Couch potatoes, prepare to supersize your gamer taters! Big Picture is a new mode of the Steam online gaming service that has been optimized for big screen “living room” use with your TV and game controller. Big Picture upsizing means you can enjoy Steam games from the comfort of your couch at the press of a button. Steam’s Big Picture sports a new, full-screen user interface that has been completely redesigned for readability, game control, text input and immersive interaction.
In the iconic, user-piloted, gaming style that Steam maker Valve is well known for, the Big Picture beta launch also introduces what Valve calls the first ever “first person web browser.” The new browser uses an omni-directional crosshair in place of an analog-controlled mouse. So rather then pointing at a link or image with a mouse cursor, you shift your point of view across an entire page.
Text input is also handed differently now that the keyboard is out of the picture. Valve has re-introduced the concept of the Daisywheel, dividing the alphabet into eight circles of four with each letter mapping to a controller face button. Here again, instead of “hunting and pecking for keys to type, the experience is more fluid and intuitive.
Valve’s mystique as a different kind of game maker was chronicled in the NY Times this weekend. The profile reveals how the Bellevue-based production company has fashioned a corporate culture with few rules inside a “boss-less” work environment. Valve has no formal titles. Even former Microsoftee Gabe Newell, one of Valve’s founders, is only rumored to be the CEO.
“I think he’s technically the C.E.O., but it’s funny that I’m not even sure of that,” says Greg Coomer, a designer and artist who was one of Valve’s first employees. (For the record, Mr. Newell is technically Valve’s chief executive.)
Relating Valve to Google, the Times drew an analagous time management comparison: “Google management created the concept of “20 percent time,” the portion of employees’ schedules that they could commit to entirely self-directed projects. At Valve, it’s more like 100 percent time. New employees aren’t even told where to work in the company. Instead, they are expected to decide on their own where they can contribute most. Many desks at Valve are on wheels. After figuring out what they want to do, workers simply push their desks over to the group they want to join.”
Beside’s Big Picture, one of Valve’s other initiatives also parallels a Google mission — namely “wearable computing.”
The NYT reporting also recapped Valve’s dust-up with Electronic Arts over Steam’s policy of taking a cut of all revenue generated from a game, like the sale of virtual goods, even after a player has bought the game. As a result, E.A. is not selling a number of its latest games through Steam.
“Valve said that without such a policy, developers could easily game the Steam system by making all their software free and charging consumers for additional content later. It is worth pointing out, too, that E.A. last year began competing directly against Steam by starting its own online game store.”
Watch Steam’s “Big Picture” Trailer here. [24×7]