Imagine a console that never used physical media. A console that could play the best games at the highest possible graphical settings. A consoles that was constantly upgradeable, that could be navigated by controller, remote, keyboard, or mouse, and that could play all your music and video content on demand. Imagine a console that was social AND open with an OS that was entirely free to upgrade. Imagine a console that could accept all of your old PC controllers and could deal with any future controllers with similar ease. Imagine a console with a dashboard that looked… however you wanted.
That’s the future that could be made possible by Valve and Steam’s transition to include Linux. For the past 17 years, the frustrating truth about PC gaming has always been that Windows is a truly awkward bottleneck.
The Windows Bottleneck
As anyone who has tried to replace the Windows shell with XBMC will tell you… it really sucks to try to replace the Windows shell with XBMC. Microsoft prefers that users start with Microsoft’s home screen before navigating to whatever they truly wanted to accomplish. As a result, the guy who wants to spend a few hours blasting (actually, let’s be honest, hiding from) zombies in Day-Z will see the very same boot up screen as the guy who needs to write a contract for a large publishing firm.
How absurd is that dichotomy? Is it really any wonder that console gaming, with UIs totally dedicated to games and entertainment, is demolishing PC gaming? In the words of Valve’s Gabe Newell, “Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem.” Console gaming just FEELS better than PC gaming, from boot up, to install, to the moment the game loads. After loading, PC gaming is invariably better, but that’s a long, LONG ways down the chain.
Update for clarification: It should be noted that this is a complaint about the Windows PC gaming environment, not a complaint about Microsoft. It’s extremely clear that Microsoft CAN provide an excellent gaming experience, given the excellent Xbox 360 user interface. It’s also clear that, while they can, any Windows gaming experience will be under their rules and using their interface. None of which especially bodes well for either Steam or an XBMC UI.
A Better Way
But suppose the ugly Windows bottleneck didn’t exist. Suppose a gamer could turn on his PC and be insta-greeted by the XBMC home screen, could click a button or two on his gaming controller or mouse/keyboard combo, and see this:
The simple fact of the matter is, thanks to the XBMC addon Advanced Launcher, listing and launching games from XBMC is possible right now. Lifehacker even ran a (slightly dated) tutorial on setting up gaming on your system. But using Advanced Launcher remains something of a hackneyed process. There’s no real way to install new games or otherwise add to your collection without exiting out of XBMC to run various install programs in non-gamer-oriented Windows. Plus, there’s certainly no way to browse for new games to purchase.
Which brings us to Valve’s decision to port certain titles and Steam to Linux. Suddenly, the world has the potential to open up for both Valve and XBMC. Take the best UI in the world in XBMC,* bake it together with arguably the best gaming content delivery network in the world, and suddenly you are surrounded by unicorns and rainbows for as far as the eye can see!
*That’s a TOTALLY objective statement!
Or, more specifically, you’ve effectively given Valve a built-in audience of XBMC users and a console gaming environment for the PC that plays nice with both controllers and the infinitely popular keyboard/mouse gaming pair. And you give XBMC users a legitimate way to browse and buy new games from within XBMC. From boot up to shut down, Steam and XBMC fans alike need never see an ugly, productivity-based OS, and they need never let go of their preferred controller of choice to control their PC gaming system.
Best of all, PC gamers can finally escape the nightmare of guilt that occurs every time they are forced to decide between being productive and gaming! They can escape dealing with ugly EXE files! They can finally connect a PC to their TV that isn’t marginally embarrassing to show off to guests when the guests see the big stupid Windows logo on the screen at boot!
So this week, if you like the idea of a PC gaming, Steam-powered XBMC console that’s infinitely upgradeable, you have homework. It’s time to politely suggest to Valve that baking XBMC and Steam together would be a very popular feature. They have an excellent forum for just that purpose. They have a very nifty Facebook page. And, of course, you could tweet them with this button:
I don’t know about any of the rest of you, but I remain, first and foremost, a PC gamer. I would be a very happy camper indeed to see two of my favorite entertainment projects, Steam and XBMC, working together on a project.
The future, as always, is looking pretty awesome.