Following last year’s epic E3 announcement from Gabe Newell where the world found out about Valve suddenly taking a shine to the PS3, gamers have been looking forward to seeing just how Steam would be integrated into Portal 2. As it turns out it was a relatively simple, but entirely awesome, implementation which allowed PS3, PC and Mac gamers to play Portal 2 together, chat to each other and see what friends were playing. But this got us thinking… what if Valve took over the PSN? What if Sony decided that now was a good time to rebuild it with Valve’s technology?
And what if that’s why the PSN restoration is taking so long?
Ok so it seems unlikely, I’ll grant you that. That’s why we’re pitching this as a “what if” article and not a “we reckon this will happen”, but let’s look at the arguments behind a Steam powered PSN. When you think about it, it’s not a bad idea at all.
What we’re essentially theorising here is the PS3’s online capabilities – gaming, chat, store, the whole deal – could run on Steam, a system already well established and working reliably across a huge user base. And as soon as you introduce Steam fully onto the PS3, there’s nothing to stop developers patching their previous titles in order to allow cross-platform gaming. Imagine that, loading up to have a game of GRiD on your PS3, only to find Codemasters have patched for the all-new Steam powered PSN and there are suddenly dozens more online lobbies available set up by PC gamers. Naturally this cross-platform gaming will have some drawbacks – it wouldn’t fairly match gamers on the various systems for example. Hardcore FPS players swear by their keyboards and mice, and it’s well recognised that it’s the most effective way to play, but at the same time a Dual Shock is far more effective at controlling an F1 car than a keyboard. Swings and roundabouts, but not much in the way of balance.
Meanwhile, you’d be in constant communication with your friends no matter what they were playing. Let’s be honest, the comms on the PS3 aren’t the greatest (or at the very least, aren’t the most consistent) and rely on the developers doing a good job to make sure gamers can chat to each other while playing. It’s a mixed bag; Hot Pursuit is an burbling nightmare whereas you can go back as far as GRAW2 and find games that have crystal clear voice chat. The PSN has never been the problem in itself – the platform delivers the ability to have decent comms, but Sony’s failing was to leave it up to the developers to get it right. Steam could change all that and offer a solid, consistent channel to communicate through. Obviously we’d need some sort of PSN back-compatibility to make sure older, non-Steam enabled titles can still be played online but that shouldn’t be much of an issue.
But Steam isn’t all about being in-game. The beauty of having Steam installed on your desktop computer is the massive catalogue of games that are available, some of them for very little or (as we looked at a while ago) totally free. By working closely with Sony, Valve could develop an emulation layer which will allow a certain level of compatibility with existing titles; a Steam section of the XMB which will give you the option to download and play older Steam titles as if you were sat in front of your PC. Again it seems unlikely, but 18 months ago so did the idea of Portal 2 appearing on the PS3. This idea of game delivery also takes us onto another interesting possibility: combined game purchasing. Going on the same sort of idea as Portal 2, buying a game on Steam could then give you the option of downloading it on both your PS3 and desktop, effectively giving you two playable copies. At first glance this sounds like something developers would be dead against, but how many people buy the same game on the PS3 and PC? Not many I’d bet, and all those people with Steam PC games can suddenly buy a PS3 and have access to much of their game collection without spending another penny. And it’s plainly obvious that more console sales would never be a bad thing for Sony.
And then you’ve got your achievements. The best way to combine Steam and PSN achievements/trophies is a whole other discussion by itself, but most games available on both platforms share the same achievements, so earning a trophy on the PS3 could automatically sync with your Steam achievements meaning that no matter which system your friends are using they’ll always be able to see just how great you are. Something which, I’m sure, will please all those people who love the trophies which, to quote Kevin Butler “aren’t even real… but are…”.
As we’ve stressed a couple of times already this is hugely unlikely, certainly in this generation of consoles. Whether Gabe Newell sees the potential of further Steam integration into the PlayStation 4 as something to take further remains to be seen, but I can see the benefits to all parties. Valve get a huge influx of users onto Steam with the potential income from further game sales through the Steam store. Sony get a rock solid gaming network with established users and reliability. Gamers get a quite brilliant network, the option to game against other platforms and smooth communication with friends. Sounds good, right?
So… what if that’s why the PSN restoration is taking so long?