Diecast Unplugged #7: The Steam Machine Reboot

By Shamus Posted Monday Jul 19, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 111 comments

My editor is on the road this weekend, which means I don’t have anyone to take our weekly podcast and wrangle the audio into something presentable. So no podcast. We might not get one next weekend either. The young people are making the plans around here lately, which means everything is disorganized last-minute chaos.

I really envy them sometimes.

At any rate, let’s talk about…

Why Valve Needs the Steam Deck

Thumbsticks AND trackpads AND face buttons. I'm not sure I have enough thumbs for this device.
Thumbsticks AND trackpads AND face buttons. I'm not sure I have enough thumbs for this device.

Remember the Steam Machine? That was Valve’s attempt to make a “console” for PC games. It didn’t work out, and I figured that was the end of it. But no. Valve is trying again, this time with a Switch-esque device called the Steam Deck.

Paradoxically, I think this effort is probably doomed and yet I’m glad to see that Valve is still trying. They’re continuing to invest in Proton, a compatibility tool for getting Windows-targeted games running on Linux.

Microsoft is in a weird place right now.  Apple is apparently the third most profitable company on the planet. Sure, Microsoft is #4.  But the secret to Apple’s income is that their platform (the iPhone) is a walled garden and they get a cut of every single transaction performed on the device. There are about 1 billion iPhones in use today. Meanwhile, there are about 1.3 billion Windows 10 users. Microsoft is being used on more devices, yet Microsoft trails Apple in income to the tune of $15 billion.

But Shamus! You’re comparing mobile phones to desktop installs. There are different platforms, with different income models, for different user bases with using different usage patterns. This is a nonsensical comparison!

I agree. But we also know that companies are guilty of a lot of nonsensical corporate dick-measuring. If there’s an executive meeting next week and some soft-brained doofus asks, “Why are we making less than Apple when we have more users?” we know it won’t be the stupidest thing ever uttered in the Microsoft conference room.


Link (YouTube)

The point I’m getting at is that having a locked-down platform with a single storefront might look really attractive to someone at Microsoft.

“Hey guys, I just ran the numbers. It turns out that if we controlled access to Windows the way that Apple controls access to iPhone, and if we assume that such control would have no negative impact on our userbase and we also assume that consumers and manufacturers won’t flee to competing operating systems, including earlier versions of Windows, and if we further assume that our storefront can capture a similar percent of all software transactions even though enterprise packages and productivity software have radically different economic models compared to phone apps, then by my calculations we would make $LOLEFFYOU billions every year!”

Imagine if Microsoft made the Microsoft Store the only way of getting new software on Windows, and so all software sales had to go through them. Sure, tech-savvy users could “jailbreak” their desktops, but a lot of non-technical people wouldn’t be able to make that leap. In response to PC gamer backlash, Microsoft responds with “Get an Xbox!”

It doesn’t matter if the plan makes sense. It only matters if Microsoft thinks it makes sense. If they ever decided to seriously pursue something like this, it would be a huge threat to Steam. Even if it ultimately failed, Microsoft could still make life very unpleasant for the folks at Valve software for a few years.

I’ll admit this scenario doesn’t seem likely. But it’s not impossible. If I wore Gabe Newell‘s shoes, this would be the scenario that kept me up at night. I’d be very happy to pour money into projects like Proton that would give me additional options when dealing with a threat like this.

So What About the Steam Deck?

The problem with the Steam machine was that it was basically a gaming console for the price of a desktop PC. You were giving up the functionality of a PC, but you didn’t seem to be getting anything in return in terms of more power or a lower price. There were certainly use cases for a Steam Machine, but all of those use cases could be covered by a desktop PC.

For contrast,  the Steam Deck really does do something you can’t do with a desktop PC. At $400, it’s competitive with the other gaming consoles in terms of price. And if you get the dock, then you have a portable gaming machine that can become a “desktop PC” type deal. Or to look at it from the other direction, it’s a desktop PC that can become a Switch-like portable gaming device.

I work from home and I don’t really travel so I don’t need something like this, but if I travelled or had a daily commute, the Steam Deck seems like a really sensible option. I can play games on the road, and then I can come home and stick it in the dock for a more traditional mouse + keyboard + monitor experience.

The Steam Deck will begin shipping this December. It’ll be interesting to see how it does.

Sandy of Cthulhu


Link (YouTube)

This week I discovered the YouTube channel Sandy of Cthulhu, by id Software alumnus Sandy Petersen. During his time at id, Petersen contributed to Doom, Doom II, Quake, and a bit of Quake II. Beyond that, he also contributed to Sid Meier’s Pirates! (1989), Civilization (1991), and all three Age of Empires games (1997-2006). Whenever people talk about the history of early shooters, they usually focus on superstar names like John Carmack, John Romero, Adrian Carmack, and American McGee. Guys like Sandy Petersen, Michael Abrash, Tom Hall, and Kevin Cloud often get glossed over because of the show-stealing interpersonal drama between the big names.

Petersen was also a designer for Lightspeed (1990) a game I played obsessively in the summer of 1991 and then never touched again. Over the next couple of decades I watched as it sort of vanished from history.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone reference the game since I played it, even though I thought it had a couple of interesting ideas.

Anyway, Sandy’s channel is worth a look if you want some behind-the-scenes stuff on those early games. He’s more focused on the design than the drama, which is cool because, again, I think the “Boy John Romero sure was a wildcard back in the 90s!” story has been told enough times.

 


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111 thoughts on “Diecast Unplugged #7: The Steam Machine Reboot

  1. WarlockOfOz says:

    I think the Steam Deck has got a better chance than Steam Machines had, enough so that I’ve reserved one and am expecting to go ahead once I’m able to order.
    That’s more-or-less replacing a low end gaming laptop purchase that I had been intending to make near the end of the year in order to be able to play when unable to use the desktop (travelling, in bed, kids using it…). It’s substantially cheaper and more portable than even a basic gaming laptop and they’re promising ‘whole steam library’ (I don’t actually expect them to reach that, but i already have a few games that are a pain to run on modern windows and a spare windows licence in a pinch.)
    In terms of overall success it’s not going to topple the switch but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t carve a niche. This time around there’s actual hardware that Valve is making themselves, the OS is in far better shape and the price is keen.

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      It would definitely be interesting to see how it all plays out, unlike the previous Steam Machines, this one may have a chance.

      Also it’s nice that Valve created Proton so Windows games could actually be played on SteamOS, I remember the Linux exclusivity being a major hurdle.

    2. tmtvl says:

      I want one not for playing games (after all, I have a GameBoy Advance), but for taking my computing on the go. It seems like a super-powered GDP Pocket.

      The Deck may even ship before the Pyra, so it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast them.

      1. RFS-81 says:

        How long has that thing been in pre-order? I’ve had a look at the Pyra years ago and it seemed to be at the same stage where it is now.

      2. Whisky Tango Foxtrot says:

        I already got my Pyra.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Yeah, I’ve heard that some units had shipped, mine is still floating in limbo, but that’s fine, I don’t mind waiting for quality.

        2. RFS-81 says:

          Why do they say on the website that they have prototypes when they’re already shipping products?

