Has a new platform snuck up on us?
In the past there have been 3 or 4 major platforms, xbox, playstation, nintendo, and the PC. HOWEVER, now I propose to you that there is a platform that is reaching the status of parity with these others. I propose that Steam is no longer just a distributor but is a platform in itself. Maybe PC gaming really is dead?
First off a lot of games, I'd wager a fairly high majority of pc games, require Steam to run. This is the first point where Steam stops being just a store because one can buy Borderlands 2, Skyrim, and many others at other retailers, digital or storefront and Steam picks them up no trouble. Now at a glance this looks like just fancy DRM which is always a headache but for the most part its done in a beneficial way by giving you features that windows itself cant and is hidden from view. There's also the bonus that once activated with Steam you never ever have to worry about loosing the disk or cd key ever.
Steam has quite a few built in features that it allows game devs to utilize. Steam cloud, multiple computer support, achievements, community, and even modding support now. Microsoft even with its GFWL and theoretical windows integration never even came close to offering the same level of features or quality that Valve has managed.
So far we have Steam being a distribution source, a central management place for your games across your devices, having integration built into your games, and having a strong and vibrant community. I dunno but that does not sound like a store anymore, in fact if you described steam to someone using more generic terms at least a few would have guessed you were talking of a console.
For a moment lets take another look at the future of Windows. We have 8 coming out shortly with a built in app store, a much more closed system to the open garden that is currently Windows. Though one can except that Microsoft intends to make another push into gaming with 8 and there is the possibility that it could be decent. I can see a Windows ecosystem that rivals Steam but without the layer that is steam. I do doubt they can pull it off any time soon and I fear that they will once again try to bring the xbox model to the PC. I'm not looking forward to 8 but there is the potential that MS could rival steam feature for feature.
There is another point I would like to bring up here is that the walls MS is putting up around its garden risk annoying and driving away many loyal devs who have been around a long time. Valve and Notch both recently have brought opposition to the way MS is proposing doing business now and I for one agree, Windows has been a great open system where I can go onto the net and find just about anything I ever needed but with 8 and its certification and appstore.... Moving a bit too close to apple's way of doing business for me.---------------------------
Now back to Steam. Heres where it really starts looking like steam is positioning itself to become a platform rather than just a layer on top of Windows. Not too long ago Valve launched on Mac and now there is talk of a beta for Linux. There have also been agreements with Sony for crossplatform play with the PS3. AND we have the Big Picture Mode as well which I cant help but feel is aimed directly at the consoles. Steam is big enough and has more than enough support, I feel, that it doesnt actually need Microsoft and Windows anymore, it can become the platform for "pc" gaming if it does chose to do so. There is the caveat of DirectX and such but short term I dont see that being an issue.
I've left the final piece of evidence in my argument for last, the SteamBox. Now if Valve actually does make its own "console", even if it does run Windows underneath, I think thats the real point where Steam stops being software and starts being a platform in more eyes.
If TL:DR Basically Windows is loosing it grip on the pc gaming industry and Steam is becoming the gaming platform in my mind.
Also this was just written up quickly I might if I have time polish it up and actually turn it into a coherent argument for something else so feel free to give me constructive criticism keeping in mind that this is a very rough first draft type thing. I didnt much like the windows portion so I singled it out and you can feel free to ignore it.
I have to inherently disagree for a few fundamental reasons. The PC/Windows was never really a 'platform' for gaming. It's just a means to an end. Steam is as you said, a layer on top of Windows. All these consoles and handheld devices and PCs etcetc. share the same basic structure in hardware. A CPU, GPU, RAM, a screen and etc. What's different at the core of these devices is the method of interaction (mouse/keyboard, controller) and the software driving them. Consoles are built from the ground up to be entertainment (and hence, gaming) machines. PC and their accompanying OSes are built to do whatever the hell we tell them to do- through software. I agree steam is a platform, much like you can say Origin is also, a platform. I'll agree it's becoming a standard too. But it's always been hard to say that the PC was a 'platform for gaming.' Yes you can game on it, but as a platform? Not everyone buys PC to game on. Steam is filling an interesting void in the Windows ecosystem though, using the power and flexibility that Windows provides as a platform itself.
One way compare my viewpoint is a DS/PS vita versus an iPhone or Android device. One is a gaming device with integrated, focused software and hardware, the other is multipurpose, but can also indeed, play games. Imagine a steam mobile on iOS and Android? a place to get Angry Bird and share acheivements and stuff across the cloud and cross-platform too?
Also it's 3:30 am, sorry if I don't make much sense / incoherent. But I hope my point was driven across.
I think I understand where you are coming from but my definition of a platform is something that its own ecosystem. I will concede that the only real difference between the current platforms is their OS but Steam is starting to cross those lines and while it wont be on a xbox or ps3 any time soon it will be trying to get into your living room to replace them. I will disagree partially at least that the input defines the system, I can plug a controller into my pc or a wheel, think theres a keyboard or 2 out there for the consoles. And I will completely disagree that windows has just been a means to an end and not a platform of itself. Thanks to DirectX microsoft has had a fairly healthy monopoly on the pc gaming industry. DirectX is integrated into windows and therefore in my mind Windows is a platform.
As for designed for entertainment vs everything thats not the argument here, here it is purely about the gaming. But while Steam still has its limitations its not far off the capabilities of most consoles on its own.
The current game industry is moving much more towards Valve than it is microsoft I feel. Valve is blurring the lines of what divided the PC industry. If Steam runs across the 3 OSes, Windows, Mac, and linux I think the developers will follow, they did with the mac. Steam might just give us the ability to choose our OS more freely and the ability to choose is never a bad thing. Personally I'll be sticking with Windows for the foreseeable future, hopefully 9 will be an improvement
and 2am here so I know how you feel.
Android and IOS will be the next big gaming platform battle. You can argue it has already started. Sony is tipping its toe into Android gaming now, and I would be shocked if you don't see a Sony version of Android as the platform in the next Playstation or the version after.
I maybe pipe dreaming but...
How about a Steam OS, fully optimized for the purpose of gaming, a few basic extras like a web browser and such but that's it. No bloating softwares or crap. A full gaming solution on a PC. Spend more time making all videocards,soudcards, gamepads and joystock compatible and working properly instead of trying to make that obscure printer from Thailand that only prints in pink work better...
Make it dual boot with whatever else you have on your PC and have fun.
I'd get into that in a second.
I think what you're thinking is to run Steam as a shell of windows (as it already does), although if you were to do that, all the Windows processes would be running in the background anyways.
Eitherway, modern gaming rigs have more than enough power that Windows doesn't create a barrier towards efficient gaming.
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