Two of the biggest stories at CES 2014 involve gaming, and neither involves the big three entrenched console makers (Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo). Oculus VR's latest prototype, dubbed "Crystal Cove," and Valve's Steam Machines initiative are overshadowing even Sony's big PlayStation Now news, to say nothing of curved displays and wearable whatevers. Despite that overshadowing, Xbox Chief Product Officer Marc Whitten isn't too worried about either -- in fact, he's really excited about both and what they mean for the larger game industry he loves.
"This is literally the most golden of golden ages that I've ever seen around gaming," Whitten told us in an interview this week at CES 2014. "I think this is what makes gaming great. And you love seeing the passion of seeing someone like Palmer [Luckey] and those guys at Oculus. And seeing someone like John Carmack get on and really be focused on it is great. I don't know how it could be anything but good." He didn't say whether or not dev kits are with Microsoft, but he's used the headset and likes what he's seen.
Moreover, he isn't worried about it cannibalizing Xbox One sales. "It's just gonna increase the surface area, and I think that's an incredible thing," Whitten said. Valve's Steam Machines initiative is another story.
First things first, we had to know if Whitten had a response to Valve head Gabe Newell's jab at Xbox One's 3 million sales number. (Spoilers: he didn't.) "The last thing I'll ever do in my entire life is get into a flame war with Gabe Newell. There's no win in that," Whitten laughingly told us. Jokes aside, he's skeptical of the Valve initiative. "I personally don't know how to think about Steam Machines yet," he said. "I'm not knocking it or whatever. I continue to think that PC gaming -- the sort of uber configuration and I can change everything and I can mod -- that's an important thing and there's a lot of people that wanna do that."
Specifically, we wanted to know if he sees the initiative as competition for both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Frankly, he doesn't. "When you get into that living room environment, you don't want to spend any of your brain cells doing anything but being entertained. I don't want to work on it; I don't want to feel like I have to know how it works. I would like to be blowing things up now, or watching a thing now. That's the fundamental thing that you want to do," he said. "I think there's space for both. I'm not sweating it."
So far, we agree with Whitten's assessment. The living room experience on a game console like Xbox One or PlayStation 4 remains vastly superior to that of even Steam's long-running Big Picture Mode (intended for living rooms). In 2014, Valve's SteamOS and Machines initiative still needs to prove competitive with the new game consoles. With the competition stiffer than ever, we can't wait to see what everyone has in store. As Whitten said, all of this is nothing but good for gamers.