Valve announced some promising hardware and software at the Game Developers Conference yesterday. Streaming service Steam Link, virtual reality headset Vive, and new game engine Source 2 are just the latest advancements coming from the tech giant.
At this point, Valve is certainly defined as a tech giant. Clearly, Valve is still making, publishing, and supporting video games. Dota 2 is a rousing success, Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2 are still being updated, and there are certainly some unknown games in development. But lately, the company has become more of a facilitator of game creation, rather than actually creating any themselves.
Valve’s digital distribution service, Steam, launched in 2003 and marked the start of Valve’s transition into being a service provider. It was a delayed reaction of course, because Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and both Portal games would release in the years following. But Steam provided, and continues to provide, a much-needed, united, and accessible hub of content on the chaotic PC platform.
Rather than just creating content for another company’s platform, Valve recognizes that it can make another name for itself as a platform holder. In recent years, Valve has revealed more hardware and development tools than it has games. More importantly, Valve is focused on providing open tools. Steam is constantly updated in order to improve ease of use and accessibility, even for developers; Steam Greenlight allows users to vote for games to be sold on Steam proper. Steam Machines, which are essentially pre-built gaming PCs, and Valve’s reliance on multiple hardware manufacturers to build them, further guide the philosophy Valve has appeared to adopt lately.
Valve can’t find every cool indie game floating around on the internet, so it puts the power of its download platform in the hands of consumers and developers. Valve can’t make PC hardware, but it does know how it works. So it provided its desired specs and teamed up with companies with manufacturing capabilities in order to bring feasibly accessible gaming PCs to market. And everything Valve discussed at GDC yesterday continues to push the company and its products into the living room and out of the insular PC environment.
Steam Link will allow game streaming between Steam Machines, Windows PCs, Macs, and Linux PCs. Virtual reality headset Vive and a “room scale tracking system” called Lighthouse are yet another part of Valve’s bid for the living room. And Source 2, the successor to the popular engine that powers Half-Life 2, Portal, Left 4 Dead, and more, will be free for developers to use. Valve wants to be in the living room, and it wants everyone to join it. Valve remains a company, however; it’s in the business of making a profit.
Valve’s products have been ubiquitous in the PC gaming market, and now the company is looking to enter the mainstream gaming community. Valve is offloading some of the burden of that expansion in a smart, interesting, liberal, and potentially profitable way. As mentioned, other manufacturers are helping Valve with its Steam Machines. Vive and Lighthouse technology are available to hardware makers for free and development kits will ship in April. And Source 2 facilitates even more games coming to Steam and thereby Steam Machines, and eliminates the barrier to entry for developing for Vive. Most importantly, Valve will still make a percentage of profits, even though Source 2 is free, because the games will likely end up on Steam anyways.
Valve is continually building an environment that spans both the typical PC gaming setting and the family living room and eschewing what was once the company’s bread and butter. The new form of service provider and development facilitator is treating Valve very well. The company has become something bigger than a game developer and publisher, and a company that grows rarely shrinks willingly. Valve may still make games in the future, but that’s no longer its business.