Steam’s Big Picture: A fatal blow to console gaming?

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Steam has finally dipped its hands into the console market. This could potentially spell doom for the modern console concept. I don’t think it will, but I do think it will cause many changes in the gaming industry.

Steam, the digital distribution platform, developed by Valve Corporation, is currently one of the biggest and most profitable gaming platforms on the PC. It offers over 2,500 titles that range from popular publisher catalogs to obscure indie games. Steam holds the majority of PC gaming sales and boasts a community of over four million users online during peak hours.

Valve has chosen an interesting way to bring Steam into the console market. Technically it isn’t the console market at all. They released the beta version of something called “Big Picture.” Big Picture is basically a new user interface for steam that is designed to be navigated with a controller and to look attractive on a TV. It is meant to be used via plugging a PC into your TV through HDMI and using a controller through the PC.

The concept is nothing new, but the execution and marketing will help bring it to the mainstream. It was always possible to use a PC through a TV with wireless devices, but there was little reason to. PC gamers were content with keyboard and mouse gaming on a PC, while console gamers were content with consoles. Now, with the powerful influence of Valve behind it, the concept of using a PC as a console will start to catch on.

Big Picture will hopefully cause a few changes in the gaming industry. Unlike platforms such as OnLive, Steam has a big enough market share to force game prices down. Steam prices are already hugely discounted when compared to console prices. Steam is also known for its great sales and specials. Big Picture will also encourage more developers to add controller support to their games.

In theory, Big Picture combines all of the advantages of PC gaming with the advantages on console gaming. This should have a huge impact on the gaming industry, but I don’t think it will. The issue that holds Big Picture back is the fact that Valve decided to keep Steam on PCs instead of launching it on a stand-alone console. The console market is not used to the complexity and price of gaming computers. The average console gamer may still prefer the simplicity and convenience of a mainstream console. Only time will tell.