      3. Chris P says:

        The ability to easily unplug a functional computer from a monitor mouse keyboard and carry it out of the house or to another room is appealing. The obvious reply is “Just get a laptop” so I dreamt up a few reasons to prefer this:
        -Touch screen
        -Smaller size
        -Minimalism
        -Better relative gaming performance in price bracket
        -Built in gaming hardware with joysticks and buttons and touchpads

        I could imagine a market of people who install Windows on this thing and use it for productivity.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Something, something, blue screen joke. That said, having Emacs and a decent Lisp available everywhere I go will really help for those “oh, I’ve got a flash of inspiration, but I don’t have a computer on hand,” moments.

          1. Chris P says:

            It feels like a thing to casually carry around the house – or world – and toss around with a bit of impunity. Always on hand and minimal worry about breaking the screen hinge or worse. Something in my brain just insists that it answers a major question that few were asking; sort of like the iPhone.

        2. Philadelphus says:

          I too feel like I have to justify getting one to some hypothetical “just get a laptop” response, and I feel the same way: I’ve had a laptop in the past (and have one for work at the moment), and it just doesn’t inspire the same feelings. I’ve never thought how nice it would be to curl up on the couch with my laptop and play a game, because trying to control pretty much any game with the inbuilt keyboard and trackpad would be less than fun. A laptop is a great portable machine for plugging in a mouse (which is where it kinda overlaps with the Deck, a bit, though that’s definitely more portable), but it’s not something I’m going to get out on a long airplane flight to play on (I’ve tried that, just did not work).

          Linux is great for productivity too. ;) (Though I’d probably only do that if I was taking it with me on a trip, I’d use my desktop for productivity stuff usually.)

  2. Infinitron says:

    Eh, I think Sandy Petersen and especially Tom Hall are about as well known as Adrian Carmack and American McGee.

    1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      They’re really really not.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Based on which ones I’ve heard of, they’re not.

        1. Gautsu says:

          But name those other names in the table top sphere, and they are all eclipsed by Petersen

      2. Chris says:

        Tom Hall worked on rise of the triad and joined romero at ion storm. He didn’t fall of the map. When i read masters of doom I felt romero and john carmack are the biggest characters, with the hall and adrian carmack being at equal level of eachother and close behind romero/Jcarmack. Hall of course suffered from being let go before Doom released, his game at ion storm coming out after diakatana (when everyone already wrote ion storm off) and generally seeming to have bad luck.

        Of course McGee later made the Alice in wonderland games on his own. I have no idea what Hall did after ion storm

    2. bobbert says:

      Isn’t Sandy Peterson mostly famous as the guy that made the bad doom maps?

      1. Rob says:

        I only know him as the namesake of Into Sandy’s City, one of my favorite tracks in the Doom II OST.

        1. bobbert says:

          Man, I had forgotten how good DOOM’s music was.

          It is also a lot calmer when there aren’t gun-shots, screams, and wall-humping overlaid on it.

  3. tmtvl says:

    I haven’t looked at MS’s income/expenditures report, but I’d be surprised if Windows earns them more money than Azure or Office.

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      Their 2020 EOFY report lists total revenue of $143 billion and a net income of $44.28 billion. The breakdown of the three market segments/business units they use (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/Investor/segment-information.aspx) was:

      Productivity and Business Processes – $46.398 B revenue / $18.724 B net income.
      Intelligent Cloud – $48.366 B revenue / $18.324 net income.
      More Personal Computing – $48,251 B revenue/ $15.911 B net income.

      So without more detailed breakdowns of each segment it is hard to make accurate comparisons, but it terms of the entire segments at least the Windows segment (MPC) grosses more than Office segment (PBP) and pretty much the same as Azure (IC). But presumably it must run higher expenses or, more likely, run on lower margins, since it makes less profit. But what’s a few billion between friends? Although it does share that segment with Xbox, which I imagine probably had a significant expenditure associated with it for that year due to ramping up production of the XboxSeX.

      If you want to dive into it yourself, the report is available here – https://www.microsoft.com/investor/reports/ar20/index.html

  4. Joshua says:

    Hm…

    “In a 1992 survey of science fiction games, Computer Gaming World gave Lightspeed one-plus stars out of five.[1] A 1994 survey of strategic space games set in the year 2000 and later gave the game one star, describing it as “The lamentable predecessor to Hyperspeed”.[2] In 1996 the magazine ranked Lightspeed as the 46th worst game of all time, calling it “more repetitive than ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ with no payoff.”[3]”

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      See, this just makes me want a write-up on Shamus’ summer spent obsessively playing Lightspeed, assuming he hasn’t written it already. I’d like to know what had him so enamored where it failed to capture the hearts of these critics.

      1. WarlockOfOz says:

        I recall really enjoying Hyperspeed, though a friend I loaned it to didn’t.

      2. Lino says:

        Seconded. Even if it isn’t a full retrospective, I’d like to hear his thoughts.

      3. Shamus says:

        Oh, I’m 100% in agreement that the game belongs on the “worst games” list. I was enamored because I was broke and working fast food. I could only afford 2 or 3 new games a year. That was my game for the summer. It was weird and shallow and repetitive, but it was my game for that summer.

        I’m glad the game is remembered, even if it is remembered as a bad game. What bugged me was the strange feeling that I was the only person who knew it existed.

        1. Joshua says:

          My very first computer game that I got in 1989* was a lesser known title called War in Middle Earth, which I played the crap out of. It was also not well-received in its time and aged even worse, so I know how that is. Its issue was that it barely even constituted a game at points, because you mostly just moved units around as opposed to actually getting to do much with them when they got into fights. Still, I played the game a ton.

          “Technically, my first game was Bard’s Tale 2 which my parents got me for Christmas but I couldn’t run because I didn’t have the 512k RAM needed to run that game.

          1. RamblePak64 says:

            Ah, my brother had that game! The… screenshots on Google are inconsistent and all look far worse than I recall the game looking, but that’s definitely the box art and it is definitely the game.

            Never got to play it myself, but hey! I’ve heard of it.

            1. John says:

              You may be looking at screenshots for a different version of the game than the one you played. The Bard’s Tale series originated on the Apple II and on that platform could expect to use at most six colors and 128 K of RAM. (The idea that a Bard’s Tale game took 512 K of RAM to run, as Joshua suggests above, is very strange to me.) Ports for other contemporary machines may have looked different and quite possibly better. I played Bard’s Tale 3 on an Apple IIc but a couple of my friends played it on MS-DOS machines at around the same time.

              1. Joshua says:

                Ironically, the MS-DOS version, which I had, had to disable the casino option that was present in the Apple II version. I have no idea why.

            2. Joshua says:

              In case you are responding to my first choice of War in Middle Earth as opposed to Bard’s Tale II which John interpreted your comment as being, War in Middle Earth was released to a variety of different platforms including IBM, Apple, and Amiga, and the Apple version looked way different. Even the pictures on the back of the box had drastically different images to accommodate all of the systems.

              This is the version I had and played:
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vJw-ukRIns&list=PL1Be_cMfHOEf8GIOQb_IjQdjN_i4K2HOU

              1. RamblePak64 says:

                Sorry, I should have specified War in Middle Earth. Bard’s Tale is still around as a property, so have definitely heard of that one. ;)

                Just brought my brother in to look at the video. Yup, he confirmed, that’s what it looked like. We skipped ahead to Frodo and Sam about to fight the Nazgul and he exclaimed “Nope, he’s dead! You cannot beat them.” And sure enough, the quest ended there.

