About a fortnight ago, Valve's CEO, Gabe Newell, took part in a Q&A in a high school in New Zealand. One of the answers that caught the attention of the games media concerned Valve and consoles. The particular query was about whether Steam would remain strictly a PC platform or whether it would be "putting any games on consoles". A fair enough question from the school student, but surprisingly it caused Newell to pause for thought, and after umming and erring, he obviously picked his words very carefully to provide an answer. The answer was quite short but left one wanting something more substantial – "You will get a better idea of that by the end of this year," teased Newell.
Earlier today a related information nugget was served up by the Steam Database Twitter account. It revealed that various interesting text strings had been unearthed within the latest Steam beta client. These words and phrases appeared to point to a Steam branded console, and further clues signalled that it might be a handheld console that the PC gaming giant is working on.
According to the SteamDB, Valve's coders have been busy preparing the beta client for testing a device codenamed 'Neptune'. In other code strings this appears to be a reference to a 'SteamPal' console. It is thought that it is a handheld / portable as the system and power menu strings hint at this. SteamDB and the SteamDB creator, Pavel Djundik, highlight references in the code as per below:
- SteamPal (NeptuneName),
- SteamPal Games (GameList_View_NeptuneGames),
- Controller bindings,
- UI strings such as 'quick access menu',
- System settings such as airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a power menu.
Previous betas introduced strings such as 'NeptuneGamesCollection' and 'Device Optimized Games'.
Valve's hardware has a bit of a chequered history. We have seen Steam Machines, the Steam Controller, and Steam Link come and go without making much of an impact in the wider gaming market. However, the success of the Valve Index is perhaps reminding the company that timing is a very important factor. Is "the end of this year" the right time for a Steam handheld (streaming?) console? That depends on the product put forward, its compelling attractions, and remains to be seen.
There is an outside possibility that Valve could harvest some of the tech from the Smach Z handheld project that hit the rocks earlier this month. That handheld console was first teased back in the pre-Steam Machine era, and at that time was named the SteamBoy.