Mar 1, 2022 - Technology

Interview: Valve on the making of Steam Deck

A woman plays a handheld gaming device while standing near a busy highway.
Photo: Valve

Valve designer Greg Coomer hopes the ambitious new Steam Deck can fill a void in the “insufficient” portable PC gaming landscape.

Driving the news: The Deck now makes Valve, already a highly influential company in gaming, a hardware platform owner with all the responsibility that comes with it.

  • In a wide-ranging interview, Coomer tells Axios about many of the decisions that have shaped the device.

The name is an “allusion to the form factor,” Coomer says, and suggests skateboarding, sci-fi slang and other things Valve people like.

  • A key factor was screen size and the need to make Steam games that were designed primarily to be viewed on a monitor readable, Coomer says. The size of the battery and cooling systems factored in too.
  • Valve wasn’t prepared to ship multiple colors and felt black was the easiest one to debut.

Game compatibility checks: Valve has said it would check every game in the Steam game library (50,000+ games and counting), to see if it will run well on the Deck. So far, it's only managed to check about 1,000 games.

  • “It’s a daunting task,” Coomer says of the hand-checked process, which assesses things like text readability. Valve prioritized checking games that were popular among people who pre-ordered the Deck.
  • The company will review whether it is going too slow or needs to "invent some other way of evaluating games.”

Not a recommendation system: The compatibility check is not a sign that Valve is gearing up to review and recommend games on Deck or Steam overall, Coomer said.

  • The company leans on users’ curation pages and player reviews to raise awareness of games.
  • “But Valve, as an entity that cordons off a special section of the store that is something that's editorialized by us as games that are good, No, we're still not really interested in doing that,” Coomer said.

Some games won’t run (easily) on Steam Deck, including big ones like Epic’s Fortnite and Bungie’s Destiny 2.

  • Fortnite isn’t in Steam and would have to be programmed to run on the Deck's Linux-based operating system. But Epic’s Tim Sweeney has said Epic won’t allow it because of concerns about applying anti-cheat systems on Linux.
  • “Fortnite is a great game,” Coomer says. “We hope Epic wants their games to run on Steam Deck. They can if they want to and if they choose to do that.”

No big Valve games … yet: Valve released a surprise video game “short” today called Aperture Desk Job. It’s designed to show how the Steam Deck’s controls work.

  • Valve emphasizes that it’s “not Portal 3” (though it’s set in the same world as Valve’s hallowed franchise).
  • Long celebrated as one of the top studios in the business, Valve rarely releases new games and had no big launch title for Deck.
  • But, Coomer confirms: “There are multiple games in development right now at Valve, and I think they're pretty exciting ones.”

What's next: Valve wants there to be future versions of the hardware but hasn't nailed down how that will work.

  • The company is weighing a rolling update model with “monolithic updates,” Coomer said.
  • “We don't have a completely ironed-out plan for the cadence of the hardware updates.”
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