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The next generation of household consoles has already started, and boy, are we in for a treat. Not only do we have the big three companies (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) fighting for our limited living room space — we have something more interesting as well: Android and Steam.
In November, Nintendo launched the Wii U with its touch-screen controller, the GamePad, and high-definition graphics. Sony recently announced the successor to the PlayStation 3, and soon we’ll start seeing the next Xbox. Microsoft and Sony are battling it out in the hardware war, each trying to best the other by being stronger, better, and faster. Nintendo stopped playing that game years ago and decided to try a different approach by offering unique gameplay features with motion controls.
Both Microsoft and Sony tackle the premium side of the market, leaving Nintendo with the lower end to conquer. The last time I checked, both the PS3 and Xbox 360 were in the $299 range, with the Wii hitting a ridiculous $99 and the Wii U around $249. This is fantastic news for us gamers. No matter what your allowance is, you’ll find something that works for you. This brings me to my question: where do Android and Steam fit in?
Valve, the creator of Steam, is working hard to bring its popular digital distribution service from millions of computer screens to your living room TV. To do this, Valve introduced a new feature for Steam called Big Picture Mode (BPM). Essentially, this enables gamers to run Steam with a controller in front of a TV rather than a keyboard and mouse. It does this by changing up the user interface. I use BPM fairly often when playing games that are gamepad-enabled, and I quite enjoy it.
Valve has also announced it will be coming out with its own hardware to slap its new software experience on. This technology has been cleverly named the Steam Box. Details are scarce at the moment. What we do know is that Valve wants to make PC gaming easier and more comfortable by presenting a console-like experience. Gabe Newell, the founder of Valve, has said he expects Steam Box prototypes in the next few months.
Valve has kept mum about pricing, which is unfortunate. This is what everyone wants to know. This is the deal breaker. PC gaming can be ridiculously expensive. If Valve is able to bring powerful hardware, a small form-factor, and reasonable pricing together in one happy package, that could mean a massive shift for PC gaming. People wouldn’t dismiss it just because of the price barrier. The need for a monitor, speakers, keyboards, mice, and so forth would be gone. Instead, you plug the device into your TV, and it does the rest.
Android is a different beast altogether. It’s the only system that is based as a mobile platform, and now it seems to be steering its way to your television. At least, that’s what the Ouya console is promising: a $99 Android console that hooks up to your TV. It’s a no-frills system. The developers encourage you to mess with it — they want you to get your hands dirty and mod the system. This fact alone will probably lure in much of the modding community. The Ouya may have a strange name and an affordable price, but does it have the games to back it up? A console can’t survive without a strong library. Perhaps with the convenience of a controller at hand, more games like Dead Trigger and Shadowgun will populate the Android marketplace.
Ouya isn’t the only console getting Android games on the big screen. Nvidia recently announced and showed off what it calls Project Shield. It looks very similar to a Xbox 360 controller with a 5-inch HD screen attached to it. Project Shield is backed by some serious horsepower, and it’ll be able to play any game from the Android marketplace as well as stream your Steam library over a Wi-Fi connection. A price and release date have yet to be announced. Nvidia will have to take a close look at its competitors, the Nintendo 3DS and Sony’s PlayStation Vita. The 3DS seems to be priced just right at the $149 mark whereas the Vita is struggling with sales — probably because of its higher $249 price. I’m afraid that Nvidia might have the specs and form factor down but will miss the beat with a too-high price tag to justify buying the slick piece of hardware.
Android is in a unique place right now, and it has the freedom to cover all angles of the market. From the Ouya to Nvidia’s Project Shield, it has the low-end and high-end markets covered. But if Valve can get the right combo of price/performance, we’ll very likely see PC gaming become much more common in the living room. Sony and Microsoft are going to battle for the most horsepower while Nintendo quietly and safely experiments with crazy motion and touch controls. One thing is for sure: we’ve never seen anything quite like this before. These companies and platforms are all fighting a war for our living rooms.
Welcome to the next generation.