Gamers everywhere rejoiced as Sony and Microsoft released the latest generation of video game consoles just in time for the holiday season. Dubbed the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One respectively, these consoles have been met with a lot of hype and fanfare as Sony has not released a new console in seven years and Microsoft in eight. These “next-generation” consoles both headline upgraded processors, graphic cards and features. The Microsoft Xbox One can now play video games with a resolution of 720 pixels at 60 frames per second, while the Sony PlayStation 4 can play games at a higher resolution of 1080 pixels, but at a comparatively choppier 30 frames a second. The months leading up to the consoles’ releases have been filled with passionate fans of both consoles arguing which is better.
Gamers are not the only ones excited about the recent releases. Video game developers such as Infinity Ward, Naughty Dog and Rare have been looking forward to the next generation of consoles. For the better half of a decade, console video games have not been constrained by physics engines or lack of budgets. Instead, the progress of video games has been hampered by video game developers being forced to use eight-year-old hardware. Although developers improved graphics and gameplay over the years by using every last bit of RAM and processing power the relatively archaic systems could offer, they hit a ceiling. And therein lies the ultimate problem of video game consoles: they are updated very infrequently and their closed-off nature prohibits users from upgrading them.
Several weeks ago, computer video game developer Valve announced its solution to this problem. For years, Valve has been running a digital video game distribution platform (think iTunes, but for video games). On Sept.23, Valve released its plans to revolutionize the video game industry with its own line of consoles. Named Steam Machines, these consoles are set out to fill in the holes that are prevalent in the video games industry. Running its own operating system called Steam OS, these consoles don’t have set hardware parts. Rather, this future line of consoles focuses on openness. Steam OS is simply a modified version of Linux, a computer operating system known for its open source code and modifiability. Additionally, the parts of the Steam Machine, or Steam Box, are designed to be swapped out and upgraded by its owner to better suit their needs without absurd costs or waiting almost a decade for a new release. Coupled with a new programmable controller, Steam is setting out to make gamers’ video game experiences their own by implementing all of the benefits a gaming computer has to offer in the body of a console. The Steam Box is still in its prototype phase and is tentatively scheduled to be released sometime in 2014. For now, the market is still predominantly held by Sony and Microsoft, whose sales figures are currently neck and neck. If the last console generation is any indicator, the impressive graphics and performance gamers are seeing now is just the beginning.