Valve’s Second Hardware Announcement Is The Futuristic Tactile Steam Controller


Nobody expected that, but Valve’s most exciting announcement of the week might be a game controller. The Steam controller is a futuristic touch-enabled gamepad with a small screen sitting right between your two thumbs. The company promises that the controller will work with any game as it is a very malleable device.

Valve has taken a hint or two from the smartphone world and ported it to the gaming world. As smartphone interfaces allow developers to make all sorts of buttons, the company took the same approach. Thanks to a tiny high-resolution screen, players will be able to trigger a lot of different actions. It doesn’t seem to be a regular touch screen — Valve has chosen to build a clickable screen to prevent unwanted taps. But there are some familiar touch controls as well.

For example, you can swipe through pages of actions to find the right one. The same screen will be reproduced on your bigger display so that you can keep an eye on the action while selecting an item. Even mouse-and-keyboard games, such as 4X and RTS games, should be playable with the Steam controller. The company illustrates the press release with a screenshot of Civilization V to prove its point.

Below each thumb, users will find two rounded trackpads. They replace the traditional sticks that you can find on your Xbox and PlayStation controllers. Once again, those trackpads are clickable. This is crucial for the right thumb as many games use traditional buttons for the right side of the controller.

The entire Steam catalog should be compatible with the Steam controller, but some games will run in ‘legacy mode’. You don’t need a Steam machine to use it, just a computer that runs Steam. But other computer games that you didn’t buy through Steam may not be compatible.

Finally, the Steam controller can vibrate. Once again, Valve didn’t share any release date or price. But you can probably expect to see a Steam controller bundled with the Steam Box.

Valve unveils touchpad/touchscreen-enabled Steam Controller for living room

As expected, the third of this week’s trio of Steam-related announcements from Valve is a new controller designed to be used with SteamOS in the living room. And from what Valve has revealed, this isn’t a mere copy of the now practically default dual-stick design, but a new kind of controller that will even work with PC games designed for a mouse and keyboard.

Where the two thumbsticks sit on a traditional gamepad, Valve’s controller has a pair of circular, textured, concave, high-resolution, clickable trackpads that allow for “far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers” that “approaches that of a desktop mouse,” Valve said.

“Traditional gamepads force us to accept compromises. We’ve made it a goal to improve upon the resolution and fidelity of input that’s possible with those devices,” Valve wrote in its announcement. “The Steam controller offers a new and, we believe, vastly superior control scheme, all while enabling you to play from the comfort of your sofa.”

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Valve working with partners on “Steam Machine” hardware for 2014

Following up on Monday’s announcement of a general purpose, Linux-based, living-room-centric SteamOS, Valve announced that it is “working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.” In addition, Valve said that it will be providing 300 prototype boxes to beta testers free of charge before the end of the year.

While Valve has hinted about its plans for living room gaming hardware many times in the past, this is the first official announcement that the company will be working on hardware in the coming year. It’s unclear just how involved Valve will be in the design and marketing of the newly announced Steam machines, though. Valve’s role could range anywhere from direct input and manufacturing to merely providing the OS and general guidelines for its use.

Valve is remaining mum for now on specs and form factor for both the Steam machines and the beta prototypes, promising only that “we’ll tell you more about it soon” and emphasizing that “there will ultimately be several boxes to choose from, with an array of specifications, price, and performance.” Those boxes will come from a variety of manufacturers “beginning in 2014,” Valve wrote, even though the prototypes boxes will be sent out for beta testing this year.

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Valve To Launch A Prototype Steam Box And Multiple Steam Machines In 2014

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Following the announcement of SteamOS, Valve just unveiled the long-anticipated Steam Box — sort of. Instead of releasing a Valve-branded Steam Box, the company will actually work with multiple manufacturers to release a series of Steam machines for your living room.

Yet, Valve also presented a specific prototype, a Steam machine designed by Valve. This particular machine is closer to what everyone expected. For now, only 300 copies will be produced and sent to lucky beta testers. The company doesn’t say whether those prototypes will eventually become the Steam Box, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone.

As for the Steam machines, Valve promises “an array of specifications, price, and performance.” It could be pretty similar to the Chromebook lineup. Customers will be presented with multiple performance tiers — it should make it easier to buy a traditional gaming computer. Hardware will be hackable and you will be able to install another operating system for example.

