Do we need the Steam Deck?
Everybody and their mom has heard of Steam’s upcoming portable console/PC hybrid by now, and if you wanted to preorder one, you’re already out of luck, you’ll probably have to wait until late 2022.
The question that’s on everyone’s lips right now is whether the device will be successful or not, in the long run.
TL,DR: experts have some healthy doubts given Valve’s track record with hardware. Some think it is a poor alternative for either a handled console or a beefier gaming PC (pick your side and stick to it instead of settling for something that’s bad at both). Others think it fills a particular gaming laptop niche for an attractive price.
Yes, the Steam Deck seems to be selling like hot cakes, but as I recall, similar hype has surrounded other Valve initiatives such as the Steam Link and the Steam Machines at launch, only for these products to flop. Don’t get me wrong, I know people who still have them love their Steam Link, but those have definitely remained a niche product.
Valve are certainly trying to fit a niche market again: The Steam Deck, despite its form factor, is not in direct competition with the Switch. It won’t have any of Nintendo’s exclusives (and don’t be deluded into thinking that running Yuzu on the device will give you the “right” experience). But it is technically a gaming “laptop” at an affordable price. How people will respond to that (beyond the initial hype) will depend on a few things.
Steam Deck – What the press are saying
The Verge say that the Steam Deck will succeed. In essence, they say that Valve has the game catalog and the money to make this thing great. In particular the device will be able to run most Steam games, which was not the case of the Steam Machines. The Verge also emphasize that Valve have the manpower and money to make this a great device, unlike a lot of the “crowdfunded” portable game devices that have seen the light of day in the past decade. In other words, just because your favorite crowdfunded portable gaming device failed miserably last year, doesn’t necessary mean the Steam Deck will see the same fate. They do note that the Steam Deck is priced like a high end console, without having near the processing power of the PS5 or the new Xbox.
IGN are impressed at the level of effort Valve have been putting into the hardware, but also into a SteamOS redesign, to ensure the Steam Deck will be as easy to use as a console, but also as flexible as a PC [personal take: the risk here is that they go get both wrong]. They also emphasize the contrast with the “walled garden” approach of consoles, while the Steam Deck will let people customize it with existing Linux/Proton tools, or even wipe it out and install a different OS. They have a full article on how Valve are doing their best to avoid the “drift” issues that plague a lot of console controllers. [personal take: the article explains nothing, and Valve’s console will probably suffer from the same drift issues as all consoles, unless they can prove they’re using different components than everybody else.]
Cnet call out that Valve don’t have the best track record when it comes to hardware. They also remind us that the battery life of the device is “up to 8 hours”, with the example that portal 2 can be played for “up to 4 hours”. The Steam Deck is a device to play on your bed, your sofa, or your toilet. Not something you would often take with you on a train or other long trip.
GameInformer share a list of games that will not work on the Steam Deck. A lot of AAA listers in there, mostly online multiplayer games, possibly because their required anti-cheat layer is not compatible with the SteamOS/Proton/Linux environment.
Games you cant play on Steam Deck (list from GameInformer)
- Apex Legends
- Black Desert Online
- Dead by Daylight
- Destiny 2
- Fall Guys
- Hunt: Showdown
- PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)
- Rainbow Six Siege
Writers at Kotaku share multiple concerns. One being that only games optimized for a controller experience will feel nice to play on the device, a second being that the device will be heavy enough to be uncomfortable to use for long periods of time. They emphasize Valves failed hardware attempts in the past. One of the writers compares it to “a handheld PC with a so-so battery and meh-quality screen”, which I think is a very valid concern. The thing could end up collecting us faster than we realize. Other folks at the Kotaku staff however feel that the convenience of being able to play from the couch or the bed is the key selling point of the Steam Deck, and what they are excited about. They point out that this makes it a very affordable gaming laptop, even if everything else fails.
One Kotaku staff mentions that gaming handled PCs already exist, and this is not a novelty. They don’t see how the Steam Deck will truly differentiate itself from this market [Again here, what could make a difference is the level of support Valve offers for the machine in the long run.]
Will the hacking Scene need the Steam Deck?
As far as hacking is concerned, this is where I’m interested to see where things will go.
As we’ve mentioned above, the Steam Deck’s form factor makes us want to intuitively put it into the “portable console” category. The hacking scene loves these devices. But in practice, this will be a PC, and Valve have already confirmed that people can install Windows on it if they want to. I’m sure we’ll see some Linux ports – beyond SteamOS, that is – as well (and some reverse engineering of some of the drivers will be requires there, if Valve don’t provide the info – or the linux port – themselves), but as far as “hacking” is concerned, well… there would be no point in writing “homebrews” or “reverse engineer” anything beyond that.
So, certainly, there will be a community of hackers and tinkerers coming up with tools and software for the Steam Deck, but in my opinion they will not be the same crowd as our usual suspects on the Sony/Nintendo scenes.
It doesn’t mean I’m not excited for the Steam Deck. It’s a very intriguing device, and honestly I just wish they had it up for preorders here in Japan. I could see it replacing my aging gaming laptop, in particular with a deck that would still let me use it as a regular PC for the occasional work related task.
Are you excited about the Steam Deck? Did you manage to snatch one in pre-order?