        2. MerryWeathers says:

          What bugged me was the strange feeling that I was the only person who knew it existed.

          I think a lot of people who have played games as a kid or even as an adult have gone through such a thing, playing a niche or small game that may not even be good but it was the only thing you had at the time so you kept playing it.

          1. Joshua says:

            The old “When you’re young you have plenty of free time but little money, when you’re old you have more money but a lot less free time.”

            1. Chad+Miller says:

              There are also just way more games now. You can pick up free games for 10-year old devices that are still far better than what a lot of us had in the 90’s (and earlier)

          2. Lino says:

            For me that game was Captain Claw! A platformer where you play as a cat who’s a pirate captain and fight against dogs who are stand-ins for the British Empire! The art style was gorgeous, heavily inspired from Disney’s old Robin Hood movie. At the time, even though I loved the game, I found it really hard, and there was a boss I just couldn’t beat, no matter how hard I tried.

            Sometime last year, I had a severe case of nostalgia, hunted the game down, and started playing it again. Surprisingly, it still holds up! I found its cartoony art style as gorgeous as ever. Also, since the game has a level editor, there’s a surprisingly large community of custom level creators.

            As for that infernal boss: I BEAT HIM! YES!!! And got stuck about two or three levels after that… As I said, the game’s hard as balls…

            1. CloverMan-88 says:

              I remember my nephew asking me to beat a certain level he was stuck on… It took me almost two hours, but I just couldn’t handle the shame, man that game is hard.

          3. Karthik says:

            For the longest time there was no mention online of Metal Fatigue, a janky RTS I played to death as a teen. I liked it more than Starcraft and Command & Conquer put together. I had no inkling of the relative popularity of these games, I just played what I could get my hands on. I suspect most people who grep up in or before the 90s have a simlar experience.

  5. John says:

    To my mind, the most significant thing about the Steam Deck is the price. There have been similar devices available for a while now, such as the GPD Win 3 or the Aya Neo. The hardware differences between the Steam Deck and these devices are fairly minor. The Win 3 has a built-in physical keyboard and an Intel CPU. The Neo and the Steam Deck have AMD CPUs. The Steam Deck has a couple of built-in trackpads. Nevertheless, with all three devices you will be playing the same games on screens of approximately the same size, at approximately the same framerates, and controlling them in approximately the same way. No, the real difference is that the Steam Deck is half the cost of those other devices, both of which go for around $800.

    I don’t know quite how Valve expects to manage that. It could be a question of scale. I am quite confident that in just the last week more people have already heard about the Steam Deck than have ever heard of the GPD or Aya devices. You have to know about a product before you can buy it, so I think it’s safe to say that the number of potential Steam Deck buyers is already much larger than the number of potential GPD Win or Aya Neo buyers. It’s also reasonable to believe that a large-ish company like Valve would be able to negotiate better deals with suppliers than a couple of small and fairly obscure Chinese outfits whose business models rely heavily on Kickstarter and IndieGogo. Still, at $400 I have to wonder whether Valve intends to sell Steam Decks at cost or even at a loss. They wouldn’t be the first console-maker to do something like that.

    I’m not sure what impact Steam OS will have. When Proton works, it works very well, but sometimes it doesn’t work at all. My guess is that it will all depend on early customer feedback. If the Steam Deck can run most games well enough to satisfy most influencers–oh, how I hate that word–at launch, then it’ll probably do all right. But if for some reason it can’t run the hot new game, whatever that turns out to be, then Valve could be in some trouble.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Still, at $400 I have to wonder whether Valve intends to sell Steam Decks at cost or even at a loss. They wouldn’t be the first console-maker to do something like that.

      When I started reading the comment this was my first thought: sell the Steam Deck at cost or at a loss and hope to use increased Steam game sales to make their money on it. That is what the consoles are doing, but for them the risk is that there aren’t going to be that many people who want to play Steam games that were turned off by having to get a PC to do it. If they aren’t hoping to make a profit from the hardware but most people who buy the Steam Decks are people who want a more convenient way to play their existing Steam libraries it won’t go well for Valve.

      1. RichardW says:

        I mean, it doesn’t have to go well for Valve. They still have the cashflow to do pretty much whatever they want until the end of time. In interviews they said it’s a “painfully” low price to sell at, but think it’s what the market needs and the best way they can bring value to Steam users. I don’t think they really worry about money so much as whether what they do has a positive impact in general.

        Honestly the most surprising thing about all this is that so far nobody like Epic or Origin or any of the other storefronts have said “you can’t use our stuff on your magical handheld”. I was half expecting a ridiculous scenario like what happened with Nvidia’s on-the-go game streaming solution – the only key difference is the thing being physically on the device, in both cases you already own the software that you’re taking with you.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          But you’l be able to install the Epic games store.

        2. Karthik says:

          Honestly the most surprising thing about all this is that so far nobody like Epic or Origin or any of the other storefronts have said “you can’t use our stuff on your magical handheld”.

          How can they? The steam deck is just a PC in a small form factor.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      It’s just the base tier that’s $400, and since all three tiers are essentially identical other than internal storage Valve is almost certainly using the base tier as a headlining loss-leader and making money off the other two tiers, which, coincidentally, seem to be the more popular ones based on this article.

      1. John says:

        That’s true. For your $400, you get EMMC storage rather than an NVME drive.

    3. Dreadjaws says:

      I’m not sure what impact Steam OS will have.

      Considering that you can just install Windows in these, the impact is likely to be none.

      1. John says:

        Possibly. But how many people who buy one of these things are going to want to do that?

      2. Karthik says:

        On the flip side, I’m planning to buy one just to have a tiny portable PC with a powerful GPU that fully supports and runs Linux. And Arch with KDE, no less. I don’t even play games these days, the built in touchscreen is a bonus.

        1. John says:

          It doesn’t have a powerful GPU. No handheld device does. It’s got an AMD Ryzen 3 APU of some kind.

          1. Moridin says:

            It has custom APU with 8 RDNA 2 CUs, and fast RAM to boot (16GB LPDDR5 @ 5,500MT/s 32-bit quad-channel). For comparison, Vega with 8 CUs in normal APUs is limited to RX 550/GT 1030 tier of performance… but that’s mainly because they’re heavily bottlenecked by 3200 MT/s dual channel RAM.

            Powerful is relative, of course, but all things considered I would say that’s reasonably impressive.

            1. John says:

              Huh. I was only guessing about the APU based on the Zen 2 architecture and the CPU clock speed. Thanks for the correction.

              From what I can quickly gather from AMD’s website, the typical third generation Ryzen 3 laptop APU seems to have five GPU cores and the typical third generation Ryzen 5 laptop APU seems to have seven. I’m not sold on the idea that the Steam Deck APU is really all that much more powerful, graphically speaking unless the memory makes as big a difference as you suggest. I have nothing against the Steam Deck, but I think it’s important to remember that while it might be a dedicated gaming device it won’t have the performance of a gaming PC. Until I hear otherwise, I expect it to perform at around the level of a respectable but non-gaming laptop.

