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:

Hello PC games. Welcome to a SEXY PC game choosing UI.

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!

The Pitch

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.

  • Philipp

    I think this is a great idea!
    Unfortunately my English is not good enough to make a good post in the steam Forums.But if anyone starts a post over there i will support it.(place a link to the according post here in the comments, so others can follow, please)

  • dhead

    I also think this is a great idea.
    I believe that the best implementation would be a Steam client as a binary for OpenELEC, this enable to include property software as binary blob thus no compromise to Valve’s code, and also enable to Valve’s developers to focus just their development on the client itself and not on xbmc, meaning Valve don’t need to bring xbmc to steam, only bring steam to xbmc.I’ve also post this idea on the OpenELEC forum,

    • dhead

      I meant binary addon,
      Sorry for the dual posting.

  • Ahmed M Alrasheed

    doesnt windows8 kinda fix that ?

  • Mike Christie

    The idea of a Steam-powered console has been floated before. The snag with the  idea here is from a devs point of view that you still have the big drawback of PC development (having to cope with a wide range of hardware and potentially software versions) without the advantage of the large ownership base. Introducing a 5th platform for devs to try to cover in addition to PC and the three main consoles is a bit of an ask. Its a great idea in principle, but in practice it would take a lot of money to convince developers it was worth the expense of porting to another platform. Although if anyone has the leverage with developers to get the ball rolling, its Valve.

    • NathanBetzen

      While there’s no denying that pushing a 5th platform would be an arduous task, that’s not really what we’re talking about here. We’re simply pushing traditional PC gaming that uses a slightly different interface (and that uses OpenGL instead of DirectX, which isn’t really that uncommon to begin with).

  • Andre

    An interesting idea, but I think the definite future is cloud gaming on a small 99$ box or on your TV (check out gaikai) without ever having to upgrade – a never aging platform ;-)
    So instead why not prefer to port XBMC onto SmartTVs?

    • Pleonasmaticul

      Unfortunately Sony bought Gaikai so this will probably never happen.
      But I love the SmartTV idea.

      • Andre

        That also worries me a little, but there are enough cloud gaming providers out there (i.e. onlive), so I guess someone will take on the “cloud gaming on TV” idea. I could also imagine Valve enabling their Steam platform for cloud gaming *dreaming* :-)

  • ilu civ

    This is a most fantastical idea!
     Granted though it will take quite a while for a fair catalogue of steam games to be available in the client. As a proof of concept, perhaps you should reach out to the desura client people desura is also a game store but mainly for indie titles and mods. It’s cross platform and they already have a native linux client which I’ve found to be very good. If someone bundles that into xbmc then you’d have something that functions to show the valves! 

  • Macgyver

    My issue is that it leads to a loss of value, and the inability to “pass-down” objects from our past to the next generation.  It locks you into a “pay forever” or “poof” it’s gone scenario.  Currently when you’re done extracting the value from a game (beating it), you can pass it along to someone that for whatever reason couldn’t buy it when it was first released, cloud-only non-transferable media eliminates that possibility.  Cloud-only media only allows you to rent the ability to access it at someone else’s discretion, you no longer own anything.  All of your virtual possessions are never really yours, and non-payment, or a hacker, or even just the company going out of business could mean you no longer have anything.

    Owning nothing, can’t lend, can’t resell, gone on a whim, no thanks.  Only things that can be transferred to someone else have any real monetary value, otherwise all the money will go in one direction (away from you).  As soon as we have real consumer protection laws regarding cloud-only media, they will get none of my money.

  • Ben Wilson

    Rumor has it that MS and Sony are gonna have games locked down to it’s original owner, so the point made that you can pass your game on to a friend with consoles is null and void. Digital Distribution is the future, so lets not hold back on paving the road with the best software in the world. And if you think that steam can just revoke your games and accounts at some evil whim, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hacking games and attempting to cheat with online gameplay is a universal ban on ANY console and steam included. For example, if i buy a game on xbox live instead of a brick and mortar store, then, I hack things up… I  lose the game I just bought. Worse than that, If i modded my console it will get BRICKED… So i lose my console and I lose my games. Steam is where its at. Just go with it!

  • Pingback: XBMC on Linux powered by Steam would be Amazing! « Pete's Tech Blog()