The new handheld video game console in the market this month is different from other handheld video game consoles released in your lifetime. It’s the Steam Deck. It’s a console, but it’s also a PC. It is a contradiction in terms. It’s the culmination of a long and fascinating story on the other side – the PC side – of video game culture.
Eighteen years ago, video game developer Valve, renowned for the sci-fi shooter series half life, launched the PC gaming platform Steam. Initially, Steam ran updates for physical copies of Counter-Strike and other games developed by Valve. Over time, Valve opened up Steam to other developers and turned the platform into a digital marketplace. Now, Steam hosts a wide variety of games to buy and play in a common interface. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony have also developed digital platforms for their respective consoles, and while these platforms host many cross-platform titles, they also provide a sense of curation and branding. You will never confuse PlayStation Store with Nintendo eShop.
In contrast, Steam, for better or worse, publishes everything under the sun. Steam host scams. Steam Hosts Porn. Steam Hosts Hunt down the free man, an unauthorized and disastrous spin-off from Valve Half Life 2. This is the freedom of the PC. It’s the freedom of Steam. It is the largest library of video games on PC. It is the largest library of video games overall. Thus, Steam has become the de facto capital of modern computer gaming. Valve is now the informal authority, ruling the space for over a decade before developing a single piece of hardware.
Now that has changed. In recent years, Valve has developed the Steam Machine home console, the Steam Controller, the Steam Link streaming gadget and the Valve Index headset for virtual reality: each element is designed to expand the Steam library of desktop monitors to new frontiers. multimedia. It’s been a rough product line so far. The Valve Index is a modest success; it’s well-reviewed with a much higher price tag and much lower sales than Meta’s Oculus Quest 2. But commercially, the rest of these products failed for various reasons. The steam engine supported too few games. The Steam controller, while a cult favorite in some circles, required too much acclimatization and customization compared to a standard console controller. Nevertheless, Valve has re-engaged in hardware development.
The Steam Deck supports a much wider variety of games than the Steam Machine could handle. The Steam Deck sorts the Steam library into categories: Verified (“it works”), Playable (“it probably works”), Unsupported (“it doesn’t work — yet”), and Unknown. The Steam Deck runs larger games than you might expect from a portable console; Ring of Eldena 60GB open-world game also available on next-gen home consoles, is Deck Verified.
It’s hard to overstate the advancement here. We are talking about a portable video game console. you are supposed to play Pokemon and animal crossing on these things!
Valve announced the Steam Deck a year after the coronavirus pandemic began. It was a tricky time to tout the portability of a handheld console. Granted, Switch sales surged despite supply shortages at the start of the pandemic, but demand was likely less for portability and more for Switch-exclusive games. There’s a much smaller target audience for the Steam Deck, which primarily appeals to PC gamers who already own multiple titles through Steam. The Steam Deck is not a gateway to PC gaming, but rather a physical extension of it. It now plays a strange role in the console market. In theory, it competes with the Switch, the hottest handheld console on the planet, but its specs are more like the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5. Still, it’s far more customizable than the major consoles. . The Steam Deck runs Valve’s proprietary SteamOS, but you can also install Windows.
The device is unlikely to convert many users from console to PC, especially at such a high price ($399) for the base model. The Switch launched at $299, and Nintendo is now selling the Switch Lite for $199. And speaking of “lite,” the various Switch models each weigh less than a pound; the Steam Deck, with its better specs and bulkier profile, weighs a pound and a half. The Steam Deck risked the unflattering comparison to Sega’s Game Gear, the ancient handheld console that once rivaled Nintendo’s Game Boy with superior colors and lighting, but unfortunately burned through a dozen AA batteries a week (not to mention of the Game Boy’s lower price, slimmer profile, and superior library). Finally, note the limited version of the Steam Deck, only launching in the US, Canada, UK and EU at the moment, compared to the worldwide availability of the Switch.
But Valve is not reacting to Nintendo and the Switch. Valve is trying to solve a problem with its own market. In the late 2000s, laptop computers overtook desktop computers in global market share. You might think that laptops already offer a measure of portability for PC video games, but in reality, laptops, especially “gaming laptops”, are the worst of both worlds: they are less powerful and less usable than desktop computers, but even less so. portable than handhelds and smartphones, and they’re relatively expensive for the compromised specs you get. Thus, the reduced market share for desktop computers means a reduced area for PC games. Hence the Steam Deck. It’s a game-changing proposition. It’s also a bit daring. Do you really, really want to see Ring of Elden Where Cyberpunk 2077 scaled down to a 7-inch screen and limited to as little as two hours of playback on a full battery? Some of you must have shivered reading this. This was until now an unthinkable question with prohibitively expensive answers. This is why portable gaming PCs up to the Steam Deck were a niche market. That’s why Nintendo has prioritized convenience over performance in each of its handheld consoles, from the Game & Watch to the Switch. Valve asked: “¿Por que no los dos?“Now we are free to find out.
It was one thing for then-console maker Sega to compete with Nintendo in the handheld console segment in the 1990s. It’s another thing for Valve, until recently a software company with no interest in the wars of consoles, to invite comparison of the Steam Deck and the Switch in 2022. The Switch, being both portable and dockable, is not a secondary product for the handheld market. It is Nintendo’s flagship console in the eighth generation. He travels well. He connects his screen to a television. It has a slim profile with detachable controllers. He works The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. What more could you want? Well, for starters, you might want a handheld console that doesn’t ignite on contact with the internet. Online, the Switch sucks for any more complicated use case than buying games from the Nintendo eShop. The Switch isn’t really designed for all that recent “metaverse” talk. It’s not about this life. And if the Steam Deck was ultimately not up to the commercial comparison with the Switch? Someone needs to challenge Nintendo and bring handheld gaming into the 2020s. Maybe it’s Valve.
The Steam Deck is an open question about the future of PC video games. It’s still a bit difficult to express what “bringing PC gaming to a portable console” means. Aren’t the terms “PC” and “console” mutually exclusive? Yes and no. It is complicated. Windows is a platform and Xbox is a platform, but “PC” is a culture, and so is “console”. PC gaming is a culture of customization, variety, a certain level of excitement and freedom. Console gaming is a culture of normalization, conservation, ease and order. Although firmly rooted in the first column, Valve has always wanted to play it both ways. Now, the Steam Deck docks right in the middle of those accolades.