Xi3's Piston product plagued by controversy

March 13, 2013 // 9:14 a.m.

Tags: #doug-lombardi #jason-a-sullivan #modular-computer #piston #steam-box #valve #xi3 #xi3-piston

Xi3's announcement that it is taking pre-orders for the Piston compact gaming PC appears to have rattled cages at Valve, with the company taking the time to formally distance itself from what was once claimed to be a major partner in the Steam Box project.

When Xi3's Piston prototype hardware, based on the company's existing Modular Computer concept, was spotted at the Valve stand at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year, numerous news outlets jumped to the conclusion that the company had been contracted to produce Valve's long-awaited Steam Box console-cum-computer product. This conceptual leap wasn't exactly hindered by a vaguely-worded press release from Xi3 which stated that Xi3 had 'received investment from Valve Corporation,' while failing to detail exactly what form that investment had taken.

Indeed, alarm bells should have started ringing the instant the company claimed that 'no additional details about Xi3's new system or Valve's investment in Xi3 will be released at this time,' - and when Valve confirmed that Xi3 was not producing the Steam Box, but merely one Steam Box of many, that left a lot of news outlets with egg on their collective faces.

But, while its original tactics for receiving mainstream press attention may have been a trifle questionable, there's no denying that Xi3 is going ahead with its plan to produce a Steam-based compact gaming PC, having started taking pre-orders for the $1,000 device earlier this week following an announcement at the South By South West (SXSW) event. Running Windows with a custom shell over the top, rather than the tweaked version of Ubuntu Linux planned by Valve's own Steam Box, the device commands a high premium for packing some decidedly under-powered components into an admittedly compact chassis - and that high price appears to have attracted attention from Valve itself.

Speaking to Eurogamer, Valve's Doug Lombardi has broken silence to formally deny any link to Xi3's Piston console. 'Valve began some exploratory work with Xi3 last year,' he admitted, 'but currently has no involvement in any product of theirs.' For a company that has boasted of Valve's 'investment' and which has gone to great lengths to position its product as an official Steam Box, that's a major blow.

Xi3, however, tells a different story - and this is where the story takes a twist, with founder and chief executive officer Jason A. Sullivan issuing a statement defending his company's original press release. 'We reaffirm the fact that we received an investment from Valve Corporation - as we previously disclosed during the 2013 International CES trade show - and we did so with Valve's written permission,' he claimed - while still refusing to detail exactly what form that investment took. 'Gabe Newell personally asked me that we not disclose additional information about our relationship with Valve. We have honoured that request and will continue to do so. That said, there are other items we need to cover,' Sullivan continued.

'We were asked to build a product specifically for Valve, and both companies showcased this product - the Piston Console - in their respective booths at CES 2013. the assumption of many in the media has been that Piston is the 'official' Steam Box. We've never said that and neither has Valve. That hasn't changed. But just because Valve may not 'currently' have any 'involvement with any product of (ours)' doesn't mean that such involvement won't exist in the future.

'It's also important to note that the Piston Console will allow gamers to access Steam regardless of what our relationship is or isn't with Valve. Additionally, Piston will also support a raft of other Internet-based gaming and entertainment platforms, which is more than what Valve apparently has planned for its official Steam Box. In this way, the Piston Console could be perceived as something more than just a Steam Box, which makes sense because at its core the Piston Console is a Modular Computer that can run any operating system or application designed to run on an x86-based 64-bit computer.

'Contrary to Valve's vision, Xi3 believes that the way to take this to market today is to do so with a Windows OS at the core, coupled with the ability to not just get to one platform/store for games, but to get access to all game stores/platforms. Studios should have the option to go through Steam if they choose or to go direct to the end-user if they so choose. That will be the difference between Piston and other Steam Boxes. You'll be able to access Steam if you choose, but you'll also be able to access other platforms as well-all through the Piston Console.
'

While its high-priced not-a-Steam-Box Piston may have riled Valve, Xi3 is confident it's on the right track. 'We have opened Piston Console pre-orders and have been amazed at the interest and amount of pre-orders we have received thus far. This just reaffirms to us our decision to open pre-orders, because we are seriously concerned we will not be able to meet the demand for Piston Consoles for the 2013 holiday season.'

In conclusion, Sullivan had some fighting words for the company it once hoped to woo with its Modular Computer technology: 'In closing, what Valve does or doesn't do with its Steam Box will be up to them. So Gabe, it's up to you. The ball is in your court.'

Thus far, Valve has not responded to Xi3's loquacious statement, but one thing is clear: there has either been a serious breakdown in communication, or the company's relationship has taken a major nosedive since the Piston was outed at the Consumer Electronics Show.
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