As a reminder, SteamOS is a Linux-based operating system for your living room. It is optimized for gaming, movies and music. While many games are not available on Linux, SteamOS allows you to stream your games from your Windows or Mac machines using your local network

Today’s announcement is very short and doesn’t say which OEM will actually build Steam machines. All we know is that they will ship in 2014. The Valve-branded prototype could come to beta testers earlier as the company will select beta testers on October 25th.

On Steam’s website, users can find a teaser page with three icons that represent three different announcements for the living room — SteamOS and the Steam machines were only the first two announcements. Valve hints at a new input method for the third one. On Friday, Valve should answer the last standing question — which game controller will ship with the Steam machines?

Valve: “Family Sharing” for up to 10 devices coming to Steam

Valve today announced that it will launch a Family Sharing feature to allow Steam users to share their game libraries with other accounts on up to 10 additional devices.

Steam Family Sharing, which will launch in a private beta in mid-September, lets users share their entire library with up to 10 devices rather than sharing individual games. With the initiative, only one person can play any game from the shared library at any given time, meaning you can’t use your own Steam account while someone else is actively sharing in it. This limitation makes Family Sharing somewhat similar to simply giving someone else access to your Steam library by sharing your username and password. However, this way there’s no risk to your account details or e-commerce information in the process.

Steam users can share access either by enabling it in their account settings or by responding to requests to share sent by other Steam users. Borrowers will still be limited by regional restrictions on the original game, and lenders can have sharing privileges taken away if a borrower is caught engaging in cheating or fraud. All DLC purchased by the lender will be available to the borrower, but Valve warns that some games “that require an additional third-party key, account, or subscription” may not be shareable.

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EA begins offering refunds for its digital game sales on Origin

In its continuing effort to set itself apart from market leader Steam, EA has announced that titles it publishes on its Origin digital distribution service can now be returned for a full refund up to seven days after purchase if the consumer isn’t completely satisfied.

The newly revealed Great Game Guarantee program will put a handy “request a refund” button right on the Origin order history page for eligible games. For now, only games published directly by EA on Origin will be eligible for the program; titles from other third-party publishers can’t be returned. DLC is also not eligible for the guarantee.

Refunds can be requested for games up to seven days after they’re purchased (or pre-ordered), but if you download and play the game once, you narrow that window to 24 hours from the time of the first play (that applies to all games in a multi-game bundle if you play a single game in that bundle, as well). After you request a refund, EA promises to respond within two days and issues your refund within seven to ten days, if you meet the timing criteria.

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Half-Life 3 is not in the works, says Valve voice actor

Half-Life 3 is not in the works, according to some dissenting statements posted by John Patrick Lowrie, an actor who has worked on several Valve games. Lowrie claimed in the comments of his own blog (via Kotaku and NeoGAF) that Valve’s system of immersive design is at odds with what the industry is now doing, and for that reason, the project is still shelved.

In the comments, Lowrie writes that the most common process for animating characters in modern FPS games is to motion-capture an actor and translate those movements to a 3D rendering. Half-Life 2 used a mechanic where NPCs would turn and watch the player move while they spoke, using their eyes and bodies to follow the player around the room.

The motion-capture paradigm is naturally at odds with the turn-and-follow one, Lowrie says, because the latter can’t provide for the former. “Once you film the actor doing something and capture that motion, that’s what the character is going to do,” Lowrie wrote.

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“We get it”: EA will re-think Origin, try to make it more about gamers

For a publisher like EA, the value of running its own digital delivery service is clear—it helps retain dollars from digital purchases that would otherwise go to another distributor. According to an interview with Gamesindustry International, capturing revenue has been one of the biggest drivers behind Origin since its inception. Gamers, though, are forced to fragment their gaming libraries across multiple services to keep up with hot exclusives. The value proposition on the customer side is a lot thinner.

Electronic Arts says that it hears gamers’ Origin-focused criticism. In the interview, Gamesindustry International confronts EA Executive Vice President Andrew Wilson with the assertion that most gamers view Origin as “just one more thing they have to install, another roadblock in the way of getting and playing a game.” EA took the chance to respond.

“I think your perception is absolutely correct,” replied Wilson. “I think when I look at the journey that service has taken, I think the transaction component of that service has taken a disproportionate amount of the communication and mind share of what we really try and provide, and the barrier that puts in between you and the game that you want to play.”

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