              1. Moridin says:

                All (Ryzen-branded) APUs since R3 3200G have virtually identical gaming performance with the iGPU, mainly because they’re bottlenecked by RAM. They’re also using (by now somewhat dated) Vega cores instead of newer RDNA/RDNA 2, so it’s not just faster memory the Steamdeck has going for it.

                Of course, Steamdeck is limited to 15W TDP so you shouldn’t expect miracles, but in terms of GPU power it should still outperform any integrated solution outside PS5 and Xbox Series, and probably by a wide margin.

              2. Bubble181 says:

                It all depends on expectations.
                I mean, that’s a better graphics processor than I have in my dedicated gaming machine at this point. Of course, that’s now a 7 year old desktop… But it still runs most games I want to play. On a small handheld, when you’re not trying to power two 32″ 4k monitors, I don’t know if you’d really need much more.

  6. Thomas says:

    Handhelds are popular and underserved, this seems a lot more viable than a Steam machine.

    Steam machines were competing against consoles and PCs, and they offered the best of neither world. No exclusive AAA games, and the vast Steam library you could already get on PC ran worse than it did on PC. They could only compete on price, and as they were made by third party manufacturers who already made PCs, it didn’t really compete with that either.

    At least this time they’re offering something that isn’t already available – no handheld has the depth of the Steam library. I’m probably still swaying towards a Switch if I want one, because of the quality of the exclusives, but the vastness of Steam’s library is a significant upside in their favour.

    Valve don’t really do marketing though, so it will be interesting to see if it sells. Are they ready to find ways to let Joe Bloggs know this exists? If they are, it could be a goldmine

  7. Philadelphus says:

    I’m so excited for the Steam Deck. I was on Steam to put down my $5 for a reservation within 5 minutes of them opening up (which was fun, because it was 3 in the morning here in Australia), though it took me an hour and a half for it to actually go through as initial demand crashed Steam on and off during that time. Steam Spy estimates (based on an HTML glitch) that there were at least 110,000 orders in those 90 minutes; dunno if Valve will release official numbers, but colloquially it seems like they’ve found an untapped market.

    I think I wouldn’t have been interested in such a thing a few years ago in my 20s, as I’ve always been a PC gamer (never owned a console of any kind) and prided myself on my ability to put in long amounts of time at my desk, but as I start to age the more tempting it becomes to take my Steam library over to a couch, or in bed, or on a train, or in a plane, I will not eat green eggs and ham!…sorry, where was I? Oh yes, there’s also that few weeks of vacation over Christmas every year where I’m visiting family in another state and can’t bring my desktop with me, which the Deck would be perfect for as a way of doing some gaming and having access to an internet browser on a bigger screen than my phone. Yes, I could get a laptop, and I’ve had one in the past, but a laptop is overkill, and laptops are primarily about productivity, with gaming and ergonomics a distinct second. When I had one, I only ever got it out for said Christmas vacation, certainly not for playing in a more comfortable position around the house or on the go. With the Deck, I see something with the power of a laptop and basically all the versatility (with the docking ability), but designed for gaming first and foremost. As a Linux gamer already it’s basically a portable version of my computer that could serve as a great desktop-lite for times when I’m away from it.

    We’ll see how it works out, anyway. With how long it took me to actually get my order in I might not be getting the option to purchase until Q2 next year, so plenty of time for reviews to see how it works in practice. I’m very interested in Valve’s promise to have Proton working for all Windows-only games by release in December; that’s probably the biggest gamble for them. Even if I don’t get my hands on a Deck at that point that’ll be the best thing to happen to Linux gaming since Valve announced Proton in the first place, though I’m skeptical they can actually pull it off given the pace of past Proton updates…though they’re talking about working directly with anti-cheat middleware to work with Proton so who knows. If anyone could pull it off it’d be Valve, and if they focus on getting the top 100 or so really big-name popular games working then that might buy them enough time and goodwill to continue working on the smaller ones (many of which will probably start working as “collateral damage” from the development).

    1. Geebs says:

      I’d absolutely love to get one to tinker with (and because I admire Valve’s dedication to blowing money on infrastructure and crazy hardware experiments). Realistically, though it’d spend 95% of its time being used to stream games from my gaming PC, and I already have half a dozen gadgets which can do that.

      A cheap-ish portable device which can run indie games better than a Switch sure is tempting, though.

      1. Dues says:

        My wife was talking about getting an iPad for the kids to play games on. If the stem deck works, it seems like a much better alternative as a game machine in my books.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Oh yeah, streaming’s another use case I forgot to mention. I don’t own anything I’d want to stream games to at the moment (my phone screen’s too small and the lack of physical buttons means I’m not interested in streaming to it), so a 7-inch screen with controls attached might be pretty nice for streaming any of the (few) really big or hefty games in my library. (Like, I could put XCOM 2 with my 350+ installed mods on it, but I’d probably prefer to stream it instead.)

  8. Doug Sundseth says:

    “…id Software alumnus Sandy Petersen….”

    Sandy is almost certainly better known as a major force behind Call of Cthulhu at Chaosium, though I’m sure* that he made much more money in the software field.

    * I say this as someone who went from the adventure gaming field to an Associate Tech Writer position and almost doubled my salary overnight. Classical adventure gaming jobs are … not financially well compensated.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Videogames aren’t either, for the exact same reason: the labour market’s flooded with nerds who desperately want to make their hobby into their job. Tabletop probably has it worse though, videogames are gated by technical skills that you can put to much more profitable use in a boring career so there’s at least some pressure on wages.

    2. Daniil Adamov says:

      I mainly associate him with Glorantha (the King of Dragon Pass and Six Ages setting, also first featured in Chaosium products) in the tabletop sphere. He really is prolific.

  9. Dreadjaws says:

    I’m absolutely excited for the Steam Deck. I love my Switch, but I’ve had to re-purchase a bunch of games I already had just to have them portable. With this thing that wouldn’t be a necessity anymore. Furthermore, I can use mods in it. I’ve put off purchasing certain games on the Switch because I know I’d be getting unmoddable and therefore inferior versions, but this would no longer be a problem.

    People keep comparing these to the Steam Machines, not realizing they’re two very different things. The Steam Machines were thought of as a bad idea even before launch. The Steam Deck is not only more versatile and affordable, it actually brings something to the table that regular PCs or non-Switch home consoles don’t have while making sure it doesn’t compromise the versatility of the PC as a platform (from the software side, at least).

    That being said, there’s no way I’m getting one at launch. I never do that with any kind of hardware. Let others do the beta testing.

  10. MerryWeathers says:

    I for one am merely interested in the Steam Deck but not enough to make a reservation, instead figuratively watching from afar with my binoculars and waiting to see how it turns out.

    1. adamS says:

      I’m interested enough to put my $5 down, since it’s been so long sinceI upgraded my pc that the higher-end Deck models are actually MORE powerful than any of my hardware. It’s going to be impossible to get a hold of these things once the scalpers can buy them like the rest of us, so I’m willing to pay for the chance to get in at the ground floor. Plus, I likely won’t get a chance to properly order one until well after the first round of hardware reviews drop, so I can test the waters. Worst case, my $5 is stuck in my steam wallet.

  11. RamblePak64 says:

    I made a reservation, though don’t know if I’ll keep it. I feel like I have a very unique use case, and from my perspective the Steam Deck’s market is a whole cluster of use cases without a solid, clear, defined market on a broad scope. Which it doesn’t need! But when Digital Foundry mentioned what would be essential for the Steam Deck to “penetrate the mainstream”, I just couldn’t help but feel like its advantages are absolutely nothing to the mainstream.

