Let's take a moment to appreciate the confusion in and around the gaming media right now, and say thanks once again to Valve for providing the entertainment. Many journalists have slapped their Cynical Hat on and assumed Valve are selling the standard 64Gb Steam Deck at a loss to emulate Sony's business model. A few have outright said that Valve's foray into mobile gaming in 2022 is going to be another Steam Machines debacle.
Forums and gaming magazines have lit up with opposing views flying in at a rate of knots. All this publicity has left consumers scratching their head when it comes to what the device is actually good for, besides the obvious Steam library goodness. Speaking of the Steam games library - the Steam Deck has been confirmed as working with over 80% of titles, but PCGamesN have been testing and say only only 10% of the top 100 games are fully incompatible, with the rest working with varying amounts of success.
Unexpected Steam Deck Reviews
The truth is, when it comes to features, the Steam Deck has been designed as if gamers were in the room and providing their input. Emulation, a gaming agnostic operating system, cloud gaming support, and the ability to play games from multiple platforms like Epic and Origin all speak volumes for Valve's R&D. Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer's quick review on Twitter also lent credibility, and a flurry of Game Pass related questions hit social media as he know doubt predicted.
Smart move, Phil. Mentioning Halo Infinite is an incisive move, considering how popular it is with gamers right now - and alluding to the Age of Empires usability is also a nod to the mouse pointer abilities of the Steam Deck. What this tweet did is turn the Steam Deck publicity into a bandwagon that Mr. Spencer is now able to co-drive. Let's face it, when they saw this tweet, the first thing Halo fans did was imagine themselves having a quick pick up and play, sat on the sofa playing a Big Team Battle.
It's not just Phil Spencer who got in on the bandwagon action, either.
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney praised the Steam Deck, appraising the device as an “amazing move”. This is despite the fact that the Steam is entirely a rival games marketplace, Epic Games Store. He added, “A handheld PC/console hybrid running the SteamOS fork of Arch Linux, and it’s an open platform where users are free to install software or their choosing – including Windows and other stores.”.
Other stores? Like the Epic Games Store, maybe, Tim?
Valve's Best Move Yet
Valve's move to allow other games stores on their device is not bold or brave, it is in fact the best move they could have made. They know that developers will immediately find a way round a closed platform, and this puts them on the back foot with the very people they are trying to impress - gamers.
By making the device an open platform, this has enabled Valve to keep Steam branding front and centre with players, and by the time they get through playing all the discounted Steam Deck compatible games we're no doubt going to see upon launch in February 2022, installing Xbox Game Pass, Origin or Epic Games Store will be put off for a while. Let's not forget Steam Next Fest is just around the corner.
Loss Leader Or Money Maker?
When it comes to the media's cynical view of the Steam Deck, there's more than enough reasons to assume Valve aren't making money on the device. Speaking to IGN, Gabe Newell said pricing was "painful" and Valve needed to be “very aggressive” on pricing the units, with price performance as “one of the critical factors in the mobile space”.
Absolutely. But is it painful enough to be losing them money? If they took a leaf out of Sony's console builders handbook, then the hundreds of thousands of reserved Steam Decks will cost Valve an exorbitant amount of cash in what could have been a runaway success story.
That said, the standard 64GB Steam Deck is priced with console and mobile gamers in mind, but the 256GB and 512GB options are a bit more realistic in price:
Steam Deck Pricing - Jan 2022
It certainly won't be long before Valve starts to recoup that loss, however, if that's the plan. Next Fest, Summer Sale and beyond will all see record figures in this writer's opinion, considering the amazing games we're going to be treated to this year via Steam.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
There seems to be a few things people have missed about the Steam Deck, however, and the incredible support from the gaming community for the handheld PC stroke console has focused a lot on the Steam library capabilities. In fact, there are lots of reasons to be happy about buying a Steam deck.
Let's Talk Emulation
Game emulation does not have a good reputation, but that doesn't stop millions of enthusiasts swapping RTX for blocky pixels on a regular basis, reliving the halcyon days of retro console gaming. One of the Steam Deck's greatest strengths in this market is the ability to install and run Windows on it, which allows emulators to be installed for every game system imaginable.
During a recent chat with PC Gamer, JMC4789, a contributor to the Dolphin GameCube/Wii emulator said “Unlike with a lot of the previous Steam hardware, I’m seeing a lot of engagement from our circles. I have a Steam Controller, and it’s… interesting. I have a Steam Link and it was… interesting. But this feels different in a way. The potential of the Steam Deck is really high. The hardware sounds too good to be true, but Valve can kind of get away with selling the hardware at a loss and banking on software sales. A mobile device that’s essentially a near gaming PC? If that’s what it is, then it’ll be great.”
As long as people are saying things like "potential" and asking questions outside of the Steam Deck's natural functionality, this ensures its success in lots of other areas, which translates into longevity and migration from rival handhelds or traditional mobile gaming.
It's Basically A Little PC
Besides the fact you can hook a keyboard and mouse up to the Steam Deck, there's also the fact that you're basically holding a powerful PC in your hands that is not just for playing games.
Valve's own marketing states: "Steam Deck is a powerful handheld gaming PC that delivers the Steam games and features you love."
So, let's also factor in the ability to chat on Discord, check your Twitter account, operate spreadsheets and email, and the other myriad of uses a PC has. The business model that Google and Apple excel in, where they make transitioning between mobile, desktop and laptop feel natural has not been successful for any company so far when it comes to gaming. A console is basically just about games... but the Steam Deck bridges that gap and allows you to do everything you want to do on the move.
Steam Deck Works On Your TV
Obviously, the most significant feature here is that you can go from mobile to static very quickly. By plugging the Steam Deck into your TV and hooking up a controller, you are able to unclutter your gaming space, or just play anywhere, however you want. Nintendo Switch owners have found this most rewarding, as my Switch-owning friends have told me. Being able to just plug it natively into a TV or monitor and play games in high resolution is an awesome (and obvious) feature.
Steam Deck on TV
For those who have been on the sidelines with Xbox Series X or PS5, this might open up a new method of gaming. Similarly, for space-restricted gamers who share a room with siblings or roommates, there's nothing more appealing than having a portable gaming console that will also work on the big screen with the minimum of fuss.
Big Screen On The Little Screen
Whilst Microsoft finally got their wish of becoming an entertainment system, bringing Netflix screaming into the cloud TV world, Valve may also have positioned themselves perfectly in the streaming gold rush. The 7-inch 1280 x 800 screen is perfect for watching streaming shows and movies on the move, and will be fully capable on release. If you install Windows on your Steam Deck, then you have a plethora of apps to choose from, too. It's still bad news for Switch owners; four years after release and they still can't Netflix and chill.
Netflix Support On Steam Deck
There are innumerable uses cases for the Steam Deck, and that is what will set it apart from the rest of the crowd who have - let's face it - not really thought about anything other than gaming on handhelds. There are some incredible things you could do with your Steam Deck, such as: -
- Robotics Operator Console
- Drone Controller
- Secondary Touchscreen Monitor
- Dockable Karaoke Machine
- DJ Console
- Video Conferencing
- Live Streaming to YouTube
- Steam Remote Play Together for LAN parties
If you can list more than two things other than gaming, then Valve are doing something very unique in the space, so it will be an awesome story to watch unfold in the next few years. Hopefully, just like VR, others will take note of what works, and we can see more from mobile and portable devices than ever before.