So Portal 2 is coming to the PS3. And previously PlayStation-phobic Valve boss Gabe Newell has given the machine his full endorsement at Sony's press conference. Good news, right? Yay! Woo! Portal! Cake memes! Etc!
But that's not the important bit. That's not the important bit by a long shot. Something much bigger and more significant was said by Gabe at that press conference, but everyone seemed too excited by GlaDOS to notice. Steam is coming to the PS3, and depending on how it pans out, it could be an absolute game-changer for the console. So join me now, as I explain what I think might really be behind Gabe's appearance, what will happen next, and how it could mean huge and very exciting changes for the PS3.
Ken Kutaragi was right
Forget, for a second, Gabe’s previous criticisms that the PS3 is an ungodly bitch to develop for. Forget, for a second, that by most accounts it is. Purely in terms of the culture of the machine, it makes sense for Valve to be working on the PlayStation 3.
Unless you’re the platform-holder, consoles are usually inherently closed platforms, standardised, regulated and controlled without any room for developers - or gamers for that matter - to add features or services of their own. The PS3 is unique in that it allows a degree of hardware customisation, is far more open as a multimedia device than the 360, and is managed with an ideology of openness to developer freedom. That’s what Crazy Ken meant when he described it as a PC.
We’ve already seen that latter point proven with Unreal Tournament 3’s mod support. As a pioneering PC developer with its own distribution platform in Steam, the PS3 is on paper the best cultural fit for Valve, as consoles go.
But big deals have probably happened
That culture taken as given, I still doubt Gabe’s showboating press conference support of the PS3 was just a case of newfound PlayStation-love. It’s nice for extreme Sony fanboys to believe that he woke up from a nightmare one night screaming about how he’d got it all wrong, or spent an unpleasant evening in the company of three ghosts who explained the past, present and future consequences of his lack of support. But it just didn’t happen.
Above: Looks kind of at home, doesn't it?
What probably did happen was that Valve were beginning to look into the potential of the PS3 as an open platform just as Sony realised that it wasn’t really going to have anything in the way of megaton announcements for this year’s show (sorry guys, but another GT5 trailer and an on-stage ice cream van did not do it for me).
So one called the other and questions were asked. Questions like ‘Gabe, aside from the big bag of money next to my desk, what would it take to get Valve’s full support and endorsement on stage this year?’ And answers were put forward. Answers like ‘Total freedom to do whatever we want with your system.’ And thus Portal 2 was coming to the PS3, and thus Gabe was going to the Sony conference. And this is where the really important and interesting stuff starts to happen.
It’s more about Steam than Portal 2
The most important thing that was said when Gabe announced Portal 2 at Sony’s press conference? ‘Steam will be part of that experience’. Getting Steam on a console is potentially a much bigger deal than any one game release could ever be. This, I suspect, is what Valve really wanted. Steam is now, rightly, inherent to PC gaming culture. From the perspective of gamers, devs and publishers alike, it just makes sense, being a great one-stop solution to all of the distribution, DRM, patching and multiplayer elements of PC gaming, in a way that (mostly) everyone is happy with.
Above: 1:58. That's the bit that really matters. Also note Gabe's prolonged emphasis on the openness of the PS3. This speech was not about Portal
Steam is increasingly dominant in the PC space, particularly since Valve started allowing third parties to use all its components in their games via the release of the Steamworks publishing suite. But with tens of millions of PS3s out there, it can go further. The simple spread of brand awareness would be huge for a start.
Now I don’t know to what extent Steam will appear on the PS3. It could just be that elements of it will work in the background, allowing Valve to handle game updates and manage cloud-based save data themselves as they do on the PC. But it could also appear in some form as a proper Steam application in the XMB. And from there, it could evolve and expand immensely, just has it has on its original platform.
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