If any game company can see the writing on the wall and adapt, it's Valve. Though gamers are still waiting for the announcement of Half-Life 3, Valve has been adapting its Steam platform for almost a decade, making it into the most-used digital distribution platform for the PC. Both EA and Ubisoft have created copycat platforms, but are years too late and their platforms are far too closed to truly compete with Steam. Just last week, Valve launched Steam Greenlight, which allows the community to vote on which indie games will be allowed on the platform.
Today, Valve launched the beta of a new interface that is surely the company's first strike at console makers. Called Big Picture, it is an interface designed to be used on a TV screen, with a controller in-hand.
Though it also supports mouse-and-keyboard controls, it offers many features designed specifically with a controller in mind. The most interesting of these features is an on-screen keyboard that uses an analog stick and four controller buttons to allow fast typing, instead of scrolling all over an on-screen qwerty keyboard. It also features what Valve is saying is "a web browser for the TV that doesn't suck."
It appears Big Picture is a clear overture to a Valve gaming console, but those rumors have been slightly exaggerated. Greg Coomer, head of the Big Picture team at Valve, candidly told Kotaku that the new interface is actually a bit of market research for Valve. The company wants to see how users will use Big Picture, and thus learn what customers want. If that includes a Valve console, Coomer said, then Valve will do it.
The video below was released by Valve today to coincide with the start of the beta. It provides a quick rundown of all the Big Picture features and how to activate it through Steam: