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Steam’s Gabe Newell: Linux is the future of gaming; SteamBox may be announced next week

“Linux is the future of Gaming” are the words loud and clear during the keynote by Gabe Newell, the CEO of Valve Software, at Linux Foundation’s 2013 North American LinuxCon event.

As we all know by now Gabe is not  a huge fan of closed systems. One of the core competencies of Windows was it’s open nature. Developers had direct access to users without any middleman sitting between them to collect a cut. Apple changed this model through iOS where it became the gatekeeper and toll tax collector. Gabe said that it took them several months to get one update through Apple for iPad.

In these changing times, Microsoft chose to copy Apple’s model instead of strengthening its own. Everyone know how Gabe feels about Windows 8. Before mentioning Microsoft he said, “I need to be polite about it”. He criticized Microsoft and said that “the way Microsoft should have responded by was staying open, but the decided to go in another direction.”

It did not work for Microsoft and PC shipments continue to decline.

Unhappy with Windows 8, Valve released a Linux client on Feb and it became a hit among the GNULinux users.

Will Steam give desktop Linux another chance, it doesn’t look like so. While the desktop itself is declining, Gabe also admitted that gaming on Linux has not been very successful and it is painfully small for the market. He said that Linux gaming is insignificant by pretty much any metrics whether it be players, players minutes or revenues. It’s under one percent.

At the same time Windows is not going to stay as strong as it once was. The Windows shipment is declining at an alarming rate. What’s interesting is that despite the decline in Windows shipments, Steam has experienced a 76% year on year increase. That’s a very important message from the market – it doesn’t want Windows, but it does want Steam.

The conclusion I would draw is Steam doesn’t need Windows.

So when Windows market is declining and Linux is not doing very well why is Valve betting on he later?

Gabe says that closed systems are at odd with the evolution of gaming. “Games will become nodes in a linked economy where the vast majority of digital goods will be created by users and not companies,” he said.

Linux has become a defacto system from those who want to innovate and build something new as they know the support for the hardware will be there and it’s much easier to work with an open community and get things done quickly than to deal with big companies like Microsoft and Apple.

Newell said, “We think that rate of change is increasing and systems which are innovation friendly will grow.” At the same time the democratization of gaming (as opposed to the walled garden model) will blur the line between creator and consumer. “Team Fortress community creates 10 times the the content of the team fortress devs at Valve,” said Newell.

That’s impressive.

“When you give the community the tools to create then you can’t slow them down.”

Steam has already driven companies like Nvidia to enhance performance on Linux. They shipped the first Linux client in Feb and today there are over 198 games for Linux.

Linux also gives Valve the opportunity that it will never get from Windows or Mac/iOS. Living room is the new battlefield. The traditional desktop clearly has no space in the living room – whether it be Windows or Mac. That’s why all three companies are trying to capture the living room through AppleTV, Xbox or Chromecast. Only Linux can give Valve an opportunity to knock at the doors. Valve has already tested gaming on Linux via steam client and the obvious evolution would be a Linux based gaming console which can be more than just a console. Valve is working on its SteamBox and Gabe said that next week there will be an announcement from Valve about hardware which will bridge the gap between the desktop and the Living room.

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Looks like Steambox is coming!

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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