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Valve's Gabe Newell on Steam Box and the "giant sadness" of Windows 8

Omri Petitte at

Steam Big Picture

Reclusive Valve boss and mighty beardsman Gabe Newell spoke with The Verge in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show today, sharing precious additional details on the studio's Steam Box hardware project. Among other topics, Newell discussed his interest for biometric control setups, the "giant sadness" of Windows 8, and the changes to Valve's game design structure. Oh, and Half-Life 3. (Just kidding about that last part, but we saw you jump a little in your chair.)

Newell said Steam Box's team explored ideas surrounding both motion-control and biometric controls, ultimately leaning towards the latter after tangling with "super boring stuff" involving latency and precision. "Maybe the motion stuff is just failure of imagination on our part, but we’re a lot more excited about biometrics as an input method," he said. "Your hands, your wrist muscles, and your fingers are actually your highest bandwidth, so to try and talk to a game with your arms is essentially saying, 'Oh, we’re gonna stop using ethernet and go back to 300 baud dial-up.'"

When asked about Steam Box's supported features, Newell stated the Linux-based hardware allows Netflix streaming, Internet browsing, and networking across multiple TVs.

"The Steam Box will also be a server," Newell said. "Any PC can serve multiple monitors, so over time, the next-generation (post-Kepler) you can have one GPU that’s serving up eight simultaneous game calls. So, you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it. We’re used to having one monitor, or two monitors—now we’re saying lets expand that a little bit."

Valve Steam Box

Photo from The Verge — click for source

As for the wide-ranging Steam storefront itself, Newell hoped Valve will continually distance itself from inclusive alternatives such as Apple or Microsoft's digital shops by soon giving gamers the power to create custom listings to share with everyone else.

"Our view is that, in the same way users are critical in a multiplayer experience, we should figure out how we can help users find people that are going to make their game experiences better," he said. "Some people will create team stores, some people will create Sony stores, and some people will create stores with only games that they think meet their quality bar. Somebody is going to create a store that says, 'These are the worst games on Steam.' So, that’s an example of where our thinking is leading us right now."

Newell also revisited his great displeasure of Windows 8, calling the operating system a "giant sadness" and a detriment to the PC industry.

"It just hurts everybody in the PC business," he said. "Rather than everybody being all excited to go buy a new PC and buying new software to run on it, we’ve had a 20+ percent decline in PC sales. It’s like, 'Holy cow, that’s not what the new generation of the operating system is supposed to do.' There’s supposed to be a 40 percent uptake, not a 20 percent decline, so that’s what really scares me. When I started using it I was like, 'Oh my God...' I find [Windows 8] unusable."

Check out the rest of the interview on The Verge for Newell's thoughts on Valve's "theory of fun," user-made content, and the level of control over Steam Box's design.