it comes on line in the UK, meaning gamers (over here at least) will miss out. In our hands-on with OnLive we experienced connection time outs on our (admittedly creaky) Wi-Fi in the old office.

Additionally, if you want to play PC games in the living room, on your big screen TV, well, you can already do that one way or the other.

With games consoles rapidly adding video on demand services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, Valve’s going to have to offer something pretty special; there’s already enough big boxes competing for living room lebensraum.

Valve has explicitly said that its not working on a ‘me too’ product; we’ll of course have to wait and see what emerges.

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