    For me, the Switch itself is actually a bit larger than I’d like for a portable gaming device. The 3DS XL was about as big as I’d like for gaming on public transportation or somewhere in public. The Switch is better for if I’m going to be at a hotel and want a gaming device. More often, I have a tablet holder that connects to my bed post that I place the Switch in, lay down and keep the JoyCons at my side as I game. It’s better for my back and a good, relaxing way to game a bit before bed or just when I’m sick of sitting all day. The Steam Deck does not have disconnected controllers, which means I’d use it no differently than my 3DS, which has the advantage of exclusive games not available on any other platform to play. This means, as a portable machine, the Deck has few places for me to play it.

    Instead, the dock is what makes the Steam Deck viable for me. I have a ton of PS3 to PS4 era games in my library that I’d like to get through, but after sitting at my office desk all day I’d prefer gaming on a TV in a different seat (if I’m not lying down with the Switch, that is). The Steam Deck brings my entire Steam library to a TV without me needing to send a wire from my PC, completely around my bedroom or through the floor into the living room, etc. or having to deal with the latency of remote play.

    But I’m a unique use case. Most people I’ve listened to argue why the Deck is appealing are also unique use-cases. I can imagine plenty of other ways the Steam Deck would be appealing. For example, there’s a lot of erotic light novels on Switch that are also on Steam, but you can only download the uncensored patches (offered by the companies themselves) on the PC. Why would you want those patches on a mobile platform? Man don’t ask me, I don’t play these games, but the market is there. Similarly, the Vita was once a great handheld device for JRPG fans, and the Remote Play to the PS4 allowed players to access their console games on the go. The Steam Deck allows for that same sort of versatility with a lot of JRPG’s, and often at better specs and performance than what the Switch can do (look up comparisons of Ys IX on PS4/PC and Switch. It’s… pretty bad).

    But things like mods, being able to install anything, etc., are not enough for a mainstream audience. Otherwise, Linux would already have far greater marketshare. I think what you need for the mainstream is an exclusive game that’s going to draw the crowd in, and Nintendo and Sony both have that. Microsoft suffered this generation because they annihilated their own first-party titles and studios and are now trying to recover from those mistakes. You could argue about all kinds of “PC exclusives”, but odds are they don’t have much mainstream appeal. Valve could make games with an appeal, but unfortunately they are more interested in just tinkering with things and maybe releasing it.

    Of course, the Digital Foundry guy is who mentioned mainstream success. No one said the Deck needed that. However, the greater question is how long until Valve gets bored and tinkers with something else?

    Regardless, the best move Microsoft could make for now is building a version of XCloud especially for the Deck’s Linux distro. Then, working with Valve to improve this Proton tech so that Game Pass on the Deck is a more viable option. I’ll be curious to see if Microsoft responds in that direction, since they’ve stated they’d love to have Game Pass on competing platforms like PlayStation and Nintendo. I know a lot of folks will probably say “It doesn’t matter you can just load Windows”, but it would be more advantageous for a company to take steps so that the customer doesn’t have to. Make it readily available rather than forcing someone to look up instructions online or tinker around.

    1. Steve C says:

      I think what you need for the mainstream is an exclusive game that’s going to draw the crowd in, and Nintendo and Sony both have that.

      Steam *definitely* has that. Lots and lots and lots of exclusives. Because “exclusive” in this context means anything not on a Sony/MS/Nintendo device. That includes the entirety of the indie market. Plus big AAA studios like Blizzard.

      I personally do not own nor have any intention to purchase any console. I’m not a fan of AAA games. And those kinds of games are pretty much what consoles are known for. However if I were to buy anything it would likely be a Steam Deck. That includes laptops. I find gaming laptops too bulky and expensive. While a regular laptop doesn’t play games well enough. If I want a productivity device I want it to be something even lighter than a laptop. Both in weight and in performance and cost. (IE a Chromebook.) But I could plug a keyboard onto a Steam Deck and get access to productivity software then it straight wins over laptops.

      To say it doesn’t have exclusives just isn’t correct. It ignores that exclusive to the consumer means ‘not available on the competition.’ It ultimately does not matter if a game was ‘prevented from being on the competition’ or not. It only matters if it exists there or not. And if a Steam Deck = PC library then it has the most exclusives by multiple factors of magnitude. And if can run console emulators too…

      1. John says:

        The Steam Deck has an AMD CPU with integrated graphics. It’s going to play games about as well as a regular laptop because that’s essentially what it is.

      2. RamblePak64 says:

        I’m curious how in the loop you are regarding indies on consoles, because not only are a massive number of them on consoles – nearly everything gets ported if possible – but developers have regularly cited the Switch as being the best place to sell beyond all consoles. One indie developer broke sales down on a graphic during the recent teardown of Sony’s unhelpful store, and in that graphic both Switch and Xbox far, far outweigh Steam in terms of sales numbers. Additionally, this infographic from last year indicates that most indies don’t make much, and that the most popular genres on Steam are… the sorts of genres that rarely ever penetrate mainstream consciousness.

        So not only are most indies – especially the ones worth playing – cross-platform, the majority that are exclusive either hold no mainstream appeal or are complete shovelware.

        This is nothing to say of the fact that indies are demonstrably incapable of selling a device on their own. Remember the Ouya? If you did, how long had you forgotten about its existence before I mentioned it? The cheap little console for Indies was an absolute failure. People love indies, but you can’t sell a system off of indies alone (and it is in no indie game developer’s best interest to leave their title exclusive to a single platform).

        Now, one of the reasons the Switch is such a popular platform for indie game sales is because it’s portable. But now you have to argue whether it’s worth paying $400 for a Steam Deck when you’ve got a Switch capable of playing those indie games already. If horsepower were enough of an excuse, then the Vita would have beaten the 3DS handily.

        Also also: I dunno if you’ve noticed but Blizzard’s goodwill with its fans has been tanking fast, and its big PC exclusive MMO is bleeding players, subscribers, and influencers to the multiplatform FFXIV. Diablo III and Overwatch are all on console, including the Switch. The only thing that might not be on console are StarCraft II and the Warcraft 2 and 3 remasters, the loss of which hasn’t hurt consoles since their inception. Not at all the most bankable developer for a “killer app”.

        The benefit of the PC has always been things like modability and freedom. The killer app is the app of your choosing. And that’s fine! But it doesn’t work as well for mainstream audiences. Mainstream audiences want a Mario Kart, a Smash Bros., a Last of Us, or a God of War. Valve could probably have something like that if anyone on their staff was interested in making more games, but… they’re not, and even Valve released the Orange Box, Portal 2, and Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 on console.

        So… why should a broad audience be interested in a Steam Deck?

        1. RFS-81 says:

          I did not expect Steam to have such a small slice in the indie game revenue pie! It’s barely larger than the PS.

        2. CloverMan-88 says:

          As a dev with an average-budget indie game on ps4/ps5/xbox/switch/steam I can attest to Steam bringing in surprisingly little sales. It’s less than 5% of copies sold. I must say that I was shocked by those numbers, as I was expecting Steam to still be the best platform for indies. There have been a big change in the market and we didn’t notice.

