Portable PC gaming's moment arrives with Valve's Steam Deck
One of PC gaming’s top companies is making one of its biggest bets with today’s launch of the Steam Deck.
Why it matters: Valve hopes Steam Deck can make portable high-end PC gaming a lasting thing.
- It’s “the beginning of a new category,” one of Steam Deck’s project leads, Greg Coomer, tells Axios.
- And it’s one that Valve will “be developing and iterating on for a long time to come,” he says.
The details: The Steam Deck ($300-$650) is a powerful portable, a bit larger than a Nintendo Switch but similar in design: a screen flanked by the inputs of a game controller.
- Its face includes a “Steam” button, signaling its capacity to smoothly launch Valve’s Steam store and any customer’s library of games.
- Not all run on Steam Deck–a slow, manual compatibility test is underway, which Coomer estimates has checked about 1,000 games so far. But a great many do, including today’s hot release Elden Ring, Sony’s PlayStation 4 ports Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War, and piles of indie games.
- It’s also kept the system open, letting users of the Linux-based device switch to a desktop to install apps and even other operating systems, such as Windows.
Between the lines: Valve is a software company first, maker of acclaimed games and operator of Steam, the dominant online PC gaming marketplace.
- Its efforts with hardware have had middling success, at best.
- The Valve-backed line of gaming PCs called Steam machines was discontinued years ago.
- Its Index virtual reality headset has impressed, but, like all VR gear, remains relatively niche.
Origin story: Valve had been considering a portable PC for a while, Coomer says, but had to wait until chip development led to a viable intersection of processing muscle and low energy conception.
- “We spun the effort up and gained all the confidence about three years ago that we were actually going to be able to ship it.”
Our impressions: I’ve dabbled with the Steam Deck for a couple of weeks and consider it a revelation.
- The ability to play high-end PC games and quirky indies from my bed or while relaxing is as refreshing as it was to first play Nintendo’s best franchises on a Switch.
- That makes the occasional discovery of an incompatible game–Destiny 2 doesn’t currently run on it–disappointing.
- Navigating its menus is a little clunky, but daily firmware improvements have helped.
What’s next: Steam Deck, as with most hardware launched in this pandemic, will be supply-constrained for a while.
- “We're going to be ramping up as the year goes on into very high volumes, but it's not going to start that way,” Coomer said.