Valve readies prototype Steam Box video game console

By Leo Kelion
Technology reporter

Media caption, Gabe Newell: "The main thing that's holding us up...we have a couple of different controllers prototypes we're using"

Valve expects to offer prototypes of its upcoming video games console for testing within four months time.

The firm's chief executive Gabe Newell revealed the news to the BBC ahead of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) Games Awards.

Valve's online PC games store Steam has already proven highly popular and analysts suggest the console, called Steam Box, could have a big impact.

Mr Newell is being honoured with an Academy Fellowship at the event.

He was less forthcoming about whether his firm was actively working on new sequels to its hit science fiction franchises Half Life and Portal.

Portal 2 - a puzzle based game involving a prisoner trying to escape test chambers controlled by a homicidal computer - won best game and two other awards at last year's Baftas.

Steam Box

Valve's Steam platform - which promotes titles by other developers as well as its own - has over 50 million registered accounts with software for the Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.

Image caption, Mr Newell would not be drawn on whether Half Life 3 was a planned launch title for the Steam Box

Its upcoming Steam Box hardware is designed to make it easy to access the service via living room televisions posing a challenge to Nintendo's Wii U, the upcoming Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's next Xbox.

"We're working with partners trying to nail down how fast we can make it," Mr Newell told the BBC.

"We'll be giving out some prototypes to customers to gauge their reactions, I guess, in the next three to four months.

"There are noise issues and heat issues and being able to [deal with] that while still offering a powerful enough gaming experience is the challenge in building it."

He added that his company had still to finalise how the console's controller would work as it continued to explore the possibility of including sensors to measure the gamers' body states.

"If you think of a game like Left For Dead - which was trying to put you into a sort of horror movie - if you don't change the experience of what the player is actually feeling then it stops being a horror game," Mr Newell explained.

"So you need to actually be able to directly measure how aroused the player is - what their heart rate is, things like that - in order to offer them a new experience each time they play."

Undeclared price

Image caption, Portal 2 has won several awards including three prizes at last year's Baftas

One industry analyst said Valve's effort to transform itself from a games creator to an online marketplace was impressive, but added that it was still too soon to know if the Steam Box would be a success.

"I don't have any doubt they will put forth an impressive machine and it's pretty clear that at launch they will have a significant games catalogue," said Lewis Ward from IDC.

"But the surrounding app ecosystem is unlikely to match other consoles which have Netflix, video conferencing tie-ins and other non-gaming aspects.

"And we still don't know the price - Valve will be unable to subsidise its console in the same way the other manufacturers do, so that remains a major unknown."

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