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5:05 AM on 01.10.2013

What Steambox(s) could mean for PC and consoles

The Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas has been big news for technology this week, the largest electronic show in the world is an ideal place for manufacturers and independent tinkerers to show off their newest gadgets. Unfortunately gaming tends to take a back seat at this one with most major news in the form of the newest must have phone of tablet, but for most PC fans attention was focused on one man, Gabe Newell (Spoilers: Still no Half-Life 3 announcement).

Rumours have been circling around about a Steambox for some time but CES is where we actually saw not one, but many prototypes of what the hardware could eventually be. Through this a clear business model also emerged with Valve providing funding to external hardware companies to develop many versions of a small form factor PC.

One of the biggest attention grabbers was the reveal of the Xi3 Piston, A small box looking similar in design to OUYA but with full PC hardware pumping power from its innards. The case is tiny by PC standards but turn the little guy around and you are greeted with a plethora of ports, jacks and connections. Inside, Xi3 will be equipping one of AMD's latest quad core APU chips with a focus on powerful integrated graphics. Other specifications are still not confirmed but $999 (around 620 for the fellow Brits out there) seemed to be the suggested launch price. This seems expensive for a little cube of processing power but is only "one of many" prototypes according to Valve.

So what could this mean for PC as a whole? Could these small, uncomplicated boxes tempt the console crowd? Valve's recent actions certainly make it seem like that's the goal here. With the introduction of Big Picture Mode to lure the controller wielding players and Steam for Linux now operational, the company is certainly wanting a piece of everything. 2012 was a great year to be a PC gamer with some fantastic indie exclusives and some graphics pushing AAA titles, Steam user numbers soared up and publishers even put out some good quality ports, with options a plenty for the hardcore crowd.

So PC is now doing well on the software front, but how will hardware change with the introduction of small easy to function Steam boxes? Processor manufacturers are certainly creating a trend when it comes to graphical grunt, cut out middle man and place capable graphics right on the chip. Intel's newest "Ivy Bridge" line only showed a 15% increase in processing power but a big jump in integrated graphics performance, with the new 2013 chips (codename Haswell) set to raise that bar even further. The other big silicon player; AMD, are also making a big push on their APU line with the same prospects as Intel. Concerns are among PC vets of what this means for dedicated cards like the Nvidia GTX 680. What Valve also had hidden away at CES was a private booth, set up to meet with new hardware partners over the Steambox plan. Residing with-in the room were a few small prototypes of possible new hardware and an existing Alienware X51. This Alienware PC was one of the smaller products the Dell owned company had launched with a form factor similar to that of an Xbox 360 but with up to i7 internals to make it perform like the big boys. Around the product's launch there was talk of the X51 becoming the new Steambox and later became acknowledged by Valve as Steambox hardware, pointing to a wide range of PC types to fall under this new brand. This can give some confidence back to the power hardware fanatics, showing that plans are still to include high end machines with dedicated graphics under the same line.

With a wider PC adoption and amazing software distribution Valve could be a danger to the already well established console companies with future plans but how will this change the existing PC market, only time will tell as new news surfaces.   read

3:08 PM on 12.23.2012

Always-online DRM is not the answer to piracy

In a recent Reddit AMA, Maxis; long running studio behind The Sims franchise were subject to questions on the upcoming re-boot of SimCity. Although most of the details showed promising new ideas for the series, a fact arose that the game will be tied down with always-online DRM.

As most of you have heard expressed, gamers aren't exactly pleased with the idea of this anti-piracy scheme, making it almost impossible for them to play their fully paid for game offline. Maxis responded stating that keeping data running to the EA servers is an integral part of the game. The idea of playing Multiplayer was also heavily promoted by the dev team, maybe as a way to make the online component seem a little more necessary.

Needless to say the response on Reddit and various other gaming publications has been a big negative, with many users revoking pre-orders and claiming not to purchase any EA product ever again.

Is this the way to combat piracy? To lose potential customers who are now more likely to go and pirate the publisher's games. Enter, the indie game market. Indie games are growing year on year and their public profile has reached an all time high in 2012. They prove with a unique idea and an open mind on distribution, a small game can be a great success.

The best example of this is the Humble Indie Bundles. A pay what you please affair for a generally fantastic line-up of games. All DRM free, Available on all computer hardware and more often than not a free soundtrack. These bundles generate millions every time and showcase the great indie talent out there.

Edmund Mcmillen's The Binding of Isaac has seen huge sales with no major publisher and appeared in a few indie bundles itself. This game is a huge hit and a star in indie gaming. Due to it's success, Isaac is set to appear on as many consoles as possible in 2012, including hand-helds, with a new visual style and no doubt filled with new content.

So, can big publishers learn from independent games? THQ recently had a shock moment when they teamed with the Humble Indie bundle guys for their own special collection of games. This is the first time a big publisher has done this kind of deal before and seems very strange for such a huge name to seek help like that. Granted THQ are in big financial trouble right now but this could happen to other big brands soon. Across the world there seems to be a growing sense of annoyance against big publishers and their actions, be it DRM, On-disc DLC or a number of other questionable issues.

Will 2012 be the year of the indies? Is there a more effective way against piracy? Or is it just all down to pricing? let me know what you think Dtoid.   read

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