          1. Thomas says:

            I really am shocked by that. Do you have any idea why?

            1. CloverMan-88 says:

              It’s impossible to say for sure, but if I had to guess I’d say its 1) the terrible discoverability 2) massive backlogs of many Steam users. Due to the sheer volume of games your “moment in the spotlight” (i.e. being featured on the front page and “most popular new releases”) lasts at most a day or two, and then unless your sales pick up enough to let you break into “most popular” tab, or for the algorithm to pick your game up as seething that might be worth reccomemding to other due to popularity you vanish into the ether. In comparison PS and Xbox stores are small enough that many players will stumble upon your game by chance, especially during sales.

              The second point, about people’s backlogs, is probably something you’ve encountered yourself. PC gaming is so full of giveaways, bundles and insane sales that most people wait for indies to be HEAVILY discounted or bundled before they decide to buy them. Personally, I try to support fellow indie devs by buying games that interest me full-price… But because of that I had to unsubscribe from Humble Monthly, because most months I own at least most games included in the bundles.

          2. RFS-81 says:

            I assume that GOG and itch.io are at best rounding errors then.

            The narrative that I heard about Steam is that because they don’t bother with curation at all, it’s impossible to find the actual indie games between all the shovelware. (Of course, if they did bother, they’d be big meanie gatekeepers…) But I don’t know how much that matters. I rarely browse for games on Steam; I usually know what I want before I enter the store. No idea if that’s unusual.

            1. RamblePak64 says:

              My understanding regarding Steam is that they’ve tried to focus their algorithm similarly to YouTube and Amazon, where they first seek out what you’ve played, then compare it with other people that have played similar games, and try to push stuff forward that way. It’s not perfect as Steam clearly also has a storefront with paid advertisement, and just like those other algorithm-based platforms, it relies on a lot of people liking the same things which means if only five people play a game, it’s not enough to meaningfully bring to the attention of others.

              It’s still more than what Sony’s platform offers, where it’s disguised to look like it has an algorithm but… doesn’t. I’d finish playing a mid-budget AA JRPG, and the “Because you played X, we think you’d like…” recommendations would be filled with Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and the latest Sony first-party title, none of which play anything like the game I just finished.

              My understanding for Switch is that Nintendo helps somewhat by having indie-focused Nintendo Direct presentations and having weekly “newsletters” on the system itself recommending games that follow a certain theme, but most of the time it’s more that players want the freedom to play those games on-the-go. This is just my impression, though, and doesn’t take into account better indie sales on Xbox. So… I’unno.

              1. eldomtom2 says:

                My understanding for Switch is that Nintendo helps somewhat by having indie-focused Nintendo Direct presentations and having weekly “newsletters” on the system itself recommending games that follow a certain theme.

                It tends to be pretty high-tier indies that get that attention though, IIRC.

        3. Steve C says:

          I must admit I’m not in the loop on indie games on consoles. However I just checked all the games I played in the past year. Of them, only Warframe and Dorfromantik are on consoles. And I only played Dorfromantik for about 6hrs total. So if I had a Switch I would have not been able to play any of my games. (I’m not going to play Warframe on a Switch.)

          Hell, if I had a Switch I wouldn’t be able to play any games at all! One of my friends ran into problem this week. His Switch updated and used up all of his data cap for the month. I would not (and could not) get a console for the sheer waste in data alone.

          I am in the loop about Blizzard. I’m one of the former fans who’s goodwill has gone to zero. I won’t give them any money again. But Blizzard is still a really big publisher with lots of customers. Blizzard’s big games are WoW and Hearthstone. Neither are on consoles. There was even a meme video made by Blizzard themselves about how unimportant Diablo was compared to WoW.

          I cannot answer why a broad audience likes the things they like, nor why they make the choices they make. My personal tastes are in opposition so often I generally think the world has gone nuts. I have a desktop PC on one end of the spectrum and a tablet on the other. I use them very differently to each other without any overlap. For me, a Steam Deck would cover a middle ground and overlap between them better than any other product. And I generally avoid Steam like the plague.

          I also did not expect Steam to have such a small slice in the indie game revenue pie!

          1. RamblePak64 says:

            I get it, as there’s a lot of games right now that sell gangbusters or are rated really highly and their popularity confuses me. But, when discussing industry stuff, I try to take those trends and the data into account when speculating and making predictions.

            Neither Hearthstone or WoW are on consoles, but as noted, that doesn’t even seem to be helping Blizzard too much. We’ll have to see where the next few years takes them, especially if rumors about how they’re operating internally are true.

            1. Steve C says:

              I wasn’t really talking about Blizzard specifically. It was just an example of a well known publisher that has AAA PC only exclusives. I simply do not agree that the PC lacks for PC only games.

              1. RamblePak64 says:

                It doesn’t, but, again, their viability to penetrate into the mainstream is often minimal. Blizzard were able to, once upon a time, and I think there’s still nostalgia for Diablo 2 and Star Craft from a lot of folks, but I don’t think it has carried over as well as it once had.

  12. VPofTucson says:

    I haven’t really seen “incoming PC players” mentioned as part of the conversation, and to me they seem to be a fairly good-sized chunk of customers.

    I’ve got a couple buddies who have wanted to get into PC gaming for a while now. They have held off because of the GPU prices, not to mention the intimidation factor of trying to source deals and build a PC themselves. For someone in a similar boat, this is a HUGE opportunity— you get a decent PC gaming machine, that’s also portable, requires no parts assembly, and clocks in at $400-600.

    Even if you plop it in a dock on day 1 and leave it there, it would make a decent machine. For someone sitting on the PC gaming fence, this is a lot of bang for your buck.

  13. Tohron says:

    Fortunately, from what I’ve heard, Microsoft’s plans at the moment involve reducing their cut from the Windows store and also allowing participants to set up their own external payment systems. What I’ve been hearing is that the priority is to make the Windows platform more attractive by encouraging partners to develop for it. (Conflict of interest: I am a Microsoft employee).

    1. Sven says:

      Yes, exactly. MS has tried the “store apps only approach” several times now (Windows RT, Windows 10S, Windows 10X) and it has failed every time (10X failed so hard it wasn’t even released).

      Windows 11 is actually going in the opposite direction, where basically anything can be added to the store now, and you’re free to have your own commerce system where MS takes no cut. That means Steam itself could be added to the store with no modifications and no lost revenue for Valve.

      Plus, MS’s actual income mostly comes from Azure and Office anyway.

      (Hey there fellow blue-badge ;) )

  14. Lino says:

    I discovered Sandy’s videos at the end of last year, because I had bought an anthology of Lovecraft’s works. He’s got some very interesting videos related to the Mythos. Also, it turns out that Sandy has a big part in the way people depict Lovecraft’s monsters. Yes, some of them are described in detail in his works, but many of them are only mentioned by name, and as Peterson was making the Call of Cthulhu TTRPG he had to improvise…

    Anyway, if you like Lovecraft, you should definitely check out Sandy’s channel!

  15. Freddo says:

    IMO Valve has created the Segway of gaming. Cool technology, but looking for a niche that probably is not there.

    When compared to phones and tablets it is oversized and expensive for what it does. When compared to PCs or consoles it doesn’t offer the same experience. And I doubt that many developers will adjust their game to compensate for the idiosyncrasies of the steam deck (in the same way that developers are willing to severely cramp the PC interface of AAA titles in order to maintain the same interface between PC and console).

