Valve wants Steam users to rediscover their game catalogs with a major update to the TV-friendly Big Picture mode.
The new version is available now for Steam beta users, and is packed with design changes. Most noteworthy is a new library menu, which puts a much greater emphasis on friend activity and games you own but haven’t actually played yet. Valve has also revamped individual game pages and provided faster access to your own profile.
You can try the new mode out yourself by opening Steam > Settings, then going to the Account tab and hitting the Change button under the Beta Participation section. Select “Steam Beta Update,” then restart the software. Finally, switch to Big Picture mode through the View menu.
Why this matters: The Big Picture redesign comes just a couple months ahead of the first Steam Machines, a slew of PC-like consoles that run Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS software. By releasing the new version in beta now, Valve is likely aiming to put a polish on its TV interface in time for Steam Machines’ November 10 debut.
Digging through the backlog
Everything looks pretty much the same when you first launch Big Picture, with big buttons for Store, Library, Community, though there is now a fourth button here that takes you to your own profile. The Store appears to be unchanged for now.
When you open your Library, however, the entire interface is different. Instead of a sparse strip of recently-played titles, you’re given a grid view with quick access to recent games, all games, music, videos, and a handy local search option.
The main attraction, however, is the “Resume & Explore” section. Here, you’ll see any games you’ve played recently, games your friends are playing, and a random selection of games you haven’t played yet. Valve is essentially acknowledging users’ tendency to snag games on the cheap during Steam sales and promptly forget about them.
Individual game pages are looking new as well, with a much denser display of information. You no longer have to scroll around blindly to see friends who play, achievements, and DLC options.
If you haven’t used Steam Big Picture recently, you’ll also notice that the old radial keyboard design is gone. It was a clever approach, letting you use point the thumbstick toward groups of four letters, each mapped to one of your controller’s four face buttons. But for whatever reason, Valve has replaced it with a more traditional keyboard that surfaces search results as you type.
Overall, the new interface looks much more polished and easier to navigate. Elements that once seemed hastily grafted on from desktop mode now look like they are properly designed for the television. In a way, it’s more inviting than the regular version of Steam, so even desktop PC gamers might consider switching over.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.