Valve rumoured to be working on "Steam Box" mini-PC

Tom Senior at

Valve

There have been huge rumours this weekend suggesting Valve could be working on a "Steam Box" mini-PC designed to sit under your TV in your front room. The Verge dropped a payload of as-yet unconfirmed information on Friday which suggested that a prototype of the box was shown off to potential partners at CES. The Verge suggest that it would be an open platform capable of running different types of client software, not just Steam, and would receive regular hardware updates at set intervals every few years, allowing developers to plan their games around a predictable upgrade cycle. The base unit is said to contain a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GPU.

Kotaku have dug up a tweet posted by Valve's Greg Coomer showing him working on a mini-PC with very similar specs back in November. The Verge also have word that Valve are working on a controller for the Steam Box. A patent filed last year suggests that it could have swappable components, and it's thought that Valve intend to put biometric measuring tech into the controller.

That might sound insane, but Valve have previously talked to us about how they use gaze tracking, skin galvanic response and pulse rate to gauge player reactions. They also made some surprising discoveries when they let players in a co-op session together see each other's pulse rates. Here's what Gabe Newell had to say about this back in 2010.

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Gabe Newell: There’s some surprising side-effects that we didn’t expect, like what happens when you expose that [biometric] information in a social gaming context. It surprises us that how much value there is to the people who are playing. So if you’re in a competitive situation, and you see somebody’s heart rate go up, it’s way more rewarding than we would have thought. And if you see somebody in a co-op game who’s sweating, people tend to respond to that way more than we would have thought.

So we can stop using our guess at what your player state is in Left 4 Dead, that we kind of expected. But the value of being able to see what other people’s biological state is in social gaming, that was not something we were anticipating. But that’s just the way things go.

PC Gamer: This is for internal testing right? You’re not going to sell me a heart rate monitor and plug it into Steam?

Gabe Newell: Well, what you want to do is figure out how clients can expose their state. So you’re trying to find non-clunky, non-stupid ways of getting that data. I mean, if you sit there and give a medical technician 30 minutes to wire you up, you can get awesome, awesome data. But it’s just not the consumer experience.

Doug Lombardi: We can ask them to shave their heads before they play…

PC Gamer: That’s a small price to pay.

Gabe Newell: Right. But if someone comes up with a clever way to take some non-visible light and bounce it off your retina, and read it with your web camera, and get your pulse rate that way, then that’s pretty cool. Because it may be a hard problem, but if you solve it once then you’re done. It’s not like a recurring hard problem.

So we think there are several people out there with interesting approaches on the hardware side. Enough that we have confidence that the hardware side will be a sort of resolved problem in the not too distant future. So we need to figure out how to take advantage of it.
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The Verge also mention that the Steam Box would incorporate Valve's already-announced Big Picture mode designed specifically for use with big TV displays.

It's thought that the Steam Box could be revealed at GDC this week or at E3 in summer. Valve haven't confirmed or denied any aspect of the Steam Box chatter this weekend, so all of the info is firmly in rumour territory for now. If the it's real, it's huge news. A reliable, modular, open source alternative to consoles with no license fee or dedicated dev kits could be a game changer. What do you think?