In a surprise announcement, Valve recently announced a portable gaming rig called the Steam Deck, with a 7” screen, full controller layout, and two trackpads to simulate a mouse. This device uses a Linux operating system, and is designed to run just like a gaming PC. As well as running steam games, it has a separate OS where you can use browsers and open other game launchers such as the Epic Game Store and beyond.
The Steam Deck also boasts some significant power, with processing and RAM well above the regular Switch, with demos that show games like Jedi Fallen Order running on high graphics settings. There’s even a dock, so you can plug this device into a screen and play with any bluetooth enabled controller, as well as bluetooth headphones for audio.
The Steam Deck, frankly, is a powerhouse device. It’s worth noting, however, that it will release in three different variations, with 64GB internal storage being the minimum. It will release at £349/$399, then, subsequent units with more storage and higher processing release in December 2021, not long after the Nintendo Switch OLED Model, at £459/$529, £569/$649. The Steam Deck certainly has a lot of promise. But what does such a similar device being on the market mean for Nintendo Switch?
Before Nintendo announced the Switch OLED Model, countless rumours were swirling of a true Switch Pro that would offer enhanced performance, a better screen, and 4K upscaling through NVIDIAs DLSS software. Sadly, only one of those things was true, so, despite recent games like Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings Of Ruin, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 all clearly suffering on the now four year old Switch hardware, users now have to wait longer to find out if enhanced hardware even exists.
Traditionally, things like this haven't ended up selling well. PC gamers often want the very best experience, which this simply isn't. Can't see it being more than a niche product.
Because of the battery and storage, it'll be best for indies, which the Switch already excels in.
— Lewis Parker (@nyenakai) July 16, 2021
The promise of the Steam Deck is an enticing one, the base system isn’t much more than the price of the Nintendo Switch OLED Model, though the LCD screen on the Steam Deck will likely not be as sharp or use colour quite as well. What the Steam Deck does have though, is an enormous library, with so many games already available on PC able to be played on this device. If you already have a vast Steam library, you’re simply buying a new, convenient way to play these titles, unlike the walled garden of the Nintendo Switch. Even Nintendo fans who own virtual console games on Wii U and 3DS can’t play those games on Nintendo Switch, so this is a bold and tempting strategy.
I'm optimistic it'll find its feet and its audience thanks to the inroads Switch (and Vita) made with popularising more AAA handheld gaming…but Steam don't have the best record with hardware. Just look at the Steam Machine. I'm really interested in it though.
— Jimmy Bowers | nDreams (@jimmysbowers) July 16, 2021
Importantly though, many competitors have tried to release more powerful hardware to rival Nintendo’s handheld devices. The Game Gear, Neo Geo, PSP, and PS Vita all offered something more powerful than Nintendo at the time of release. But, they crucially never had that one secret weapon, Nintendo games. Not to mention that Nintendo has always had a firm grasp on the fact handheld consoles need to be both portable and comfortable. The Steam Deck is certainly powerful, but with so much internal hardware will it actually be comfortable to hold for long sessions, and can the batteries even support long play sessions?
Nintendo has already sold in excess of 80 million Switch units worldwide, so the Steam Deck is of no immediate threat to a system that’s already a wild success, seemingly halfway through its life cycle. But, does anyone really think this might prompt Nintendo to start developing better hardware? Or even consider this is a threat to them? We reached out to see what people thought.
The switch has form, function, a load of great exclusives and a pretty well supported bank of 3rd party games. What it lacks in power it makes up for everywhere else and I think the Steam Deck is going to fall short, especially as it'll rely on controller supported games on steam
— Steven Landray BA(Hons) (@shokmunky) July 16, 2021
With the price point starting high and only getting higher, plus the fact Steam games will need to have controller support, this is certainly going to be a niche product. However, any handheld has the potential to disrupt the market, and perhaps with a successful launch Steam could actually release something that is much more of a threat in the future. For now, Nintendo is safe and sitting pretty with the best console launch in two decades, but with fans eager for more power, and many games struggling to run, some Nintendo fans will undoubtedly look at the Steam Deck as a nice device to have alongside it. Plus, with no real Virtual Console yet, at least the Steam Deck will let you play Mother 3 on the go…