Why Spencer is Wrong: Welcome to the Couch. Stay a While.
A concert hall begins to fill. It resembles a Republican or Democratic Convention: People sit with their tribes, near placards that say “SONY,” “NINTENDO,” “MICROSOFT,”; others splinter off under the banners of Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Madden, and more. Some scraggly-looking dudes with ponytails hang out near the back, in the small “PINBALL AND ARCADE” section.
As the house lights come down, a figure walks on stage. While LCDs in the background flash Silicon Sasquatch orange, on the stage sits a sole podium, beset with a PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii. The figure is Sasquatch editor Doug Bonham, bedecked in a black turtleneck and blue jeans.
Ladies and gentlemen, traditional console gamers all, thank you for coming today. For, you see, I come bearing good news about the health of our hobby, our passion. And it has to do with that other crowd, the PC gamers.
Dogs and cats, Hatfields and McCoys, the Oregon Ducks and the Washington Huskies: Since time immemorial, there have been many rivalries in our world with no resolution in sight. From the beginning of gaming, so it has been for PC and console gaming, too. Either you worshipped with cartridges in front of your TV, or you were a loser stuck at their desk monkeying with prehistoric anti-piracy code wheels. So it was, so it has been.
But times change. Our current generation, these three consoles you see on stage, have moved much closer to the PC model: Internet connectivity has brought patches, downloadable content, and, of course, online gaming to the living room. Some of these games even let you use a keyboard and a mouse! Even ten years ago that would be considered heresy. I mean, that’s why us gaming illuminati killed the Dreamcast, am I right?
No. See, in the console space, we are progressive. We integrate recent best practices into each new console generation. Even within this generation, we’ve shifted from strict no-retail-titles-allowed online storefronts, to selling those retail copies on the same day for the same price. Sony, you guys are really rocking on that front, keep it up. And with short-term sale prices on digital titles, you’ve proven that online storefronts can be just as flexible with pricing as any brick-and-mortar location.
It’s little shame to admit much of this has been lifted from Steam. Yes, the vanguard of our rivals, Valve, shifted from pure game development to running the premier online retailer of PC games. Steam proved that digital distribution works, and that flash sales and major sales events can see publishers slash game prices and still make money. Tip of the hat, Gabe. Well done.
So that brings us to the rumors of their new hardware. A PC software stalwart, a hardware libertarian if there was one, announcing their own device? Surely it can’t be their own console to match up with any of ours. Not only do they lack the financial firepower to play with the big boys — come back when you’re clearing as many billions as Sony or Microsoft — but they lack the expertise. Nintendo specialize in gaming hardware, with some of the most innovative minds in Japan working on hardware R&D; Sony are one of the most well-known electronics manufacturers in the world; and Microsoft had the cash to buy and build the Xbox Division from scratch. An example: Earlier this year, Microsoft reported losing more than $200 million in 2011 on their Xbox division. According to most available information, Valve makes between $600-800 million in revenue and clears $80-100 million in profits. They cannot afford that loss.
Valve going it alone to build a living room PC-as-a-console is a romantic notion, but it’s foolish from a business standpoint. Moreover, isn't it a question of beliefs? Why would diehard build-it-myself PC gamers turn around to buy a Valve-labeled PC that has parts by specification? Doesn't that run counter to the company's beliefs and ethos? I cannot see Valve making that move and not upsetting the rabble of PC gamers.
But they are not abandoning the thought of moving into the living room. No, my belief now is that Valve’s forthcoming “Steam Box” will in fact be a way to beam content from an existing desktop PC through a home to your big home theater TV setup. Or your *little* home theater TV setup, as the case may be. Think of it as OnLive, but within the scope of your own wireless network.
So what do we do? Why have I gathered you all here today to tell you this? It’s not to rally the troops and plan a defense of the living room. Quite the opposite, in fact. This “Steam Box” is not the first part of their initiative; earlier this year, they announced “Big Picture,” an interface for Steam designed to be used while holding a controller and playing on a TV.
Hmm. Sounds awful familiar, doesn’t it?
This is not a new trend. Recently, more and more PC gamers have ditched their monitor, desk and chair for the comfort of a flat screen, controller and couch. Thanks, TV companies and national governments, for implementing and enforcing the HDTV standards. And let's additionally thank our friends at Microsoft who, with the USB-wired Xbox 360 controller, also created a fine PC gamepad. Because many games are seeing ports from PC to console and back again, the PC versions simply swap from keyboard and mouse to the gamepad when they read that one is attached. Gotta love technology.
No, friends, this movement by Steam to establish an outpost in the living room isn’t an invasion -- it’s a white flag. It’s an acknowledgement that gaming on the couch in front of a TV is how it was intended, and that scrunching up on a desk with a monitor can be really bad for your eyes and back.
So, welcome, PC brethren. I'm glad you've seen the way and the light. Just please don’t stain the living room carpet. We just had it cleaned.
Outro music hits, crowd breaks into applause. End scene.