Ask a Dork: Steam’s Big Picture
“Does Steam’s Big Picture mode change the game? If it takes up, how do you see it shaking up the console sector?”
Call me an idiot, but I actually had to do some research for this question. Despite having seen Valve’s promotional video on ‘Big Picture’ about 12 times, I didn’t feel like I wholly understood what their overarching goal was until I went through a bunch of press releases.
As the name suggests, ‘Big Picture’ isn’t actually a new service offering per se. In actuality, it’s a new UI for Steam that is optimized for viewing on a big-screen television. This new mode is specifically designed to make it easier for people to use their PCs or Laptops as consoles in their living room. It comes with support for both standard game controllers and your typical PC keyboard/mouse setup. As with the standard interface, users have complete access to the Steam Store, Steam Community, and their own personal save files on the Steam Cloud. Because they expect more people to use controllers with this interface, they have also developed a new flower-like on-screen keyboard that can be used to type with thumbsticks (something that I sincerely doubt will make the process of typing without a keyboard any more enjoyable).
Because Valve is such a big deal now, many companies like SEGA have come out in support of ‘Big Picture’. I think the allure of this feature to mega publishers is that IF it becomes popular and people use their PC’s more on their televisions than they do their consoles, they can expand their share of the more flexible PC market (also, they won’t be limited by the currently stagnant console generation).
So, do I think this will change the game? Not really. The average gamer still plays PC games either on a laptop or on a desktop with a regular monitor – they don’t do it in front of a television. Unless you actually have a setup that is built solely to play games on a television already, your computer is probably sitting in your bedroom or office. PCs rarely leave the bedroom/office and most laptops, while portable enough to go into any room, don’t usually have the same amount of processing power backing them. That said, ‘Big Picture’ isn’t being aimed at PC gamers per se; it’s being aimed at people who want to use their PCs as a substitute for a home console. I’m not one of these people and I can’t see too many console gamers being terribly interested.
Personally, I see ‘Big Picture’ as more of a test run for Valve. We know they’re developing their own hardware for the console space and I’m thinking they want to give the Steam UI for TV a dry run to see how viable it is and work out any kinks. In that sense Valve’s strategy could be pretty disruptive in the console space, but only from a long term point of view and not directly due to ‘Big Picture’.