Last week, Valve announced their latest attempt in the gaming hardware front, the Steam Deck, a portable PC with a built-in screen that is slated to start shipping this December. Although the reservation process may not have gone as smoothly as some would have liked, there’s undoubtedly plenty of curiosity and anticipation for the upcoming device, with the promise of being a more powerful Switch-like device that can supposedly handle nearly any game on Steam’s massive library. With so few people getting the chance to go hands on with it before launch, plenty of general questions surrounding comfort and battery life, among other topics, still remain, but there are a few specific questions that will be strong factors in determining whether or not the Steam Deck can live up to its lofty potential.
When will it run some of Steam’s most popular games?
By now, people familiar with the Steam Deck may be aware of some of the limitations of the operating system that the device comes built with. Although users have the option to install the more gaming-friendly Windows or any other operating system of their choice, the Steam Deck will operate using Linux out of the box, which primarily uses a feature called Proton to offer support to numerous Steam titles. Unfortunately, this does not include all of them, including some of the big juggernauts such as Destiny 2, Apex Legends, Rainbow Six: Siege and PUBG. Valve is already aware of this potential issue, claiming that they are “vastly improving Proton’s game compatibility” for the Deck on their official website, but the publisher does not provide a timeframe on when they expect these improvements to be implemented. Will some of the first people to get their hands on the Deck in late 2021 and early 2022 be unable to play some of Steam’s most popular games without installing an entirely new operating system? Only time will tell.
Since the Steam Deck is, for all intents and purposes, essentially a PC, players who prefer to spend their time playing online multiplayer games will primarily do so with other PC gamers, save for the small handful of games that support cross-play. This shouldn’t cause any clear issues for games that offer no clear advantages when playing on either controller or mouse and keyboard, but certain genres like FPSs and MOBAs have typically granted players an edge when playing with the latter control option. While the Steam Deck does support USB and Bluetooth compatible peripherals, using a mouse and keyboard on such a tiny screen may not seem like the ideal way to play for many, and the touchpads won’t offer the same level of precision as a proper mouse. This issue may be more easily averted when the planned dock for the Steam Deck is available for purchase and players can hook it up to the monitor or TV of their choice, but with no timetable set for its release, Deck owners may encounter setbacks when trying to compete with more traditional PC players.
Can Valve meet demand in a reasonable timeframe?
Valve has already made smart moves during the reservation process to push back against resellers and bots, ensuring that only Steam users who made their account before June 2021 were able to place an order for one in the first 48 hours of availability. The high demand for this new device could see it run into similar problems that the PS5 and Xbox Series X has encountered since they launched last year, however, where chip shortages have made it tough for Sony and Microsoft to keep up with the interest levels for their respective consoles. With impressions of the Deck likely to remain limited until the end of the year, prospective owners who do the responsible thing and wait to see how critics and consumers react to it once it’s out in the wild may have to wait until the second half of 2022 before they can get their own hands on one. With no clear end in sight to the ongoing chip shortages, one can only wait and hope that Valve’s estimated delivery windows don’t continue to slip beyond what is currently being advertised.
While Steam is undeniably the leader in the digital PC software space, Valve’s attempts at producing hardware in recent years have not been quite as successful. Back in 2014, Valve announced plans to release Steam Machines, a more compact PC that was backed by numerous hardware developers and promised the same ease of plug-and-play as traditional consoles. Ultimately, these devices were nowhere near as flexible as the Deck is attempting to be, making it tough to run some of Steam’s biggest games due to the limitations of the earlier versions of the SteamOS, leading to a relatively short lifespan for the platform. Valve’s first attempt at a controller was met with wider praise the following year, but the Steam Controller was never as user-friendly as it needed to be, making it a hard sell when more traditional controllers were more widely available and worked with the vast majority of PC games. While one can hope that Valve has learned key lessons from these attempts at developing hardware over the years and implemented them to make the Deck a more promising purchase, it’s hard to have complete faith in the publisher until a larger number of people get their hands on the platform later this year.