  16. Kyle Haight says:

    I think Valve is trying to leverage the market demand for portable PC gaming into an economic incentive for game developers to target Linux+Proton as a supported delivery platform. The real impact of a successful Steam Deck would be liberating desktop and laptop PC gaming from Windows.

  17. GoStu says:

    Valve’s got one hell of a head start over every other party that’d try to make a new handheld/console thing – that unequalled game library. If (say) Sega decided that the Game Gear 2.0 was a thing that was going to happen, they’d be immediately in hot water with “well, what games can you get for it?”. Valve isn’t going to have that problem.

    I honestly wonder if part of this might be aimed at the mobile-games market. Mobile accounts for something like 50% of all gaming revenue despite having the reputation like an open sewer on a hot day. While the Steam Deck won’t have the #1 advantage of mobile (you already have a phone, and it’s probably on your person right now), the Deck will be portable and if it can get 3/4 of Steam’s library playable on the go then that’s a big edge.

    If you’re not using your cellphone to game on the go, your other options are something like an iPad and its “walled garden” store, a Nintendo handheld (same problem), or some other tablet and its “won’t run a lot of games”. If the Steam Deck positioned to be a competitor to gaming consoles, other handhelds, and mobile at the same time it doesn’t have to strike a convincing win on any of these fields in order to pay for itself… and Valve can afford risks.

    I’m not pre-ordering, but it could be an interesting product.

    1. Lino says:

      As good of an idea as that is, I don’t think they’re going after the mobile market for two reasons:

      1. In order to do that, they’d need to have a more traditional marketing strategy, targeting the mainstream market. And I don’t see them having one.
      2. Preorders are currently available for preorder, and will be available first in the EU, US, and Canada. The biggest market for mobile games is Asia. And I haven’t even heard them mention having the intention to sell the Deck there

      That being said, I think there’s definitely a place for it in the mobile games market. But I guess Valve think the West is the better place to start.

      1. bobbert says:

        “Asia” may be a huge market, but is also divided across 5+ languages (depending on definition).

        You can get the Anglo-sphere and probably 40%+ of the EU (Swedes, Hungarians, &c are very likely to play in English) without leaving the English language. That is a very good business case from a RoI perspective.

        1. Lino says:

          True, but the vast majority of companies who want to hit the EU market localize their games and products for the local language. For physical products it’s actually required by law to have the product’s manual in the official language of the country.

          Companies who only deal in digital products don’t have to do that, but they still do it if they want to have a serious presence in countries like Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, etc.

          1. bobbert says:

            Sure, once you know you have a winner, it makes sense to pay for translated versions to capture more sales.

            I just can’t can’t see day 1 translated versions being a smart way to spend your budget, though. If it crashes and burns, it is going to crash and burn in every language under the sun.

  18. Grimwear says:

    I’ll be honest I don’t really see a point to the steam deck though I am happy for those who seem excited for it. I just don’t understand it. So it can play steam games but it appears to me that most m+kb games are off the table. Ok so you’re playing controller games. Now it’s been a decade since I really played a handheld but my gaming habits haven’t changed. I like to play different games and here I can’t easily switch out my games without paying an insane amount.

    The base steam direct which has 64gb is 500 Cad, already more expensive than a Switch. I’m not super up on the newest games (I generally play a few years behind) so I looked at Steam top sellers and here’s what I found:

    New World 50gb
    F1 2021 80gb
    Monster Hunter Stories 2 28gb
    Hunt: Showdown 20gb
    Red Dead Redemption 2 150gb

    This means that your base model can have on it between 0-2 of the top sellers. So you’re constantly having to uninstall and reinstall games. Heck their ads show Control (42gb) and Doom Eternal (80gb). So your base model is a waste of time. So we’re left with the 256gb and 512gb versions which cost 659 Cad and 819 Cad respectively and that’s all just for the privilege of having more than 2 games on it at once. Which is now the price of a new computer or 2 Switches. I’m sure the price may go down over time but for my personal game preferences I’d much rather buy a new pc (for better performance on m+kb games) or buy a Switch where every single game is made for controllers.

    1. evilmrhenry says:

      The Deck can use micro SD cards, which changes the math somewhat; 256gb micro SD cards exist, and are cheaper than upgrading to the middle-tier Deck. Performance could be an issue, I think we’re still waiting on details there.

      1. GoStu says:

        With some installs cracking 100+ GB lately, I still don’t think that changes the math that much.

        64 GB drive @ $500 CAD: possibly incapable of installing some games.
        256 GB drive @ $659 CAD: 2+ “big” games, plus a few others.
        512 GB drive @ $819 CAD: 5+ games installed?

        I’m not sure what reading a game off an SD card will be like as far as playability. It’s one thing to use an SD card like that for photos where you can wait a few minutes to pull high-quality files off. It’s quite another to try and run a game in real time.

        I have a feeling that install sizes are only going to continue to rise. That 64 gb model… I don’t know how usable that is long term.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Depends on the kind of games you like. If you play stuff like Mystik Belle, Forward to the Sky, The Girl and the Robot, and stuff like that, you’ll be able to install a lot of games. If you prefer Call of Honour you’ll have less luck.

  19. unit3000-21 says:

    Oh, so I’m not the only one The Algorithm chose to sic Sandy Petersen upon lately?
    I gotta say, I had high hopes for some nice firsthand FPS legend memories, but his vids are very rambling and all over the place, not much wheat when you blow off the chaff.
    Plus he somehow rubs me the wrong way (maybe it’s those eyes?).
    Cool fez though.

  20. Jabrwock says:

    “Imagine if Microsoft made the Microsoft Store the only way of getting new software on Windows, and so all software sales had to go through them.”

    On MacOS (Desktop/Laptop), you can still install software from outside the walled garden by running the software’s installer (Steam is one such example I think off the top of my head that is installed without involving the App Store at all). The App Store is Apple’s version of Steam, and a lot of apps only offer their software through the App Store to take advantage of the payment systems, but it’s not required.

    On iOS/TvOS, (phones/tablets, Apple’s defacto bread and butter nowadays) it’s much more the traditional walled garden where if you don’t use the Apple App Store, your only other option is to jailbreak.

    So you’re still correct in that this is why Apple makes gobs of money, but it’s a bit misleading to imagine Microsoft similarly doing that to desktop devices, because Apple doesn’t either.

    And nobody wants to talk about Windows phones… *shudder*

    1. Thomas says:

      What Shamus is suggesting, is someone at Microsoft might look at the success of iOS, and say “Phones are general computing devices now and people except a walled-garden there, perhaps people can be convinced walled gardens on PCs are okay too”

      It doesn’t have to be a good idea, it just has to be credible enough for some exec to chase it. And given the steps Microsoft made to try and push the Windows store, it’s conceivable that they were hoping to achieve that one day.

      The way to do it would be to release a cheaper version of Windows (i.e. don’t charge manufacturers to install Windows) that’s locked down to the Windows store and emphasise the security of a walled garden. Perhaps start of with a way to allow people to circumvent the store, but only at great inconvenience.

      And Microsoft did do that – that’s what Windows S was.

