Since handheld video games have existed, Nintendo has been leading the way.
Since the Game Boy (hell, since Game & Watch), the company has shown unparalleled dominance in the portable gaming space. With the Nintendo Switch, this continues to stay true. Every game company that has released a competing handheld—many arguably better than whatever Nintendo system was current—the king would always reign supreme.
Atari, Sega, Sony—all of these companies released technically impressive game systems, but all were overshadowed by the old master.
Will Valve be different?
Rumblings of Valve releasing a Switch-like portable gaming PC have been going around for the past few months. Often referred to as the SteamPal (thank god they changed the name), the device was hyped up to be something that would change the gaming market forever. Something that could make Nintendo sweat.
That device is now here.
With the Steam Deck, Valve has brought out every trick to give the Switch a run for its money. It’s designed to run a vast array of games on the Steam platform through Linux. Additionally, the Deck has a dizzying amount of control options—touchscreens, trackpads, gyroscopes. Oh my! And with the cheapest version priced at $399, it’s cost-competitive with the Switch—while having stronger hardware, more storage, and cheaper games.
Valve has done almost everything in their power to make a competitive system with the Switch.
Have they really though? It’s hard to say. On one hand, we must applaud the effort that Valve has made here—and has made for years. From the Steam Machine, to the Steam Controller, to now this, Valve is one of the only game companies of its size to make big moves like this and try to innovate in the space. More need to follow suit. At the same time, it’s really difficult seeing this thing compete with the Switch. The Atari Lynx, Sega Game Game, and PlayStation Portable were all remarkable pieces of hardware for the time. It didn’t prevent Nintendo from brutalizing all of them.
The Switch has so many things going for it. Not only with its plethora of exclusive titles, but the fact that so many games are ported to it and optimized for it. The Switch’s storage in the base model (which will be the model most consumers will purchase, unless you’re super committed to getting the second model’s carrying case) at 64GB is pretty limited, and won’t be able to store that many big games.
In fact, it’s difficult seeing the Deck capable of running many AAA games. While its hardware is better than the Switch’s, it’s still not at the level—a problem that will only get worse with time.
The biggest priority Valve needs to have though, is making sure the Steam Deck has a good “killer app." That has always been Nintendo’s advantage over the competition. With titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Super Mario Odyssey, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—while the Deck can certainly compete with the Switch as an indie machine and an emulator, Valve needs to put out some real show stopper games to come out on top.
Take a look at this list of the current most popular games on Steam:
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Dota 2
- Source SDK Base 2013 Multiplayer
- Apex Legends
- PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS
- Team Fortress 2
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Dead by Daylight
- Rocket League
- Football Manager 2021
- Total War: WARHAMMER II
- ARK: Survival Evolved
- Destiny 2
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege
Out of all 15 of those, maybe two or three of them you would maybe want to play on the Deck over a mouse and keyboard. Playing Counter-Strike on the go is like trying to meditate drunk. Yeah, you’re adding something fun to the equation but you’re adding it to something that needs your full attention.
It’s not like Valve is incapable of producing some exclusive titles. Half-Life: Alyx was a fantastic benchmark game that definitely pushed more interest in VR gaming. What’s worrying though, is that the Half-Life franchise fits perfectly with VR.
In fact, most of Valve’s franchises could do well in VR (probably due to the fact that most of them are first-person titles). Can you really say the same about the Steam Deck? Can we really expect an incredible new Counter-Strike or Portal game to come out on the system? It’s hard to see any of their franchises that will do well on the system. Not something that would be better playing with a mouse and keyboard.
If Valve does everything right, the Steam Deck might be the best handheld console available. It had the price point, hardware, and accessibility all in its favor. However, Valve needs to do something they’ve never done before—make compelling portable titles to encourage most people to buy it over the Switch. They just might pull it off.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.