Valve would create their own hardware if they had to
Valve boss Gabe Newell has admitted that they would consider entering the hardware race if they had to.
This is not something that Valve are definitely going to do but, Newell has revealed that they are trying to figure out if their 'software as a service' approach to games could be adapted to hardware as well, allowing games platforms to evolve along with games themselves.
Newell explained, "We're thinking of trying to figure out how to do the equivalent of the incremental approach in software design and try to figure out how would you get something similar to that in the hardware space as well."
This idea was borne out of Valve's frustration with the current approach to hardware and its lack of flexibility. As Newell puts it, "The sort of old method of, you know, let's go make a giant pile of inventory and hope that some set of applications emerge to justify this giant hardware investment doesn't seem to be very consistent with what we've seen to be the fastest ways to move stuff forward. So we're trying to come up with an alternative to that that gives us the ability to iterate more rapidly."
He continued, "If we have to sell hardware we will. We have no reason to believe we're any good at it, it's more we think that we need to continue to have innovation and if the only way to get these kind of projects started is by us going and developing and selling the hardware directly then that's what we'll do. It's definitely not the first thought that crosses our mind; we'd rather hardware people that are good at manufacturing and distributing hardware do that. We think it's important enough that if that's what we end up having to do then thats what we end up having to do."
Given the runaway success of Steam, any hardware that Valve were to develop would almost certainly incorporate it to power its online services. Any home console that could manage to merge Steam with console gaming in a flexible and viable way would certainly give Sony and Microsoft a hefty run for their money.