The big thing that came out of Ben Kuchera’s interview with Valve’s Gabe Newell was how Newell hinted that Valve could potentially develop hardware.
Well, if we have to sell hardware we will. We have no reason to believe we’re any good at it, it’s more we think that we need to continue to have innovation and if the only way to get these kind of projects started is by us going and developing and selling the hardware directly then that’s what we’ll do. It’s definitely not the first thought that crosses our mind; we’d rather hardware people that are good at manufacturing and distributing hardware do that. We think it’s important enough that if that’s what we end up having to do then that’s what we end up having to do.
Really, this is juicy and gets someone’s attention, but it’s not news. It’s just the rhetorical extrapolation of a man in a position of power. The fact that it’s being reported as news is somewhat irresponsible. However, it does lead one to further extrapolate from Mr. Newell’s comments and determine just what would happen if Valve were to decide to make hardware and if they should.
First off, there’s more to “making hardware” than just the making of hardware. What kind of hardware? Would it be a tablet? Would it be a desktop? Something Steam specific? We need to know these things before we get too excited. Even outside of that, should Valve enter the hardware market, they would be encroaching on a lot of established turf. Would they be able to play nice with Intel? With NVidia? Would either of them want to even play nice with Valve, considering some of the primo OEM deals that Microsoft gives Intel in particular?
Also, publishing hardware takes money and research and development. Lots of R&D, in fact. An absurd amount of both. Just to keep up with the Joneses, they would have to dump a ton of money into R&D just go get off the ground. That’s before taking into account manufacturing and the perfection of said manufacturing to ensure that every dollar is spent in the most efficient way possible, something totally at odds with the rather loose management structure that Valve has, as described in the beginning of the previously linked interview. It also has yet to take into account distribution, making deals with retail, and the potential issue of unused, unsold stock. Why would Valve risk blowing their dominant software position just to chase otherwise unspecified “innovation” in hardware while catering to a niche market?
There’s one way, and one way only, that I see Valve and hardware development working, and frankly I’m stunned someone hasn’t thought of it yet. If the people from Valve and Razer aren’t talking to each other every single day and twice on Tuesdays, someone isn’t doing their job. Razer is the most innovative hardware manufacturer going, boldly catering to the hardcore PC niche audience when the rest of the world is chasing the far more competitive tablet and smartphone dollar. Valve, of course, became ubiquitous with their development of Steam into a world-class gaming and social portal. If this isn’t a perfect marriage of two divergent markets into what would be the peanut butter and chocolate of PC gaming, I don’t know what is. The thought of what Razer and Valve could do if they got together, locked themselves in a room for a week, and got serious leaves me excited enough to need a smoke soon afterwards.
Companies that get too big lose focus, and that’s a great way to lose customers. One of the major reasons why Sony lost over $2 billion is because they have their hands in so many pots and have so many different parts of the company fighting with each other. Here’s hoping Valve learns that lesson and either stays with what they’re familiar with, or gets someone who’s much better at it than they are and does something incomprehensibly awesome.