The Rift and the Steambox: What Designers Need to Know

The game industry is one of the fastest moving industries around as new technologies and hardware are introduced regularly. This in turn can make it difficult to keep up with the changing trends or hot topics. 


For today’s post, we want to talk about two big upcoming hardware releases that if you haven’t heard about, you really want to keep your eye on them.

The Oculus Rift:

What is it?

During the big gold rush period on kickstarter, we saw a number of projects get backed and one of the most successful was the Oculus Rift by Oculus VR. The pitch was to develop the next generation of VR which last time came and went in the 90s. The key difference this time around was that the Rift was going to be much more powerful while keeping the cost down so that consumers and designers alike could buy them.

The openness of the developers and the potential of the Rift drew gamers and designers alike to the project, even getting John Carmack of ID Software to resign his position and join them as CTO. All in all, the Rift was a big deal but still mostly on the side of designers and the hardcore up until this year when Facebook bought Oculus VR for two billion dollars.

Why is it Important?

Oculus VR being bought by Facebook is what makes the Rift something that designers should be paying attention to. Being owned by Facebook not only gives Oculus VR a lot more development money to play around with, but it also gets them noticed by a huge market of casual and social gamers who would not have heard of the Rift otherwise.

And if they can deliver on creating a truly powerful VR device but at a price point cheap enough for everybody, the market could explode.

What Reservations are there?

With that said, there are some details that you should keep in mind before going all in with Rift support. First is that despite the backing of Facebook there is still one big question that needs to be asked: How will the market respond to the Rift?

While designers and hardcore gamers certainty like the idea, we still don’t know how core and casual markets will respond to the device. No matter how powerful it is, it is still an accessory and not a requirement to play video games.


The Oculus RIft’s shows a lot of potential now backed by Facebook.

The other point and one that we’re still waiting on is how will Facebook’s involvement affect the development of it? Many people have thrown gloom and doom saying that Facebook will ruin the Oculus Rift, but there is still no real news as to what Facebook will do or if they will leave Oculus VR alone.

Many people have felt burned by Oculus VR being acquired by Facebook after having a successful kickstarter and that may or may not have an impact on initial sales. Moving on let’s talk about the Steambox.


What is it?

One of the biggest barriers against playing PC games since the industry took off would have to be the PC. Let’s face it, there is a lot more work that goes into maintaining and dealing with a computer than there is a console. The plug and play nature of the console market has been a key motivator in attracting a large audience to it.


Steamboxes will come in various models, hardware specifications and price points.

While we are seeing some PC games ported to the console market, those examples are few and far between compared to the sheer volume of PC games available. What Valve is doing with the Steambox is attempting to deliver on a “PC for the living room” — Providing console gamers with self contained cheaper PCs meant only for playing PC games on them. The plan is to license the Steambox technology to multiple PC manufacturers who will build different Steamboxes of various price points and power.

Why is it Important?

The biggest reason is expanding the market. If the Steambox takes off, PC designers will have their potential market base for their game explode thanks to the console audience.  The divide that has separated PC and console gamers will be shrunk.

Valve is also doing something else interesting and that is developing their own operating system called Steam OS that the Steambox hardware will use. Not only that but Valve will make it available for PC gamers as well. When it comes to the PC market, there has always been the fight between Microsoft and Mac when it comes to the mainstream audience. Given Valve’s notoriety and skill, they could become a third player with the success of Steam OS.

What Reservations are there?

Despite all the potential for the Steambox and Steam OS, there are not a lot of hard facts about the setup yet. Important information like how the OS will work or more detail about the various Steambox models are still up in the air.

The idea of having a PC for the living room sounds great but we don’t know how the home audience will view this and how Valve is going to deal with a few annoyances of being a PC gamer. Specifically when it comes to updating software and when it’s time to upgrade. Are these boxes entirely self contained and would someone need to buy a whole new Steambox to get more power?


The Steambox will also feature its own special controller for playing PC games without a keyboard and mouse.

And for those of you reading this, the biggest point to be concern about is that we still have no time frame for either Steam OS or the Steambox. Valve is notorious for taking a long time to develop anything and it’s anyone’s guess as to when this potential market will appear.

With the Oculus Rift and the Steambox, both the home and PC markets are looking at potential shakeups in the future. And if you haven’t heard about these before, you have now.

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