      1. Geebs says:

        My theory about the bewildering incompetence of the Windows Store is that it’s some sort of regulatory thing – the marketing people feel the need to have a store so they don’t have an unchecked box on the OS feature list, but Legal keep pointing out that if anybody ever actually used it, they’d get slapped with an antitrust lawsuit sooner than you can say “Internet Explorer 6”. So they not only limit the Store to offering objectively worse versions of software which is readily available elsewhere, but also make it practically impossible to actually buy anything in case some particularly persistent fool insists on being parted from their money.

        That or it’s Microsoft’s idea of satire, like the Mixer acquisition.

        1. bobbert says:

          That…. actually makes a little sense.

  21. Ashen says:

    I don’t really see Steam Deck succeeding in any meaningful sense. It’s going to sell a moderate amount of units to PC enthusiasts and a couple of months later everyone will forget about it.

    The thing about Switch is that, although it seems like a incredible success right now, if you were to roll back time to its launch, everyone was really skeptical about it. Previous Nintendo console, Wii U, didn’t get any third party support and flopped hard and it was easy to see how Switch might share the same fate. But then Zelda happened and everybody bought their Switch for that game alone which in turn brought in third party developers and the rest is history.

    If Steam Deck was to launch with an exclusive Half-Life: Barney or whatever, there might be a slim chance of the same thing happening here. But without that, there isn’t really anything to entice the general public to buy this. Sure, there’s some people that might want to play their Steam library on the go (accessibility issues notwithstanding since most PC games aren’t really made to be played on a tiny screen) but there’s just no meaningful market for this.

    If I’m wrong then I’ll happily be wrong since I wish Valve all the success, but I just don’t see it. In fact I’d probably make a prediction this will sell less units overall than Valve Index did (since that was fueled by Alyx).

  22. Thomas says:

    There isn’t a single ‘Guardian’ article on the Steam Deck that appears when I Google it. Nor a New York Times article, When you search ‘Steam deck news’, it’s all gaming websites. In comparison, there’s a detailed article in The Guardian talking about the new Switch with an OLED screen. There’s NY Times articles on which version of the Switch you should buy.

    This is why Valve still feel like they’re unwilling to throw their full weight behind being a hardware manufacturer. Can you imagine a serious console maker not trying to get mainstream buzz behind the announcement of their new device? It’s not like it’s hard even the Ouya could get a NY Times article!

    Even if they can’t manufacture enough Decks to satisfy demand, people wanting to buy a thing and knowing they can’t because it’s selling too well is a great way to make your thing look valuable.

    Also looking into the details. The fact the deck has a 2-8 hour battery life is a bit of a blow. And I didn’t realise the dock wasn’t included in the price. And the specs don’t exactly look like AAA gaming, it’s going to need developers to target the platform, and I doubt they will unless this thing starts selling console numbers. With those caveats, it doesn’t look 100% there as a product.

    Valve still seem a little reluctant to be the hardware developer they’re trying to be. They keep creating things and putting them out there, and just hoping people will turn up.

    1. RFS-81 says:

      The Grauniad has one, as of today. Seems like there’s more demand than I would have thought. And more demand than Valve would have thought, since the preorder system couldn’t cope.

      1. WarlockOfOz says:

        The suspicious part of my mind wonders whether the site overloading was at least in part theatre. Steam is not a small operation and they’ve had big launches before (though admittedly nothing i know of with quite the same benefit to ordering at a specific preannounced time).

  23. RFS-81 says:

    As someone who really likes the Steam controller, I’m happy that Valve keeps experimenting, but I don’t think I’d rather have a Steam Deck than a Switch. And both seems a bit wasteful. Sure, you can’t have all the games on the go, but that’s not unbearable.

  24. The Steam Deck is powered by an AMD APU, powered by the company’s Zen 2 architecture and RDNA 2 graphics. The Zen 2 architecture, used on the 3000 series AMD processors, come with four cores and eight threads. Meanwhile, the RDNA 2 GPU is capable enough to handle 720p gaming.

  25. Rariow says:

    Call me a killjoy, but I really don’t like the Switch (and now Steam Deck) approach of portable/home console hybrids. I say this as someone who’s now owned a Switch for a year and who’s done a good 70-80% of my gaming throughout this year on the Switch. I just think hybrid consoles wind up making games worse. They’re less powerful than home consoles by definition, and as such games played on them in docked mode look worse – a lot of the Switch library could pass for a late PS2-era game, maybe early PS3. At the same time, the fact that it IS a home console means devs are incentivized to make games home console experiences, which makes them aggresively un-portable. A lot of games look or run worse in handheld mode, and even if they don’t the last thing I want to do with an atmosphere-heavy game like Breath of the Wild is play 10 minutes of it at lower fidelity on a bumpy train ride. Plus, the gameplay loops in home games just aren’t designed for handheld play – I’ve yet to have a satisfying play session on the train the way I used to with like 3DS or GBA games.

    So basically, hybrids give you the worst of both worlds – games that look like handheld at home, and games as unwieldy as home games on the go. Admittedly I’ve not given handheld mode that much of a go (I am a big homebody, plus this last year hasn’t been condusive to leaving the house), and apparently I’m in the minority feeling this way, but it still just feels counterproductive to me. On the other hand, and to shoot myself in the foot a bit, the Switch library is chock full of really great games, and I do wonder how much of that is down to lower graphical fidelity requiring less dev time put into arranging every piece of pointless environmental clutter and more into actually designing the game. I believe there’s an old article somewhere on this blog about that very idea.

    1. Syal says:

      Call me a killjoy,

      I’m suddenly realizing someone who brings back the joy after another person kills it would be a Joy Necromancer.

  26. Lars says:

    The Steam Machines had a lot more problems than just high price. With the Linux based SteamOS they had no access to Microsoft Direct X and had to rely on OpenGL, Mantle and Vulcan, developed by ATI. All the Steam Machine assemblers (Alienware, etc.) build nVidea cards in the machines. nVidea cards are optimized to run on Direct X and give mediorce performances on the other APIs. Most games did only had the option between Direct X and ages old OpenGL and run like crap on Steam Machines with graphic bugs an glitches Windows players didn’t have. The best performing games on Steam Machines (Company of Heroes 2, Metro: Last Light) used Mantle.
    If the assemblers would have installed ATI cards, the games could have run smoother, the price would be cheaper (Once upon a time ATI was cheaper than nVidea) and maybe Mantle would have kickstarted, breaking the market dominance of Direct X.

  27. tmtvl says:

    Now that I think about it, I’m wondering if Valve is going to do some heavy contributing to the open source AMD drivers. That could be really interesting.

    1. Lars says:

      They did, back then. But Valve outsourced the construction of those Steam Machines, because they didn’t have a hardware department. And those outsource companies didn’t understand, or care what Valve tried to accomplish.
      Valve learned with the HTC Vive to supervice their hardware partners and entered hardware market themself with the Vive Index (unfortunatelly, but understandably double the price of Oculus/Facebook).
      Now they have a hardware department and the Steam Deck can be sold for a reasonable ammount.

    2. John says:

      Well I sure hope that somebody does, because a whole lot of Linux DEs (XCFE, MATE, Cinnamon) are glitchy as hell on my AMD-powered notebook right now. It’s allegedly some kind of driver bug. I had to switch to Gnome to get a functional desktop again.

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