April 25th & 26th
287 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Abstract Submission Deadline: January 19th
What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
SteamBox to be available next year.
Valve boss Gabe Newell has said that Steam’s recent big picture mode was received “much stronger than expected” by consumers, and the company will now push ahead to get Steam Linux out of beta and onto specially designed PC packages, which he expects to be available next year.
He expects that along with Steam-manufactured boxes, third party manufacturers will also bring similar devices to market, which will be able to be hooked directly up to a TV and run Steam right out of the box. He confirmed they will compete with next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft.
“I think in general that most customers and most developers are gonna find that [the PC is] a better environment for them,” Newell told me. “Cause they won’t have to split the world into thinking about ‘why are my friends in the living room, why are my video sources in the living room different from everyone else?’ So in a sense we hopefully are gonna unify those environments.”
Gabe Newell, the force behind the gaming company Valve, has a head bursting with ideas that he doesn’t express very well, at all. But think about the vision behind these fragments.
Here are excerpts from the conversation that took place in a packed and noisy room with an under-powered speaker system:
On the future of videogame distribution
“Everything we are doing is not going to matter in the future.
[Because of a disruption that is so large that it erases what we are doing now?]
… We think about knitting together a platform for productivity, which sounds kind of weird, but what we are interested in is bringing together a platform where people’s actions create value for other people when they play. That’s the reason we hired an economist.
[Instead of ‘play’ people’s actions online can be thought of as equivalent to ‘work’? It’s an economy not a kindergarten?]
“We think the future is very different [from] successes we’ve had in the past. When you are playing a game, you are trying to think about creating value for other players, so the line between content player and creator is really fuzzy. We have a kid in Kansas making $150,000 a year making [virtual] hats. But that’s just a starting point.
“That causes us to have conversations with Adobe, and we say the next version of Photoshop should look like a free-to-play game, and they say, ‘We have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, but it sounds really bad.’ And, then we say, ‘No, no, no. We think you are going to increase the value being created to your users, and you will create a market for their goods on a worldwide basis.’ But that takes a longer sell.
[Trying to evangelize his vision to other companies isn’t going to work with this sort of verbal expression.]
“This isn’t about videogames; it’s about thinking about goods and services in a digital world.”
On closed versus open platforms
“In order for innovation to happen, a bunch of things that aren’t happening on closed platforms need to occur. Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google. They all wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform. There’s a strong temptation to close the platform, because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors’ access to the platform, and they say ‘That’s really exciting.’”
[I parse the sentence ‘Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google’ as meaning ‘Google, Zygna, Epic and Valve would not exist without the PC platform’.]
“We are looking at the platform and saying, ‘We’ve been a free rider, and we’ve been able to benefit from everything that went into PCs and the Internet, and we have to continue to figure out how there will be open platforms.’”
[So if Windows 8 and (presumably) Apple offerings are a problem, the answer is Linux?]
On Valve’s interest in Linux
“The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People don’t realize how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behavior.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.”
[So, I expect Valve to invest i Linux as the future gaming platform. Maybe build their own open platform for productivity (gaming) and try to get folks to move onto it?]
On the evolution of touch
“We think touch is short-term. The mouse and keyboard were stable for 25 years, but I think touch will be stable for 10 years. Post-touch will be stable for a really long time, longer than 25 years.
“Post touch, depending on how sci-fi you want to get, is a couple of different technologies combined together. The two problems are input and output. I haven’t had to do any presentations on this because I’m not a public company, so I don’t have any pretty slides.
“There’s some crazy speculative stuff. This is super nerdy, and you can tease us years from now, but as it turns out, your tongue is one of the best mechanical systems to your brain, but it’s disconcerting to have the person sitting next you go blah, blah, blah, blah.
“I don’t think tongue input will happen, but I do think we will have bands on our wrists, and you’ll be doing something with your hands, which are really expressive.”
[Gestural interfaces, because hands can be enormously expressive, and instrumenting the tongue is messy.]
On wearable computers
“I can go into the room and put on the $70,000 system we’ve built, and I look around the room with the software they’ve written, and they can overlay information on objects regardless of what my head or eyes are doing. Your eyes are troublesome buggers.”
[You can ignore the eyes, and simply ID objects based on what the camera is looking at.]
An enormously uneven collection of unrefined ideas. The guy is fascinating. Imagine what a day at his office must be like.
Where Scientists Fail, Gamers Succeed
For 15 years, scientists struggled to figure out the molecular structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys. Deciphering the structure, they believed, could lead to an HIV/AIDS cure.
As they hit dead ends, a few began to think differently, crowdsource the issue and created a multiplayer game within Foldit, a science-based gaming engine.
Ten days later, non-scientist gamers discovered the key researchers had long been looking for.
Via MSNBC’s Cosmiclog:
The problem is that enzymes are far tougher to crack than your typical lock. There are millions of ways that the bonds between the atoms in the enzyme’s molecules could twist and turn. To design the right chemical key, you have to figure out the most efficient, llowest-energy configuration for the molecule — the one that Mother Nature herself came up with.
That’s where Foldit plays a role. The game is designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower.
Writes Firas Khatib, a biochemist at the University of Washington, and his colleagues in a paper published in Nature Structual & Molecular Biology (PDF):
Although much attention has recently been given to the potential of crowdsourcing and game playing, this is the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem.