After receiving over 60,000 beta applications since last week, Valve has begun sending out the first wave of invites for the Steam for Linux beta today.
The Linux version of Steam currently only works on Ubuntu 12.04, reflecting what Steam for Linux team member Frank Crockett said in a statement was “an overwhelming majority of beta applicants [reporting] they’re running the Ubuntu distro of Linux.” Other popular Linux distributions will be supported in the future, Valve said. The service will be opened to more beta testers going forward, then expanded to all Linux users “once the team has seen a solid level of stability and performance across a variety of systems.”
The service currently features 24 Linux games, a list dominated by indie titles that were already available via other means, as well as larger releases like Team Fortress 2 and Serious Sam 3. Valve has promised that internally developed titles like Portal and Left 4 Dead 2 will be available for Linux soon. Only one paid Steam Linux title, World of Goo, currently has a free demo available on the platform.
When Valve first announced Steam Greenlight back in July, the company said it hoped introducing the new section would “increase the volume and quality of creative submissions” to the service. Users would vote for which developer-submitted games they want to see distributed on Steam. But the hundreds of game projects that streamed in for consideration in the first few days after the section’s launch last week included plenty of entries that clearly didn’t meet that quality bar. There were obvious fakes (“Half-Life 3”), obvious offensive trolling (“Best WTC plane simulator”), obvious jokes (one “game” project consisted solely of a photo of an unnamed teenager), and obviously unlicensed versions of copyrighted games (ranging from Command and Conquer to Mass Effect 3). These submissions were threatening to crowd out the legitimate games developers put up on Greenlight.
So to help “cut down the noise in the system,” Valve announced late Tuesday that it was immediately instituting a one-time-per-developer fee of $100 to gain access to the Steam Greenlight submission system, with all proceeds going to Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play charity (so Valve doesn’t make any money directly from the new rule). “It was obvious after the first weekend that we needed to make some changes to eliminate pranksters while giving folks in the community the ability to focus on ‘their kind’ of games,” Valve UI designer Alden Kroll told Ars.
The new $100 fee is similar to the $99 fee Apple charges to get yearly access to its iOS developer program, the $99 fee Microsoft charges for yearly access to the XNA development environment (used by Xbox Live Indie Games), and the $95 fee the Independent Games Festival charges for game submissions. Nonetheless, many indie developers immediately took to the Internet to express their disappointment with the charge. Proteus developer Ed Key tweeted that the decision “seems pretty gross to me” and suggested that a two-step crowd-filtering system might have been a better fix. Dys4ia developer Anna Anthropy tweeted that the $100 fee just wasn’t feasible for developers like her and her partner, who “have to survive on $2000 right now.”
Valve Software has just revealed a bit more about its apparent intention to jump from gaming software to computer hardware: a job posting for an industrial designer noticed by CVG states that the company is “frustrated by the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space” and that Valve is “jumping in” to fill a “void in the marketplace.”
While this job posting seems to confirm the persistent rumors that Valve is looking to get into the hardware business, it doesn’t tell us much about what form the company’s efforts will take: in addition to the “Steam Box” console rumors, Valve has also obtained a patent for a controller with swappable parts. The wording of the job listing also doesn’t preclude some sort of gaming PC, though Valve director Gabe Newell has made his dissatisfaction with the forthcoming Windows 8 “catastrophe” quite clear. Anything that creates a “compelling user experience” appears to be fair game, though the listing specifically calls out basic input devices like the keyboard and mouse as elements that “haven’t really changed in any meaningful way over the years.”
Valve isn’t the first company to express dissatisfaction with the state of today’s computer hardware: Microsoft’s Surface tablets are a warning shot of sorts across the industry’s bow. Razer, a company previously known for its gaming accessories, jumped into the PC market with the unique (if expensive) Blade gaming laptop, which is being refreshed with an updated model this month. Our own back-to-school laptop guide found that, while there are certainly many choices for anyone looking to buy a PC these days, not many of those choices are good ones.
Valve may be developing a PC hardware spec to potentially package with Steam software in a “Steam Box” bundle, according to The Verge. Citing anonymous sources, the report aligns with comments Valve co-founder Gabe Newell made in an interview with former Ars staffer Ben Kuchera over at the Penny Arcade Report. The report is also supported by some recent Valve actions, including this patent for controller hardware last year.
If “Steam Box” rumors pan out, the software would be at the center of an open gaming universe that The Verge believes would be analogous with how Google handles Android. Actual devices may be made by a variety of partners (Alienware X51 is rumored to be working on an early version) and the underlying Steam Box software would be readily available to any company willing to partner.
Major gaming conferences such as GDC (this week) and E3 (early June) are coming soon, making the timing right for major announcements. The Verge has approached Valve about the rumors but did not have any official comments to share at this time.
Valve, creators of (among other things) the Half-Life franchise and Steam, the gold standard for digital game distribution, are said to be getting into the hardware game. If The Verge’s tip is to be believed, the company is working with partners to establish a base PC gaming standard to sell as a packaged deal, a sort of set-top box PC that would run Steam or other download services and run most PC games.
If true, it would be a major step for Valve, which has always been a software company. They haven’t ruled out moving into hardware, but their expertise is in software, so they’re more likely to be collaborating with an established gaming PC brand like Alienware. In fact, Alienware’s compact X51 system is said to have been designed with a spec like this “Steam Box” in mind.
It essentially would establish the “PC” as just another console, or at least would allow one to treat PC gaming in that way. As most PC gamers will tell you, however, this isn’t really high on many PC gamers’ lists. The advantages of gaming on a “real” PC are many and various, and the choice not to play certain games in a console environment is a conscious one.
But at the same time, the benefits of a simple system attached to a TV, and sold for a reasonable price, are obvious. They’re the benefits of existing consoles like the PS3 and 360, both of which are, of course, extremely popular.
The system, which is said to have a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GPU, could be unveiled as soon as GDC, which is to say this week. But they could also wait until E3, when the device might make more of a splash.